Ruga Settlement: Middle Belt Forum Blasts Ortom, Ishaku Over Rejection Of FG’s Cattle Ranching Initiative

… says Governors are deliberately stalling peace efforts
The Concerned Middle Belt Citizens Forum (CMBCF) has faulted Benue State Govenror, Samuel Ortom and his Taraba State counterpart, Darius Ishaku, for kicking against the planed Ruga settlement for pastoral herders.

Ortom and Ishaku had came out to voice their rejection of the imitative by the Buhari-led government with the aim of resoling the lingering herders/farmers crises.

National President of the CMBCF, Comrade Augustine Awulu at a press conference of Wednesday, said the governor deliberately stalling peace efforts to end the nagging menace.

Earlier, the National Democratic Front (NDF) had called on Governors Ortom, Ishaku and others to emulate the former governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun and turn in every weapon in their possession to the relevant authority their own good.

Awulu of the CMBCF said Ruga settlement for the herders remains a lasting panacea to the nagging crises between farmer and cattle rearers.

Text of his statement below.

The Concerned Middle Belt Citizens Forum” (CMBCF) is again constrained to speak to Nigerians for obvious reasons. In the course of the week, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) led by President Muhammadu Buhari announced its intention to experiment with establishing “Ruga Settlements,” for pastoral herders in 12 pilot states of the country.

Surprisingly, this policy has been greeted with a strong cynicism, antagonism and antipathy by some States Governors in Nigeria from the Southeast and North Central States. We consider this absurd in the truest sense of it.

We are not principally concerned with whatever the Governors of the Southeast think about this policy which is a carefully thought-out plan and strategy to end the regime of clashes, killings and destructions between herders and farmers in Nigeria.

We have grieved over these skirmishes enough and President Buhari had sufficiently notified us that “Whatever it will take, I am determined to bring peace between farmers and herders.” The President aims at adopting a middle course as an enduring solution between the herders and farmers. And “Ruga Settlements,” are ideal by our sense of fair judgement.

Therefore, we were not disappointed when Governors of the Southeast opposed it; but drenched in sadness when the twosome of Taraba state Governor, Arch. Dairus Ishaku and his Benue State counterpart, Hon. Samuel Ortom voiced opposition to Ruga settlements.

Northerners do not share same cultural ties or even economic proclivities with the Southeast. Easterners are basically businessmen and women or commercialists or traders. But in the Middle Belt, we are farmers notable in crops and animal husbandry. There is little essence in emphasizing that we need one another to survive in this hostile world.

And we must necessarily see ourselves as members of the same family, bond by the same economic destiny. Its difficult to change this narrative now, as wished by some partisan State Governors, who are exploiting the herders/farmers crises to protect their unpopular decisions and blur shortcomings as state leaders.

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Nigerians are aware of the history of the herders and farmers clashes in the country and its aggravation in the last few years. The States Government of Benue and Taraba have already passed anti-open grazing laws, which are in their very contents and mode of implication very defective and deficient, while they prescribed ranching as solution.

The magnitude of the clashes and carnage between cattle rearers and farmers has exacerbated because of these faulty or grey areas in the anti-open grazing laws. And there is no way, any right-thinking leader would feel, we shall continue to exist on such fault lines. Let us state clearly that we are not necessarily faulting the laws, but the grey areas in it, which are known to the Governors who hurriedly endorsed such laws under whatever convictions.

The unalterable truth remains that at this stage of our lives, we cannot convincingly say, only crop farmers are needed and so, herders should go to hell! It’s impossible! Whether we like it not, we must find a way of accommodating both farmers and herders in the same geographical enclave. That’s why we find “Ruga Settlements,” idealistic, rational and acceptable.

The “Ruga Settlements” is an initiative of the National Economic Council (NEC) presented under the National Livestock Transformation Plan (2018-2027). It is conceptualized to permanently halt the age-long herders-farmers crises and to massively develop the livestock industry.

The FGN is experimenting it for herdsmen in 12 pilot states nationwide, which it disclosed through, Alh. Mohammadu Umar, the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, during an interview with journalists in Abuja, at the workshop on Regional Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and associated legislations in West Africa.

Again, we reiterate that we cannot understand the opposition of some States Governors to it, especially, those who are apostles’ of cattle ranching because Ruga settlement is the same with it in colour and operation. They are all about restriction of cattle movements; but open to stationary operations of herders in selected camps, licensed and protected with appropriate legislations by the FGN. For Christ’s sake, nomads are also Nigerians

The Ruga settlements would have modern facilities and amenities, and ventinary clinics for treatment of cattle to enhance greater productivity. It is what states which have passed anti-open grazing laws have advocated in such laws.

