July 17, 2019

Lessons from the RUGA rumpus


WHILE the Federal Government had adopted the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo-led National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, in order to solve the insecurity problems posed by marauding armed nomadic herders, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, FMARD, suddenly issued a memo for the establishment of what it termed “RUGA Settlements” in the 36 states of the Federation a few weeks ago.


Herdsmen along with their cows wait for buyers at Kara Cattle Market in Lagos, Nigeria, on April 10, 2019. – Kara cattle market in Agege, Lagos is one of the largest of West Africa receiving thousands of cows weekly due to the massive consumption of meat in Lagos area. (Photo / AFP)

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In the wake of the rumpus this created, the Presidency through Malam Garba Shehu clarified in one breath that the Federal Government would use its “gazetted lands” in the states for that purpose. In another breath, he said the settlements would only be established in states that asked for them, adding that 12 states had already volunteered for the pilot schemes.

Benue, Taraba and Plateau states were named among them though there were massive demonstrations by the people in rejection of a programme seen as a ploy to graft people of exogenous ethnic stock into areas of the country where they were not indigenous to. While there was a massive rejection of the scheme in the three geopolitical zones of the South, many states in the North East and North West showed their willingness to participate.

However, on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, the Federal Government suddenly suspended the scheme “for now”, perhaps because of the inter-sectional tensions it had stoked.

While the Presidency ponders what next to do about settling down the nomads and accommodating them in ranches to end the herders’ attacks on farmers and foster peace and prosperity in the agricultural sector of the economy, we must learn two useful lessons from the RUGA fiasco.

The first is that we must adhere strictly to the Federal Character principle in Section 14 of the Constitution which was enshrined to promote democracy, social justice and national unity.

Our departure from this principle made it impossible for the inner cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to see the dangers and rejection that the RUGA policy was bound to arouse to the detriment of national cohesion.

Another takeaway is that henceforth, any policy that is liable to set off widespread ethnic, religious or inter-regional ferment in the country must be seen as a bad policy, no matter who it is created to benefit.

Such policies must be avoided at all cost. A win-win strategy can always be found to tackle any problem.

We are totally in sync with all well-meaning Nigerians on the need to resettle Nigerian nomads in ranches where they and their animals can enjoy better life and higher productivity. But it must never be forced on other people. Nobody should be forcefully deprived of their natural patrimony for this purpose.

It is a recipe for endless inter-ethnic and religious conflicts.