THE Presidency last night confirmed that the Federal Government has gazetted lands in all the 36 states of the federation for the Ruga settlement but that the programme was optional for states to participate.
A Hausa-Fulani boy stands while his cattle is grazing near some farms in the outskirts of Sokoto, Sokoto State, Nigeria, on April 22, 2019. – Massive expansion of farming in Nigeria has cut access to grazing land for nomadic herders and fuelled persistent violence.
It also said that one of the cardinal objectives of the programme was to reduce herders/farmers clashes that have claimed many lives and property worth billions of Naira.
Besides, the Presidency said some of the state leaders that were kicking against the programme were those that do not have any justifiable reason for failing to pay workers in their states.
These came as a coalition of United Nations agencies, led by the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, UNTFHS, weekend, met with key stakeholders to discuss the protracted conflict affecting communities, particularly in Benue and Nasarawa states.
This is even as a group of Tiv professionals in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, yesterday called on the Federal Government to immediately put its Ruga settlement project in Benue State on hold or face legal action.
Meanwhile, Imo State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, has threatened to drag President Muhammadu Buhari to the United Nations should he continue with his Ruga policy for herdsmen in the country.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, also rejected the proposed Ruga settlements for herdsmen, describing the initiative as repugnant, repulsive and provocative.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu in Abuja, explained that already, 12 states have indicated interest in the pilot programme, adding that it was not only for those in cattle business but in all animal husbandry.
The statement read: “The Presidency wishes to draw attention to recent unhelpful comments regarding the plan to stop roaming of cattle herders with the attendant clashes with farmers.
“Ruga Settlement” that seeks 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.
“Beneficiaries will include all persons in animal husbandry, not only Fulani herders.
“The Federal Government is planning this in order to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders.
“The overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers, a boost in animal protection complete with a value chain that will increase the quality and hygiene of livestock in terms of beef and milk production, increased quality of feeding and access to animal care and private sector participation in commercial pasture production by way of investments.
“Other gains are job creation, access to credit facilities, security for pastoral families and curtailment of cattle rustling.”
Debunking the insinuation that the Federal Government was confiscating lands for the programme, Shehu said, “Stripped of the politics and howling that has attended the recent comments, there is no government plan to seize state land, colonize territory or impose Ruga on any part of the federation. Government has made it clear time and again that the programme is voluntary.
“So far, twelve states have applied to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, making lands available for the take-off of the scheme in their states. This number is sufficient for the pilot scheme.
“Unfortunately, some state governments that have not signified interest in the scheme and, therefore, are not on the invitation list have been misleading people that the Federal Government is embarking on a scheme to take away their lands.
“Mostly, these are state leaders that have no explanation to offer their people for continued non-payment of workers’ salaries. It is true that government at the centre has gazetted lands in all states of the federation but because the idea is not to force this programme on anyone, the government has limited the take-off to the dozen states with valid requests.
“We urge states to join the Federal Government at the centre in encouraging all sides to these conflicts to make efforts towards finding a peaceful resolution. As we seek a permanent solution to these unwanted conflicts, efforts must be made to ensure that no innocent person faces any kind of deprivation or loss of right and freedom under our laws.”
Meanwhile, the dialogue by the UN coalition is the first in a series of consultations for the implementation of UNTFHS programme, a three-year project being implemented by UNDP, UNHCR and FAO in partnership with Benue and Nasarawa State governments.
Violent conflicts have led to massive displacement of people in the affected communities, with death of hundreds and loss of livelihoods, posing a formidable threat to the country’s food security and long-term stability.
While in Makurdi, the team, led by Ms. Mehrnaz Mostafavi, met with representatives of civil society organizations, farmers associations, local and state government representatives, community elders, traditional leaders and representatives of local and international non-governmental organizations.
The meeting offered opportunity for the exchange of information on key elements of the human security approach which could be employed in promoting dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts, especially between the herdsmen and farmers in the region.
The team later engaged in a policy dialogue in Abuja, organized by UNDP, in collaboration with UNHCR and FAO.
