‘Ranching or RUGA, economic activity of rearing cattle requires defined space’
Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu spoke to select journalists in Birnin Kebbi, the capital city during the sallah holidays on the controversial ruga settlement, Nigeria’s economy and the issue of cabals running President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. The Guardian’s JOSEPH ONYEKWERE was there.
Why did introduction of RUGA generate controversy across the country?
It is not surprising for us in Nigeria, when things are misunderstood. Many people find it strange when I say RUGA is not a Fulani word, but an acronym that was created by colonial masters. So, why the controversy about RUGA? Controversy happens because something more profound sociological is taking place. We are a nation angry at each other because of the failings, because of the fault lines and our prides have made us to refuse to accept that we have a little economy. So, how do we become big so that we have an economy that works for all? Our sociological reasoning escapes even our historical realities. Why were the Ife’s and Modakeke’s fighting each other over land? It was not Yoruba versus Fulani. Why are the Tiv’s and Jukun’s killing each other? Why are thousands of people dead between Cross River and Ebonyi states? I am sure, if you go to any of the 36 states, land disputes constitute a significant amount of complaints in courts. So, let us stop getting angry at each other. Let us solve problems, especially problems that have been created by climatic change and natural progression as a result of our population. The longest institutionalized working relationship in Nigeria is between the Tiv’s and the Fulani’s. At that time, there was nothing that a Tiv man would want to have than a Fulani friend. The Fulani’s would come to his land with his cows and manure it and during the rainy season, the Fulani man will leave. It was a happy relationship, which was disrupted by the introduction of chemical fertilizer such that the Tiv man doesn’t need the manure again. But the Fulani man is thinking what happened because they used to be friends before, but the Tiv man is saying I don’t need you as much as I needed you yesterday. The Gbom Gwom Jos, his middle name is Buba. Buba is the Fulani name for Abubakar. He told this to the vice president and I, how growing up, his grandfather’s best friend was a Fulani man; that when his father was born, his grandfather decided to name his son after his Fulani friend. That is for you to understand that this movement by herdsmen did not start today. But, we can’t continue like this. We need to do something today. It would be irresponsible of us to allow the Fulani’s to stay like that just as it would for us to not to think for the Ijaw or Ogoni fishermen, who today, environmental changes, occasioned by oil pollution have taken on them and they are frustrated, not knowing what to do about it.
But the issue of RUGA generated so much controversy such that the government had to suspend its implementation. Was it not for the fear of worsening security crisis?
It is not easy for a small boy child to be following an animal. Believe me, some of them walk 20 kilometres a day. My maternal grandfather is a cattle rearer. He even has an identity problem. We used to tease him by asking him which village he comes from. He doesn’t have because he is a wanderer. You can imagine somebody who wakes up as early as 4.00a.m to follow animals. They don’t go to formal school, Islamic or Arabic school. What do you think he will experience when he is walking with animals? It would rain on him and his clothes would dry on him. That is why when that created insecurity, you have a work to do because they have become infantry generals and have been trained by occupation in the most difficult terrain. They have tolerated all the elements. So, what is prison to them? Our first institution of reform is to arrest and take them to prison. Somebody who follows animal each day; who is always afraid of snake bite, who gets drenched often and somebody whose best food for an entire day maybe to suck from the breast of the animals he is rearing, you are taking him to place where you are giving him a hot meal. I am not justifying them. I am saying we should understand the sociology. Every human being has a social contract or expectation from society. So it must be broken down for not only the Fulani’s but those in the fishing communities and perhaps the farmers too. If we don’t deal with it, then we will bear the rage of their anger.
How do you think the insecurity challenges could be curbed?
