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Ruga: The steps not taken

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I would imagine that two things would have happened by now with the suspension of the Ruga, acronym for Rural Grazing Area, plan by President Buhari. One, the temperature generated over the controversy would dip, although the incendiary rhetoric may not necessarily be toned down. Two, it would afford the federal government an opportunity to re-examine the problem it is trying to solve and find, perhaps, a less controversial approach to it. Approach is the word.

The Ruga scheme is the third in the series of suggestions the federal government had broached since the killings by herdsmen became a national crisis. First was cattle colonies and then cattle ranches. When these two gave way to Ruga in the heat of opposition to them, the government must have thought it had hit the winning formula. As it turned out, not so fast. The fault may not be in the conception but in the failure of the government to take steps that should have been taken to give effect to it in a manner less likely to send it down the crevices of our national fault lines.

We sit on fault lines, cousins to the tinder box. Our national discourse is conducted on the basis of a) yes by one section and a loud no by the other section and b) the expression of extreme views with little room for other less extreme views because local champions spring from the rich ponds of hate, suspicion and misunderstanding. A sensitive leader must learn to walk the middle path by ensuring that he is not a captive to either side. Not the easiest thing to do in a country where the craving for applause quite often trumps hard-headed thinking and the grave demands of leadership. I did not intend this to sound preachy but, well….

From the little I have read about the Ruga settlement plan, not many of us really know what it is all about. Is it a sound national policy designed to primarily make us safe in our country or a cynical response to a problem crying for an urgent solution? We do not quite know because the federal government did not find it necessary to let us know, ask questions to allay our fears and suspicions and satisfy ourselves that it has some merits that should make us embrace it.

In the circumstances, suspicion and speculations have been allowed to becloud reason.. Those who have rejected it out of hand suspect it is part of an alleged plot to give the Fulani preferential treatment at the expense of other groups, ethnic and religious, in the Buhari administration. I would think that a matter this complex and this complicated in a country sitting on fault lines widened each day by suspicions with or without basis, requires massive education and sensitization by the federal government, the sole promoter of this idea, before implementation. Those who accuse the federal government of arrogant stance, as in take-it-or-leave it, have a point.

In failing to properly market its idea, the government gave room to supporters and opponents of the project to amass on both sides of the divide and further increase the divisiveness in our country. Each of them is rattling the sabre. I am not sure the president is entertained by the jarring sound of threats of, if… and counter-threats of, if not…

The federal government has not done much to sell its idea to the public. According to the permanent secretary, federal ministry of agriculture and rural development, Dr Mohammed Bello Umar, the Ruga settlement plan seeks to address and possibly end the herdsmen-farmer clashes that have taken a heavy toll on our human and agricultural resources. These clashes have added a dangerous dimension to our cocktail of security challenges. The Ruga settlement plan would, according to him, end migration by pastoralists in search of green pastures for their animals wherever they may be found in the country and also end the clashes between them and peasant farmers.

Ruga was conceived as a modern pastoral settlement for nomadic herdsmen and other animal breeders. It would have a market, an abattoir and schools and medical facilities for the pastoralists. It is to take off as a pilot scheme in eleven states that have so far shown interest in it and are willing to donate land to it. The fact that some states have already been selected for the pilot scheme points to a failure of leadership in rallying the country to an action plan intended to solve a serious national problem and possibly benefit the country as a whole. It is an expensive scheme.

Two things, it seems to me, happened to make the scheme controversial. One, the way the announcement was made created the impression it would take off simultaneously in the 36 states. Two, the government assumed that because it is intended to respond to the murder and mayhem in the clashes between herdsmen and farmers, it would generate instant applause of welcome. Add to these the obvious assumption on the part of the federal government that the herdsmen themselves would be jumping for joy over the scheme that would resettle them and end their wandering days in search of pasture. I think this assumption is naïve. They too would need to be educated on why resettling them and ending open grazing would be beneficial to them.

A well-grounded policy in a matter of this nature, properly marketed to the public, would not commend itself to a hasty retreat as has happened. The first step is to know what the problem is: its causes, depth and dimension. It is a given that you cannot solve a problem without knowing what it is. The federal and state governments refuse to address themselves to how the Fulani cattle rearers who had a reputation for peaceful co-existence with their host communities suddenly turned into AK-47 carriers and killers even when there is no evidence of a clash between them and the farmers. The federal government settled for a solution that it believes would make finding the cause unnecessary. Human societies do not progress that way.

If the Ruga settlement plan was conceived primarily to end the herdsmen-farmer clashes, then it is a palliative, not a lasting solution that would help to make fundamental changes to our traditional system of animal husbandry. Animal husbandry is an important part of our agriculture. There are some 20 million cattle in this country. This is more than the population of four or five northern states put together. That is huge. This country should have a sound national policy for animal husbandry as part of our national agricultural development. It may or may not require Ruga but it must aim at ending open grazing and be conceptualised and executed as a process that would mature over a given period of time. A kia-kia approach is not advisable and could be self-destructive.

The federal government should have addressed some critical questions as they concern the scheme. For instance, should the Ruga settlement plan be nation-wide or should it be confined to the animal breeding parts of the country? There is a significant number of cattle breeders in most parts of the country but this does not necessarily mean that Ruga should be a national cake to which all states of the federation are entitled.

It is easy for the opponents of the scheme to argue that it is intended to do for the cattle breeders what is not done for other farmers and thus confer on the cattle breeders unfair socio-economic advantages. The cattle breeders and the cassava farmers face different challenges that must be met each in its own way.

Secondly, should Ruga be a sole federal government project or a joint federal-state project? Thirdly, should be it a public/private partnership? Cattle breeding is still a private enterprise. Fourthly, should the land acquired for it be a lease or an outright purchase by the federal or federal/state governments?

These are not idle questions. They and similar questions should have been raised and properly addressed before the scheme was even announced. However, it now seems that Ruga may likely be replaced by a new scheme known as the National Livestock Transformation Plan recently approved by the National Economic Council. We do not yet know enough about this new scheme but if, as the news reports indicated, state governors support it, it should lead to the conclusion that this is perhaps a less exclusive scheme than its cousin, the Ruga plan.

It should be a good sign then that the governors who are opposed to Ruga are not against the Fulani cattle breeders as a group. They just do not think that the federal government should single them out for preferential treatment in the manner the Ruga scheme was conceived. Let’s hope, though that the new scheme would fare better in the public space.


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