Thursday 11 July 2019

The Problem with Ruga Settlement – Olusegun Adeniyi

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Scene One: The Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mohammadu Umar, says the federal government has started to establish ‘Ruga Settlements’ for herdsmen in 12 of the 36 states as a pilot scheme for a nationwide programme designed to curb farmer-herder clashes.

Scene Two: Following general uproar, the General Secretary of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), Baba Uthman Ngelzarma, reveals that “This Ruga settlement model is a component part of the livestock development and transformation plan that is being implemented under the Office of the Vice-President.”
Scene Three: The Office of Vice President faults the statement by MACBAN: “Contrary to claims reported in sections of the media, Ruga settlements are not being supervised by the Office of the Vice President. Ruga is different from the National Livestock Transformation Plan”, tweeted Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande.

Scene Four: A 13th March letter signed by Osinbajo’s Chief of Staff, Ade Ipaye and addressed to the Aku Uka of Wukari in Taraba State is published on Facebook. It introduced “Dr Kyantirimam Ukwen who will be conducting the mapping assessment in Taraba” as part of a federal government “strategy for tackling the farmer-herder crises.”
Scene Five: Apparently uncomfortable with online media reports regarding the letter, Osinbajo’s office again pushes back with another statement from Akande that “as the said letter itself shows, the reference is to the National Livestock Transformation Plan, as different from RUGA. The two are not to be confused: the one is different from the other.”

Scene Six: A new letter dated 21st May this year, signed by Dr Hussain Adamu, Director Procurement, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development surfaces. Addressed to a contractor in Abuja, it states in part, “I am directed to inform you that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at its meeting held on 8th May, 2019 approved the award of contract for the construction of 8 Nos. Ruga Infrastructure with Sanitary Facilities (Red Brick structure) each in Taraba State as detailed in the attached to your company at the sum of N166,336,380.00 (One hundred and sixty-six million, three hundred and thirty thousand, three hundred and eighty Naira)”.

Scene Seven: Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu confirms that ‘Ruga Settlement’, is part of the federal government policy “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.”
Scene Eight: Following a meeting with Osinbajo, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State reads a statement announcing the suspension of the ‘Ruga Settlements’ project credited to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development “because it is not consistent with the NEC and FG approved National Livestock Transformation plan…”

The suspension yesterday by President Muhammadu Buhari of the controversial ‘Ruga Settlements’ project was the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter how noble the intention was, for such a project to be conceived and implemented, it is only consensus that could have created a sense of ownership which would then lead to sustainability. Yet it was evident that even within the federal government, there was no agreement among important stakeholders about what exactly they were trying to do. And the moment many of the southern governors, including members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) realised they were being traded a lemon for an orange, the idea was dead on arrival.

Before I make my point, let me state that there are very few issues that I have interrogated more on this page than the challenge of Nomadism in Nigeria, essentially because we have a Fulani settlement called ‘Gaa Okanla’ in my village that dates back to more than a hundred years. Most of the current inhabitants are my contemporaries and friends. I have also in recent years visited Fulani settlements in Sokoto, Kebbi and Katsina States and I have shared my experiences and the economic opportunities we are squandering. Following a previous intervention on this subject in 2016 in a three-part column titled, ‘Herdsmen and the Killing Field’, a former World Bank staff in Nigeria sent me a mail, part of which I ran.

It is worth repeating: “I like the part of your article on ‘Gaa Okanla’ although you left out the fact that Baba Okanla and his children probably speak only Yoruba and Fulfulde. These types of settlements also exist in several communities in the South-east. I know for a fact that there is a major settlement of Fulani herdsmen in Adada-Nkpologu-Adani-Iggah axis with other minor settlements in Awgu-Nkanu-Abakaliki axis all in Enugu state. They have lived peacefully for years. The Federal Government under a World Bank assisted Second Livestock Development Project (SLDP 1987-1995) established two Ndama Cattle Ranches in Adada in Southeast and another one at Fashola, a town not far from Iseyin in Oyo State in the South-west. Ndama are trypanotolerant cattle (that have some resistance to the disease Tryponosomosis caused by Tsetse flies) which were imported from Senegal. A credit model financed by the then NACB of five heifers (young female cows) and a bull was designed and disbursed to beneficiaries in these zones only. Most of the beneficiaries were from the communities I mentioned above. Obviously there will be exchange of labour and technologies between the Fulanis and the indigenous credit beneficiaries. These are some of the changes in cattle ownership in Nigeria that should be encouraged…”

If such a scheme worked in the past, the question to ask is what has changed? I can quickly point to two things. The first is the growing ethno-religious prejudices being fuelled by toxic politics and the manipulation of our differences. In the second part of my ‘Killing Field’ series three years ago, I started with an anecdote of what happened early in 2012 when I took my son to the birthday of a primary school classmate of his at Maitama Amusement Park, Abuja where I noticed a familiar face. As I muttered almost to myself, “is that not Mrs. Maryam Abacha?” my son (then 8-year old), replied in the affirmative. “Yes, that is his grandmother. His grandfather was General Sani Abacha that you wrote about in your book.” Although I didn’t say anything to that, my son then added with the innocence of a child: “They say his grandfather was a very wicked man. But he is not wicked. He is a good person.”

I will never forget that conversation and the lesson taught me by an eight-year old about how we judge others, not by their actions but by the family or ethnic group they belong to or the religion they practice. While it beggars belief that a president being accused of ‘Fulanisation’ would handle such a sensitive issue carelessly, there were also people who jumped into the controversy simply to promote discord, based on some petty prejudices. That explains why what started as an economic/ecological problem has now assumed ethno-religious dimensions with ancient grievances being exhumed for hate mongering on social media.

