Contract sums heavily overpriced
Solar panels were to cost millions of Naira, borehole N20m each
Officials in haste to execute Ruga projects, fail to carry out consultations
Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief, Peter Duru & Femi Bolaji
Investigations have revealed how top officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development mismanaged the controversial Ruga settlement projects across the country, a development that led to its suspension last Wednesday by President Muhammadu Buhari. Following widespread opposition to the programme. The President asked the National Economic Council, NEC, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to suspend implementation of the project under the National Livestock Transformation Plan.
Well informed sources at the ministry and the presidency told SaturdayVanguard in Abuja, that the top officials were so much in haste to implement the project due to ulterior motives and as a result bungled what the Presidency saw as an otherwise excellent programme. The mismanagement gave rise to public outcry that forced President Muhammdu Buhari to suspend it.
According to the sources, there were supposed to be wide consultations and public enlightenment campaigns on the modalities, with emphasis on voluntary participation on the part of state governments. Benefits to both herders and crop farmers, across the country were supposed to be well articulated in the enlightenment campaigns before the commencement of its implementation.
In the heat of the Ruga controversy, top officials of the ministry were summoned to the Villa to explain why they commenced such a sensitive programme without due consultations with the presidency and sub-national governments.
It was learnt that the sensitisation and public enlightenment programme of the entire plan was ignored. It was meant to take representatives of the Federal Government, donor agencies, local and foreign investors who were prepared to invest in the plan to move round the country and secure the people’s buy-in before the implementation.
Having come under immense pressure the ministry invited journalists for a press conference on Friday, June 28, where its officials were to explain their actions. Journalists waited for more than one hour but the press conference did not hold, as officials of the information unit of the ministry announced later that the press conference had been postponed. It never held.
Presidency sources said President Muhammadu Buhari suspended the controversial “Ruga” programme in anger because its implementation was at variance with the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), developed by the National Economic Council and approved by the Federal Government.
They explained that the President, on hearing about the Ruga programme, first expressed surprise about the programme that it did not conform to the terms of the NLTP.
The president then ordered a swift review of what Ruga was all about and sought clarifications on its connection with the NLTP.
A source said: “The President was annoyed that the plan, promoted by senior officials in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and other Federal Government officials, purported to use gazetted lands in the states for the purposes of building Ruga settlements without carrying along the states thereby creating a wrong impression that the Federal Government was trying to take over land belonging to states and the people in those states.”
He said that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had, also strongly objected to the Ruga plan, arguing that it made nonsense of the NLTP, a very deliberate and elaborate plan developed by NEC, under his watch, and a plan which the Federal Government had okayed.
When news about Ruga broke, it immediately raised widespread controversy as state governors and other interest groups were alarmed how it was developed and the fact that there were no consultations with States especially regarding land, which according to the law are vested in the Governors.
We gathered that there was visible panic in the villa on Monday when senior officials in the President’s office were trying to get information about Ruga and its connection to the NLTP, although some in the office had tried to suggest that Ruga and NLTP were the same.
Sources said that the President’s discovery that the Ruga programme was not aligned to the NLTP infuriated him the more. As if that was not bad enough, officials in the presidency also discovered that the contract sums allocated for various aspects of the Ruga programme, were heavily overpriced.
For instance, purchases of solar panels were put at tens of million naira each, while boreholes were also to be procured at an average cost of N20m each. We also gathered that some top officials who pushed the programme appeared to be in a haste for pecuniary reasons.“
Another top official who participated in the Ruga project said that the Otobi, Benue State project which sparked the outrage, across the country, for instance, was not even designed to be a Fulani Ruga.
He said that it was originally meant to be a damn which was expected to attract Benue indigenes who were interested in cattle business to establish private ranches around the damn, which could be replicated in other parts of the state.
He said: “We told Governor Samuel Ortom that given the stiff opposition to the open grazing of cattle in the state, we could establish damns in various parts of the state and then encourage individuals to establish ranches around those damns. This was meant to attract the people of Benue State and of course when people see the success of it, more people would build more ranches around other damns.”
The plan, as learnt, was meant to be implemented basically in the North and not throughout the country as some government officials have claimed.
It was also learnt that even in the North, only states that choose to participate would be part of it, as no state government would be forced to provide land for the scheme.
The source explained that the “Ruga” programme was considered “closest to ranching” and would eliminate roaming of cattle which had been cause of conflicts between herders and crop farmers.
It was also designed to create opportunities for adequate water and grass for the cattle in an area where there could be shared facilities such as veterinary clinics, milking palours, abattoirs, meat and leather processing facilities.
As learnt, with cattle and their herders restricted to specific areas, the problem of cattle rustling would be eliminated as it would be difficult for the rustlers to steal other herders’ cattle and take them away from where they are settled.
The model would equally create opportunities to process agricultural wastes such as rice and maize stocks and cassava leaves into feeds for the cattle, while using the dung to generate power in addition to using it as manure for crop farming.
