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Government encourages herders’ impunity, says Soyinka

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Wole Soyinka


Rivers, Taraba, others kick against policy as Oyo urges sincerity
FG woos Benue youths, says scheme not different from livestock plan

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, yesterday warned the Federal Government against the danger of the Ruga controversy becoming a more serious crisis if not carefully handled. He specifically blamed the Federal Government for the crisis.He decried the inability of Nigeria to copy what has worked in other parts of the world.

“Why is it that we fail to take our modules from successful performance? There are ways in which people do and have dealt with cattle rearing from decades to centuries everywhere. It is as elementary as that. There is nothing so strange or mysterious about cattle rearing, so why should cattle rearing become a problem just because we like to eat beef?

“I don’t understand it. If we must talk about ranching, it’s got to be done in places that do not afflict humanity. What’s the point trying to provide food and the food chokes us, which is what the cattle breeders have been doing? “For instance, when we have a situation where cattle walk up to my door in Abeokuta, which is supposed to be a residential area, it becomes a problem. “You don’t expect people to be quiet when these cattle eat up people’s seedlings and livelihood,” he said.

Soyinka disclosed his position while addressing the media in Lagos yesterday at the official launch of Solution17 Flagship Project IC2030 for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a Creative Youth Development Community Initiative (CYCDI) programme. He noted that President Muhammadu Buhari took such a long time to address the issue of herders, describing his approach a lackadaisical attitude at best.

“People have been killed in hundreds till today and only because of the failure of leadership at the critical time, which is the most important. “The cattle breeders have been given a sense of impunity, the poor without any compassion, they drive away farmers who contribute to the food solution in the country, eat and burn their crops.

“So, I really think there will be trouble in the country if the cattle rearing issue is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as the priority,” he added. Relatedly, the Federal Government yesterday held a closed-door meeting with youths from Benue State aimed at convincing them to accept the policy in the state.

However, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Bello Umar, who called a media briefing after the meeting, called off the briefing for the second time.But a source from the ministry told The Guardian that youths were in a meeting with the permanent secretary and directors in the ministry so that they could explain the greater benefits of the policy to the state.

The opposition to the scheme, however, continues to swell as the Rivers State government and the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) have kicked against the proposed Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements for herdsmen. In demonstration of its opposition to the scheme the government yesterday urged Rivers State people to protect all arable lands and report any encroachment under whatever guise.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Paulinus Nsirim, declared that the state would not participate in the project, as it has no land for it.He noted that in the second term of Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the state government has prioritised commercial agriculture and as such all available arable land would be required to drive commercial agriculture across the state to create employment for Rivers youths.

Farmers in Taraba State have also rejected government’s Ruga settlement policy. The farmers, under the auspices of Concerned Young Farmers Association of Taraba State protested against the policy in Jalingio, saying the state government’s Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 has nullified any form of open grazing in the state.

Citing the Land Use Act of 1979, which gives state governors right over all lands within their domain, they noted that the Federal Government’s Ruga scheme is illegal.Also responding yesterday, former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, charged the Federal Government to convene a national town hall meeting to review the planned Ruga settlements for herdsmen.George, who also spoke on the nation’s electoral process, advocated dismantling of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Speaking with journalists in Lagos on the state of the nation, he noted that government should hands off the Ruga settlement policy and ensure that all stakeholders are invited to revive the country’s democracy as it has been destroyed. Besides, the Oyo State government has rejected the plan, urging government to show sincerity in tackling the nation’s security challenge.

The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde, Mr. Taiwo Adisa told The Guardian yesterday that insinuations that Oyo State is among the shortlisted states the Federal Government has proposed for the establishment of Ruga settlement is not true.“Ruga settlement is a Federal Government project, so Oyo State is not aware of the operation and the process that leads to that decision,” he said, insisting that the state would not do anything at the detriment of the security of lives and property of the Oyo people.

Meanwhile, the presidency has explained that there is no difference between cattle ranching and the Ruga settlement plan, adding that no state government has been coerced to participate in it.Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu asserted that the plan was initiated in order to stop the roaming of cattle which has been causing clashes between farmers and herdsmen.

In a television interview on Monday night, he said Ruga settlements and the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) were only different in name.This, however, contradicts Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s claim on the Ruga policy as the Vice President’s Office has denied supervising the establishment of the Ruga settlements, contrary to claims by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MAVBAN).Osinbajo’s Spokesman, Laolu Akande, issued a statement to the effect that the Ruga initiative was different from the NLTP approved by state governors under the auspices of the National Economic Council (NEC).


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