The backstage pressure on some governors by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to cede vast expands of their land for the settlement of the invading herdsmen in their states does not seem to be having a smooth sail.
Some concerned citizens are seeing in the herdsmen’s settlement initiative, a veiled programme to Islamise the country. Religious antagonism and suspicion of government’s plans for the Fulani herdsmen is deep-rooted in Nigeria.
Governors of Eastern Nigeria, the hotbed of Biafra agitation as well as Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Darius Ishaku of TarabaState and the Ondo State Government have been under intense pressure by agents of the Buhari administration for a land peace deal with the rampaging herdsmen.
The Buhari administration has been pushing for what insiders called Ruga Settlements. But the governors, apparently weakened by the resistant protests in their states, have bluntly refused to play ball with Abuja.
A report by The Punch however, says the governors are not giving out their land for herdsmen’s settlements in their states.
The government on Tuesday claimed that in the next five years, the establishment of Ruga settlements in the country will stop open grazing by herdsmen and end herdsmen-farmers’ clashes across the country, explaining that the Ruga settlements, which had been approved by President Buhari and had started in 12 states, will allow herdsmen to stay in specific areas, where they can graze their animals.
For Governor Ortom, whose state has suffered frequent attacks, Benue has no land for the Federal Government proposed Ruga settlements for Fulani herdsmen.
According to his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, the Ruga settlement policy was allegedly imposed on states during the National Council on Agriculture summit in Owerri, the Imo State capital, last April by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
While a delegation from the state reportedly reminded the summit that Benue has a law on ranching which has phased out open grazing, the Ortom spokesman added that few weeks ago, a director of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture with his team in Benue informed officials of the state Ministry of Agriculture that he had received directives from the Ministry’s headquarters Abuja to establish Ruga which means Fulani settlement in parts of the state.
The director reportedly said three local government areas of the state: Otukpo, Tarka and Ukum have been selected for the Ruga settlements. ‘’We find the approach of the federal ministry not only as a gross violation of the Ranching law but also as an insult to the sensibilities of the entire people of Benue.
‘’During the National Council on Agriculture summit which took place in Owerri, the ministry attempted to impose Ruga settlement on the states but the Benue delegation seized the opportunity to remind the summit that Benue has a law on ranching which has phased out open grazing. No one at the summit put forth an alternative method of animal husbandry to counter the state’s presentation.
‘’The Government of Benue State is willing to support cattle owners to establish ranches as stipulated by the law prohibiting open grazing. We however wish to reiterate that Benue has no land for grazing reserves, grazing routes, cattle colonies or Ruga settlements. The state only has land for the establishment of ranches’’, Governor Ortom’s spokesman said.
Like Benue, the Imo State Government has said that they will not be part of the proposed Ruga settlements for Fulani herdsmen. The Special Adviser to the Governor on Media, Steve Osuji, says no governor in Eastern Nigeria will accept such a proposal.
Insisting, he said, ‘’it is not about Imo State; no state in the South-East would accept it. We won’t rush to accept it when no state in the North has implemented it.’’
Special Adviser to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Louis Amoke, has been quoted as saying that the coal state was in full support of the South-East Governors’ Forum position on cattle colony.
While pointing out that the governors have made their position known that the South-East has no land for cattle colony, Ruga settlement, or in whatever nomenclature it is called, Amoke added, ‘’so, the position of Enugu State Government is not different from the position of South-East Governors’ Forum.’’
For Governor Ishaku of Taraba, who spoke through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Dan Abu, the state will not accept anything except ranching, claiming that ranching remained the best option in the resolution of the crisis, and called on Abuja to key into the ranching policy as the best option in the resolution of the herders-farmers’ crisis.
‘’We have a policy on this issue already which led to the enactment of the open grazing and ranches establishment law. This policy remains the best practice the world over in animal rearing. We implore the Federal Government to key into the ranching policy for the overall interest of herders and farmers. For now, we will not accept anything other than ranching’’, he said.
On their part, the Ondo State Government has declared that they are not planning to have any other settlement for Fulani herdsmen because they have already established ranches in some parts of the state.
Commissioner for Information, Yemi Olowolabi, told The Punch that the ranches were established in Auga Akoko and Akunnu Akoko in the Akoko North-East Local Government Area of the state.
According to him, ‘’I am not aware of anything of such (Ruga settlement). However, we have made our position known about that. We have established cattle ranches at Auga Akoko and Akunnu Akoko for people to take their cattle to.
‘’So, rather than doing cattle rustling, the ranches were established for people to bring their cattle there. So, our position is that we don’t believe in creating anything of such, we already have our own ranches established, with the belief that the cattle there would be healthier and better.’’
Before the controversial Ruga settlements, the Buhari administration had in 2018 planned to establish cattle colonies for herdsmen. Like what is currently happening, many states kicked against it.
Last May 21, the immediate past Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Audu Ogbeh, announced that President Buhari had approved the Ruga settlement initiative earlier in the same month.
‘’Just 10 days ago, President Buhari approved a programme called the Ruga settlement. We are going to build settlements where herders will live, grow their cattle and produce milk. The milk will be bought by a milking parlour thus preventing their wives from moving around with milk. This is especially to avert any conflict between the herders and the farmers’’, Ogbeh reportedly said.