So, where is the confusion and why the resistance to Ruga settlements? Or could it be that we hate our brother-herders so much that we think, shutting the doors against their only means of economic survival would give them the grace to sing songs of praises of this fraternity? Everything about life, is live, lets live!

Please, we must be reasonable for once! The Ruga pilot programme has already commenced on a 31,000-hectare in Kotongora, Niger state. It is within the same Middle Belt and North Central region particularly.

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We believe the FGN is working in tandem with a World Bank recommendation which stated as far back as 1954, after a review of pastoralism in Nigeria that “stabilization” was the most important and critical ingredient in the expansion and modernization of cattle production in the country.

Therefore, among the three proposals the World Bank recommended were establishment of “grazing reserves to be protected by law; provision of land rights to the pastoralists and the development of communal villages in grazing reserves as a means of bringing livestock into peasant agriculture.”

Let us remind that even in a post independent Nigeria and precisely in 1965, these World Bank recommendations were passed in to law. And it consented to a minimum 10% of the country’s land area to be legally acquired and constituted into grazing reserves for lease allocation to grazers.

Unfortunately, as we speak, only about 23 proposed grazing areas out of 299 proposed in the then Northern states, including Abuja, amounting to 2.3 million hectares have been operationalized. And it covers only slightly above 500,000 hectares of land for Nigeria’s cattle population which is estimated at over 19 million cattle?

There is no fairness in this posturing and grandstanding by these Governors and other opposers to Ruga Settlements’. We must do the needful now, by embracing the Ruga Settlements’ as a modern -day recodification and re-modelling of grazing reserves.

By our thinking, this is what Ruga settlements means and it is only the FGN which has the financial muscle to implement it. And it is the most preferable to the popularized concept of ranching because, while Ruga settlements are insulated and protected from abuse by local forces; ranching exposes herders to the near dictatorial tendencies of local communities, which would again open fresh vistas of conflicts.

We must give peace a chance. No Nigerian alive today can think forceful Islamisation of the country is possible. So, whatever conflicts between herders and farmers have no religious undertones and its time, we call a spade a spade.

What we are now attempting to understand is not new. It has always existed in the Northern region and even recognized by the colonial government. Yes, we made mistakes. But we cannot perish the idea of grazing reserves, now renamed Ruga settlements, which share every affinity with ranching.

Nigeria has over 40 million hectares of grazing lands, but just about 3 million hectares are specifically tagged as grazing reserves established under the Northern Region Grazing Reserves Law of 1965.

And furthermore, from Nigeria’s total of 417 grazing reserves, only about 113 have been gazetted. So, the permanent rehabilitation of herders can neither be overlooked nor ignored by anyone.

And before the Whitemen removed the veil from our eyes in the guise of colonization, we had traditional grazing grounds called “Hurmi,” and such lands were strategically located at the vicinity of the towns and villages throughout Northern Nigeria. We need peace and harmonious existence.

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So, we have lived with this idea and these modern-day crusaders of anti- Ruga settlements should know. And rewinding history backwards further, we will understand that as far back as 1901, Nigeria recognized nomadism in the use of land, when a devastating drought occurred in some parts of Northern Nigeria.

The understanding to persuade nomads to settle in areas of greener pastures within the North, the move was first made in 1942. Riyom near Jos, in present-day Plateau State is famed for this settlement, where pastoralists were encouraged to settle. Each herding household unit was allocated a piece of land and persuaded to engage in mixed farming and alongside development of pasture areas.

We have appreciated the issue of population explosion and the attendant consequences of scramble for lands. But to think that we can make these calculations, and ignore pastoralists is unwise. We are obligated to factor them into it. And Ruga Settlements provides this succor nomads need desperately.

To continue to sustain the argument of resistance in accommodating them is not only foolish, but chaotic and a sure path of nourishing the anarchy our people have had to bear these years.

Let’s learn from the wisdom of Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who said; “herdsmen, let us appreciate, are perhaps humanity’s earliest known tourists. They must be taught however that there is a culture of the settlement, and learn to seek accommodation with settled hosts wherever encountered.” Ruga Settlements provides the finest and nicest platform for such co-habitation to pastoralists.

Therefore, the Concerned Middle- Belt Citizens Forum” (CMBCF) believes that the initiative of the FGN on Ruga Settlements for pastoralists is the ultimate antidote for peaceful co-existence and harmonious working relationship between herders and farmers and by implication, all the citizens of Nigeria.

Those opposed or antagonizing it, especially the State Governors, are doing so out of mischief. Or perhaps, to extract their pound of flesh from Mr. President for depriving them access to council funds, which they mindlessly siphoned; and strengthening the judiciary at the state level and working towards total autonomy for the 744 Local Government councils in Nigeria.

These are two different issues, which should not be mixed under whatever guise. We want the opposers to Ruga settlements to be guided accordingly.

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