I hate to sound worried. We have to craft quickly enough, an economy that would work for all or for the majority. Otherwise, we all pay the price. We don’t have that for now. We are trying to develop it and president Muhammadu Buhari is doing well. Nigeria produces the same amount of oil like Brazil, but Brazil decades ago decided that as good as oil is, it doesn’t create as much job as they wanted. They invested some of their oil money and expanded agriculture. Today, they are the second biggest in sugarcane. They export 30 billion dollar worth of ethanol in the world market. Today, maybe, 70 per cent of agricultural activity in Bayelsa has collapsed because of oil. Bayelsa maybe, has more shrimp potential than other countries that export it. Shagari government designed somewhere in Bayelsa to produce two million metric tonnes of rice in Bayelsa, but our addiction to oil made us to ignore that. This is the same in almost everything. It is not the fault of any one government, it is a collective responsibility and that is why I said that we have to come to the realization that we have a very tiny economy. $25 billion dollar is too small for a population coming close 200 million people. Let us quickly acknowledge that first, there has to be compensation for the distortion that is being created by trade. Our agricultural sector is being victimized because countries that are stronger than us are subsidizing their agriculture and dumping them on us. So, rather than buying from us, we are now the ones buying subsidized goods from them. It is the same thing in our fishing and livestock sectors. What do we have that is very important? Economics use the term, absoltic capacity. It is the capacity of an economy to absolve investment. That is what Nigeria has in abundance and that is the potential we should market because not many countries have it. We have an economy that its domestic market alone is an engine for growth. If you put $2billion today in the development of fishing, maybe the Nigerian market would just absorb the produce because we love protein. With $5 billion today, we can produce milk for the Nigerian market and maybe West Africa. Not many countries have these potentials and that is the low hanging fruit for us as a nation. That is why president Muhammadu Buhari at the national executive council is drawing attention to this. That is why he is calling on central bank to put money on them. Let us spread money across the nation. If it is our cassava farmers, let them get more yield so they can be wealthy. Luckily, there is something seasons can change because in agricultural value chain, every season can change a story and create mass employment with an economy that is working. And we have demonstrated it. Today, we no longer import fertilizer. What happened? It is about thinking correctly. Today, we have almost exited importing rice for the same reason. So, we need to do more of those in all the sectors unapologetically. We need to acknowledge the potentials in one another and value those potentials. If a cow owner in Netherland or Germany does not receive government support, he cannot compete favourably with a cow owner anywhere in Nigeria. If a rice or wheat farmer in the US does not receive government support, it would be impossible for them to compete. The World Trade Organisation has failed Africa because up till now, it hasn’t gotten the industrialized world to exit subsidizing agriculture so that that most of the 400 billion Euros they use in subsidizing agriculture can come to Africa.
You have spoken eloquently about RUGA settlement, but what is wrong with ranching?
Every economic activity requires some space and more importantly the recognition that such activity is important to the economy. Whatever terminology we use, let us start with that. Lagos or Ogun might be the most ideal place for livestock, let us support them so that our national prosperity can increase. It is the same thing about fishing. What does the Ijaw man likes? He likes to enter his boat and fish. But today, it is no longer possible because that river has been taken over by seaweed, which he cannot remove, so he cannot find fish in that river. That fisherman does not know any other thing just like the Fulani man who thinks that moving around gives him joy. So, you have to teach the fisher man that what he was doing was good but consequent of the present circumstance, you can operate a shrimp farm; that from there, he can take care of his family and send his children to school. That is the obligation of the society to him. What is our obligation to those people who are moving around with animals even within Kebbi? Our obligation is to help them because they are all victims. Any cow that moves around in a day loses 70 percent milk. So no reasonable person will want to do that. So, let me help them with water first, teach them veterinary services and provide artificial insemination so that instead of him holding on to a cow that produces at best, two litres a day, he can have one that would fetch him 20 to 30 litres a day. The society would be better of and his child would go to school. And the social contract between him and the society will begin to get restored. He becomes responsible such that you can appeal to his reasoning, his morality and his senses. So, on this issue of RUGA or ranching, you will find out that everybody is saying the same thing in different ways. RUGA like I said earlier is Rural Grazing Area. The colonialists’ back then forecast that it is a dangerous thing to have people wandering. So in every community, there should be a settlement where they can stay and do their business. That is RUGA. Sometimes, I find it difficult to see that the thing is being used interchangeably. Whether you call it ranching, RUGA or whatever, that economic activity requires some defined space, which may be available to those who are undertaking the activity. And more than that, we should work with them so that they can compete with the rest of the world in that activity because that is what would contribute to our national prosperity. New Zealand exports about $5.2 billion worth of milk and cheese to the world market. Imagine a Nigeria that is beginning to take its potentials in that direction.