The official said: “Government recognises that the era of cattle roaming around is over across the world. Nigeria cannot be an exception. Our target is to eliminate roaming and the attendant conflicts between herders and crop farmers. We want to stop rustling and kidnappings by young Fulanis who wander around in the guise of herdsmen. We want to improve the breed of cattle through artificial insemination. This has been done successfully in Brazil, Argentina, Tanzania, Pakistan. Even Ghana started it last year. That is the way to go.”
On Ruga settlement in the South, the source insisted that, “there is no intention to go to the South with this plan. Niger State alone is about three times the size of the entire South East. No mischief intended as it is for the overall good of all Nigerians.” As learnt the Bobi Damns in the state are being built to provide water for a large expanse of land covering an equivalent of about 31, 000 football fields.
In addition, the Federal Government has a large expanse of land at Paikon Kore, near Gwagwalada, in the Federal Capital Territory, that could take between 10 to 15 years to be utilized by herders under the programme.
With a successful Ruga programme, culminating into full blown ranches, the official said, “not only that the conflicts between herders and farmer would end, Nigeria will stop milk importation. What does a cow need? Water and grass. With damns, we can provide our cattle adequate water and grow enough grass, as well as feed to make the business more profitable, not only for Fulani herders but for other Nigerians interested in livestock business.”
Genesis of Ruga crisis
About two weeks ago, residents of communities in Ukum, Otukpo and Tarka Local Government Areas of Benue State woke up to behold signposts in their area with inscriptions which read: “Federal Government of Nigeria.; Client: Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development; Project: The Establishment of Pasture Plots Grazing Reserve, Benue State, Otobi road; Contractor: Clear Sky Broad Band Ventures Limited. When pictures of the signposts started trending on social media the development swiftly aroused fierce anger across the state as youths and other interest groups in the state embarked on protests condemning attempts by the Federal to take away their land. This was followed by condemnations in several quarters across the country.
Benue State government, in a statement explained that: “few weeks ago, the Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture with his team in Benue State informed officials of the State Ministry of Agriculture that he had received directives from the Ministry’s headquarters Abuja to establish Ruga which means ‘Fulani settlement’ in parts of the State. The Director stated that the local government areas selected for the settlements were Otukpo, Tarka and Ukum but the Permanent Secretary, Benue State Ministry of Agriculture drew the attention of the Director and his team to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 being implemented in the state.
“When they were also reminded about the Land Use Act which confers on the Governor the powers to administer lands in all parts of the State, the officials left with a promise to relay the message to their headquarters. They surprisingly returned a few days later with contractors to commence work on the Ruga settlements. We find the approach of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture not only as a gross violation of the Ranching law but also as an insult to the sensibilities of the entire people of Benue State.”
Other state governors and prominent Nigerians either disowned the programme or tried to justify it. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state declared no part of Ekiti land would be ceded to outsiders because the land was not even enough for the indigenes. On his part, Governor Dave Umuahi of Ebonyi state, who is the Chairman of South East Governors’ Forum said: “there will be no part of the South East that will be given out for the purpose of the establishment of Ruga settlement.”
Presidency defends Ruga programme
Following public outcry against the programme, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu defended it saying that the Ruga settlements across the 36 states of the federation was aimed at bringing lasting solutions to the farmers/herders clashes and also to create jobs. He asserted that the Federal Government has gazetted lands in all the 36 states of the federation for the Ruga settlement but that the programme was optional for states to participate. He explained that already 12 states have indicated interest in the pilot programme, adding that it was not only for those in cattle business but in animal husbandry. Theses 12 states are: Adamawa; Bauchi; Kaduna; Katsina; Kebbi; Kogi; Nasarawa; Niger; Plateau; Sokoto; Taraba and Zamfara.
According to him, “Ruga Settlement” that seeks to settle migrant pastoral families simply means rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in an organized place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products. “Beneficiaries will include all persons in animal husbandry, not only Fulani herders.
“The Federal Government is planning this in order to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders. “The overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers, a boost in animal protection complete with a value chain that will increase the quality and hygiene of livestock in terms of beef and milk production, increased quality of feeding and access to animal care and private sector participation in commercial pasture production by way of investments. Other gains are job creation, access to credit facilities, security for pastoral families and curtailment of cattle rustling.”
There was however controversy whether Ruga settlement, which the Federal Ministry of Agriculture tried to implement in Benue state which ignited the crisis was the same as National Liverstock Transformation Plan, NLTP, headed by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo which was conceived by the National Economic Council and approved by the Federal Government.
The Vice President had been publicly drawn into the fray last Friday when the Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, Baba Uthman Ngelzarma claimed on a TV interview that the Ruga was being supervised by the Office of the Vice President.
Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State also argued that there was no difference between Ruga project and ranching under the chairmanship of the vice.