OPINION: RUGA, The Problems And Panacea By Emmanuel Onwuegbuchu

It is no longer news that Nigeria has serious security challenges to battle with.

The situation has worsened in the last decade with insurgency, kidnapping and banditry being the order of the day. Needless to say, it has been detrimental to national peace and progress.

Against the backdrop of the existing lapse in security alongside various calls to overhaul the security architecture, we are greeted with the issue of clashes between herders and farmers which has gained predominance in the middle belt region. The crisis has claimed lives, destroyed properties and displaced persons from their farmlands.

These sad occurrences have been largely blamed on the expansion of agriculturist population and cultivated lands at the expense of pasture lands, desertification, and breakdown in traditional conflict resolution mechanisms in communities. This has led many to create self-defense forces, ethnic and tribal militias which has further deepened the crisis.

Nigeria’s farmers-herders crisis has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people in the last three years with Benue, Adamawa, Plateau and Zamfara the worst hit.

For the past few weeks, there have been agitations over the decisions of the federal government to introduce the RUGA settlement scheme in some states across the federation.

RUGA which loosely translates to cow settlement in Fulani is the brainchild of the federal ministry of agriculture to resolve the lingering clashes between farmers and herders.

Although the government maintains that RUGA is not compulsory for all the states, some governors mainly from the South distanced themselves from the policy.

Many of them described it as a hidden agenda for the monopolization of the country by Fulani’s which may lead to the eventual Islamisation of the country.

As reported, this scheme that has already received the president’s approval would secure lands from the so-called willing states, build infrastructures which may include schools, hospitals, houses etc, for the settlement of the nomads.

While defending the RUGA scheme, the presidency stated that it was for the betterment of all and will bring a reduction in conflict between herders and farmers, increase in the quality of feeding and access to animal care and private sector participation in commercial pasture production by way of investment.

Many individuals, organizations and agencies have made furious statements in reaction to the decisions of the government, expressing their disappointment as well as agreeing to the fact that this strategy is beyond improving the economic and social status of the nation.

The Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere, said, “The Federal Government simply wants to carve out land from every community to give to the Fulani.” To them, no inch of Yoruba land would be given for RUGA because it is a plan to colonize the country.

Following many agitations and seeing that the nation is at the breaking point, the Federal Government on July 3 suspended the implementation of the scheme under the livestock transformation plan across the country.

The suspension came on a day Arewa youths, under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Groups, gave Southern leaders 30 days to accept the RUGA project in peace and a 30- day ultimatum to President Buhari to implement the programme. This development elicited a response from the Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohaneze Ndigbo, which insisted on no land for RUGA in the South-East.

Among other strong voices against the scheme are Governors like Darius Ishaku of Taraba State, Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Samuel Ortom of Benue State. They later stated that the suspension of the project is a victory for all peace-loving Nigerians.

However, many Nigerians aren’t satisfied and they are asking the government to scrap it off totally as just suspending it is not good enough.

Despite its importance to the economy, it has been argued that livestock rearing is a private business and the government should only bother about providing the environment for the trade to thrive.

With high all year round rainfall, the South can as a matter of mandate, cultivate grasses and sell to herders in the North to prevent the migration of cattle breeders from state to state and the crisis that comes with it. That way, the Principle of comparative advantage works for the good of all. This becomes a win-win solution since grass is the objective.

Herder-Farmer dialogues and local peace initiatives should also be initiated and encouraged by government at all levels and stakeholders to promote peaceful coexistence between both parties.

Those found to have either destroyed crops or rustling cattle should me made to face the full wrath of the law.
There should be no sacred cows!

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