Soyinka: Ruga Settlements May Set Nigeria on Fire

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Wole Soyinka

· Rivers rejects policy

Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and George Okoh in Makurdi

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has added his voice to the growing opposition to the federal government’s proposal to establish Ruga settlements for herdsmen, saying the scheme will set Nigeria on fire.

This is coming as the Rivers State Government has signified its intention not to participate in the project, conceived to find a lasting solution to the perennial problem of farmers-herders clashes.

Governor of Benue State, Mr. Samuel Ortom, has also stated that he will not be distracted by the “false comment” made by a presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, on the federal government’s plan to establish the settlement in the state.

Speaking in Lagos yesterday at the launch of United Nations’ Solutions 17 SDG Programme, Soyinka berated the federal government for the idea, which he said could cause Nigeria to explode.
He said: “Ruga is going to be an explosion if not handled with care. But why do we not take our policies from good models? This is not the way people and countries deal with issues of cattle.

“I travel everywhere. It has to be handled in a way that is logical, comprehensible to the environment. When a cattle walks up to the window of my house in Abeokuta, a house which is located in a residential area, then there’s a problem.

“When cattle go to Ijebu Ode and eat up their plant seedlings and so on and you expect people to be quiet?”
According to him, the handling of the herdsmen issue by President Muhammadu Buhari could have cost him his re-election.

He said: “President Buhari deserved to have lost the last election for the lackadaisical attitude he took to the issue of cattle rearing in the country.

“People have been killed in hundreds just because of the failure of leadership at a critical time. And the cattle herders have been given a sense of impunity. They kill without any compunction; they drive away the farmers who have been contributing to the food solutions in the country; the cattle eat their crops and then you come up with Ruga.

“I think that there is going to be trouble in this country if this Ruga thing is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as priority. Any country where cattle take priority over human life is definitely at an elementary stage.”
Also yesterday, the Rivers State Government said it would not participate in the Ruga settlements for herdsmen.

In a statement by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Mr. Paulinus Nsirim, the state government stated that the state had no land for the implementation of such a policy.
It said in his second term, Governor Nyesom Wike had prioritised commercial agriculture; hence all available arable land in the state would be needed to drive commercial agriculture across the state to create employment for the youths.

The statement added that the state government has not given any approval for the sighting of Ruga settlements anywhere in Rivers State. It said Wike would continue to defend the interest of Rivers people, who have overwhelmingly rejected cattle colonies, Ruga settlements and any such policy.

“Rivers indigenes are hereby advised to join the state government to protect all arable lands by reporting any form of encroachment under whatever guise,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, Ortom has stated that he will not be distracted by the “false comment” made by Shehu on the federal government’s plan to establish Ruga settlement in the state.
While speaking on a Channels Television programme, the presidential spokesman said Ortom should not have made any comment on the scheme since Benue State was not included in the project.

The presidential spokesman was reacting to the governor’s opposition to the initiative.
Ortom had said Benue would not allow the establishment of any herders’ settlement in the state.
But in his reaction, Ortom, who spoke through Mr. Terver Akase, his Chief Press Secretary, described the claim of Shehu as shocking.

He said the federal government through the Ministry of Agriculture notified the state of its plan to establish Ruga settlement in Otukpo, Tarka and Ukum local government areas (LGAs) of the state.
He also said signposts were erected in various parts of the state by contractors sent in by the federal government.

He stated: “We watched in disbelief the comments Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, made last night during the 10 p.m. news of Channels Television.

“He stated that Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom should not have spoken against the imposition of Ruga settlements in his state because, according to the presidential spokesman, the governor was not included in the Ruga plan. The statement was as contradictory as it was false, misleading and lacking honour.

“The federal government, through its Ministry of Agriculture wrote to the Benue State Government informing it about the decision to establish Ruga settlements in the three senatorial zones of the state. Our Ministry of Agriculture, which received the correspondence, responded that Benue has no land for the Ruga settlements. It added that the state only has land for ranches as stipulated by the state’s Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.

“The Benue State Government subsequently made public its rejection of the Ruga model of animal husbandry and reminded those pushing for the illegal settlement patterns about provisions of the country’s Constitution and the Land Use Act.

“We were therefore shocked to hear Mallam Shehu claim that Governor Ortom was not included in the Ruga project and therefore had no right to comment on it.”