Why is the North not well disposed to the issue of restructuring?
It may interest you to know that 90 percent of those proposing it and those opposing it do not understand what they are saying. I will answer you by referring you to a story. Historically, an Ijebu man is an Ijebu man. He is not a Yoruba man. That is his nationality. It is the colonial masters that brought us together to form a wider nation. So, even in Yoruba, don’t think they are homogenous. We are talking about Fulani’s, if you go round, you will discover that they are also of different nationalities identified by the type of animals they rear. So colonialists created nations out of us and put regional government together. Gowon came and created states. Many people have wondered whether he really meant to create states or provinces because states are national units, if you borrow from the American example. But the ones created by Gowon were national sub-units.
In the case of America, it is the states that came together to donate their powers to the federal government and remained in control of some of their powers. So the states here are not natural entities. They are created ones and if we want resources to be controlled by the states, like the oil in Bayelsa belonging to Bayelsa, the total taxation will become a problem. If states give out natural resources and get royalties, they would pay about 75 percent of it to the central government. We have countries were resources in the land are controlled by the landowners. If I buy a farmland tomorrow and there is oil there, I own the oil. However, I will pay about 75 percent of whatever royalties I get from companies exploring the oil as revenue to the federal government. In America today, out of the produce of the oil, they pay income tax to the federal government. So, we have to understand the differences between the two because we use resource control as if it is an end in itself. Secondly, what led to the unfortunate death of Ken Saro Wiwa? Maybe, many younger generations may not know. The Ogoni’s were divided between those who have oil under their lands and those who didn’t have. Unfortunately, late Ken Saro Wiwa came from the part that has no oil. The oil companies will only negotiate with the chiefs and those who have oil. And there were rifts between them. So, even if you are to do that, this uniformity we assume would breakdown at some point. Thirdly, there are resources by their nature exist in belts, particularly, those under ground. There are those who will tell you that the Bayelsa oil is flowing from the North downwards. Geologists would tell you that resources, whether iron and steel, gold or diamond exist in belts that are cotangent such that you hardly say this is where they belong. What problem those arguing for resources control think it would solve, it will never solve.
But why the North is not supporting the idea of resource control?
Take it from me, 80 per cent of those arguing about resource control or more than that do not understand what they are talking about. Look at what is happening between Cross River and Akwa Ibom. Go there and they will tell you that Akwa Ibom has taken over 200 oil wells unfairly. That is not between the North and South? If any state is feeling that if there is resource control, it will be much richer tomorrow, I think there is enough opportunity to be that even now. Akwa Ibom and Delta get the highest in federal revenue allocation. But Akwa Ibom should be making more money from fisheries than oil. I sincerely believe so. Akwa Ibom should be producing 10 to three to four million tonnes of rice because rice is a grace. It is more difficult to produce in Kebbi than it would be in Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom because water is there and the soil is already soaked in fertilizer.
They don’t need water and fertilizer where as I need them. I think the proponents of resource control, if that is what they meant by restructuring, should send the message more clearly. When I spoke about comparative advantage, I as Kebbi State governor will say that it is unfair for Lagos or Bayelsa to think they are more competitive than me because historically, they have received more investments from the federal government than I. So, if they want to compensate me, give me as much as you have given to Lagos and others and I will contribute to the nation as much. It is debatable, but there will be no end to it. So, what is the most equitable thing to do? It is to quickly create an economy that works for all. Today, there is somebody in Bayelsa and Lagos that is as much frustrated as the Fulani man in Kebbi.