The second answer can be characterized as insincerity of leadership, mixed messages and incoherent policy formulation and implementation. As Nigerians were told last week by the presidency, the reason for the decision on ‘Ruga Setlement’ is to “stop roaming of cattle herders with the attendant clashes with farmers”. Meanwhile, the same presidency had claimed on different occasions in the past that the herdsmen involved in clashes with farmers are foreigners. Besides, as the law stands in Nigeria today, the rights to land are vested in the governors hence the presidential statement that “government at the centre has gazetted lands in all states of the federation” for Ruga Settlement also raised serious questions.

There is a short piece circulating on WhatsApp credited to a man who claimed to be the last farm manager of Oodua Farms Cattle Ranch at Akunu Akoko (8061 hectares of farm lands) that has five big dams, now abandoned. “We have over 16,000 hectares of land for cattle ranch solely owned by Oodua Investment”, established by the Western Nigeria Government in the First Republic, according to the man. From Oyo to Osun to Ekiti and Ondo and Ogun States, Oodua Investment indeed has vast expanse of land in the South-west that is not put to any productive use. “In Imeko, Ogun state, we have 4000 hectares. In Ekiti at Oke Ako via Ayedun Ekiti after Ipao, we have 12,000 hectares. We should grow our own cattle and let the state governors that have power over land explore these opportunities”, the man wrote before adding, “Ruga on our land is being canvassed because we that own the resources are neglecting them. When problem arises, let us look at the business advantages that we can explore from it. We can create so much employment if we think out of the box.”

In a tweet on Tuesday, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State more or less endorsed that position. He argued that while the reason for the idea of ‘Ruga Settlements’ may be understandable, “it does not truly factor the interests of every state. We have a youth unemployment crisis our ranches can address. Ondo State must prioritize agriculture due to the arable nature of our land. A lot of our land is already earmarked for forest reserves.” In rejecting the establishment of ‘Ruga Settlements’ in Ondo, just as his Ekiti State counterpart, Dr Kayode Fayemi had earlier done, Akeredolu added: “The FG must understand why we need to be strategic in our decision making. We implore the FG to revisit the proposal based on feedback from the different states and act accordingly.”

If the idea of RUGA is about animal husbandry, there is hardly any part of the country where there are no abandoned ranches from the First Republic that the states can revive aside the River Basins of the Second Republic that are also lying fallow. But this would require more than the current whimsical approach that raises suspicion about the real intention. Given how fragile peace has become in Nigeria, introducing a controversial policy without in-house consensus and wide consultations with critical stakeholders was always going to be a problem. The deceitful manner in which the implementation was being handled made it difficult to counter the argument of those who insist there was a sinister agenda behind it.

Three news items have been trending in Nigeria in the past week: The rape allegation against the Senior Pastor of COZA, the ‘Ruga Settlements’ palaver and the assault on a woman by a Senator. There is a way in which we can connect the three issues in that they speak to both violation and impunity. In one of the online forums where ‘Ruga Settlement’ was discussed with a measure of moderation, a commentator wrote: “There is a Ranch stretching from Mokwa to Kanji with all facilities including aircraft landing strip, clinic, workers housing estate, swimming pool, refrigerators etc. owned by Niger State government that can accommodate all the cows in this country. It gets its electricity directly from Kanji…whatever happened to it?”

Responding to the question, another person cited what happened to the Native Americans and the Australian Aborigines as a reason why the ‘Ruga Settlements’ idea could be a ruse, before he added: “…what they are attempting now is completely something else, in terms of its nature, scale and long-term effects. It has nothing to do with agriculture or agrarian reform; but a clever device for altering the ethnic, cultural and religious identity of Nigeria by stealth – through a combination of open borders and ethnic-based land redistribution for the Fulani and related ethnic groups…”

While I do not subscribe to such a conspiracy theory, for a project that has both national and international security implications, it is difficult to understand why no buy-in was sought before contracts were being awarded for the construction of ‘Ruga Settlements’ by some rogue civil servants. There is also no evidence that the money being spent was appropriated by the National Assembly. This is aside from the fact that the implementation was coming at a time the president is running the country as a sole administrator with neither a cabinet in place nor officially announced aides.

That we are faced with economic challenges that require modernization of old modes of production is not in doubt. But the approach to the problems associated with the changing security and social integration challenges in our country is at the root of the current crisis. At a period when an atmosphere of ethnoreligious suspicion has replaced the previous harmonious coexistence, somebody ought to have anticipated that whatever its merits, implementing a ‘Ruga Settlements’ scheme demands more than merely awarding contracts.

With the VP insisting that the project he superintends is different from the one both the MACBAN official and presidential spokesman said was being implemented, it could only be one of two things. Either Osinbajo became uncomfortable with the idea he was driving or he found out about a different conversation happening elsewhere that he was not privy to. In the end, it turned out that the strings were being pulled by some civil servants in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development who definitely must have powerful enablers.

Given the foregoing, it was no surprise that the process had to be suspended. Under the prevailing circumstance, a continuation of the ‘Ruga Settlement’ idea may open up new spaces of conflict – a case of digging a ditch to fill a pothole. Staying action for proper consultations so that there could be an elite consensus as a way forward, therefore, makes more sense. However, with contracts already being awarded from Abuja in what looks like another transactional enterprise, we may not have had the last of this project. As the federal government, therefore, comes to terms with the fiasco it unwittingly created, I hope sufficient lessons will be learnt on how not to drive public policy in a diverse society like ours.

Staying action for proper consultations so that there could be an elite consensus as a way forward, therefore, makes more sense.

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