The event, dubbed “Transitioning from humanitarian relief to long-term development: Addressing the herdsmen-farmers conflict in Nigeria” brought together senior UN representatives in the country, experts from national and local governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector, and explored several policy options that could be adopted in the quest to end the conflict.
Key among the recommendations were the advocacy for comprehensive solutions, preventive and mitigating measures, which required that all key stakeholders were integrated into policy planning and response frameworks, thereby strengthening long term resilience and safeguarding sustainable development.
UN Resident Co-ordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said: “The human security approach recognizes the full array of challenges that can both propel the devastating force of a crisis and undercut prospects for sustainable peace and development.
“Essential understanding presents opportunities to complement immediate humanitarian efforts, while helping to shape long-term solutions that put people on the path towards inclusive and sustainable development.”
Chief of the United Nations Human Security Unit, who is also leading the team, Ms. Mehrnaz Mostafavi, noted that the challenges to human security of both farmers and herders and activities were structured around addressing the numerous risks to safeguard livelihoods and promote peace”.
She added that a piecemeal approach will not address the prevalent cycle of violence and multi-faceted nature of the herder-farmer conflict, noting that a comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses the root causes of the conflict, while reducing the vulnerability of communities to protection risks, was required.
According to her, the overall goal of the intervention is to contribute to ending the herdsmen-farmers conflict in affected states.
‘Halt plans on Ruga or face legal action’
Similarly, a group of Tiv professionals in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, has called on the Federal Government to immediately put its Ruga settlement project in Benue State on hold or be prepared to meet it in court.
Addressing the media in Abuja yesterday, the group accused the governnent of being insincere in its settlement project, alleging that the Ruga project was the governnent’s hidden agenda to take over some parts of the state for the Fulani ethnic group.
In a prepared text signed by the chairman, Engr. Benjamin Nyior and General Secretary, Mr Dennis Mernyi, the group insisted that the government must stay action on the project or face action in court, given that the project was being carried out “without proper consultation with the state government and the people of the state whose lands are to be taken up for the said project.”
Nyior, who read the text of the briefing before newamen, said: “We, consequently, call on the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and anybody directly or indirectly connected with the implementation of the RUGA Settlement project to stay action until parties affected by it are fully consulted and their willingness or otherwise to benefit from it is secured.
“It should be noted that the introduction of the RUGA Programme and the manner in which contracts have hurriedly been awarded and contractors mobilized to site, the resultant spontaneous reactions from different quarters rising in opposition to it all over the country, calls for its suspension to allow deep consultation and creation of needed awareness on the real intention of the programme to Nigerians, including the good people of Benue State.
“Until these issues are explained and the needed consultations made, OnTiv Professionals Association and the entire Tiv nation will rise in opposition to this programme.
“In rising against it, we shall seek all lawful avenues of redress to achieve the wishes of the people of Benue State.
“Although we are aware that land could be acquired for overriding public interest, RUGA Settlements, to our understanding, does not qualify under the Land Use Act for this criterion.
“We are also aware that it is settled law as expressed in the case of R. Nkwocha v Governor of Anambra Stateby the Supreme Court of Nigeria to the effect that “individual rights to land ownership cannot be expropriated for any other individual or group of individuals.
“We are particularly concerned about the inclusion of Benue, a state that has been under the siege of Fulani herdsmen, in the programme without proper consultation with the state sovernment and the people of the state whose lands are to be taken up for the said project.
“As a registered body concerned with the well being of the state and particularly the Tiv nation, we feel obliged to add our voice to the calls by the state government and other sectors of the state calling for the suspension of the said project.
“This is informed by our belief that the position to establish the Ruga Settlements does not articulate the views of the people of the state neither does it bring in any positive dividend to the people of the state.
“Our position is further strengthened by the existence of “A Law to Prohibit Open Rearing and Grazing of Livestock and Provide for the Establishment of Ranches and Livestock Administration, Regulation and Control and for Other Matters Connected Therewith”(2017) validly passed by the State House of Assembly for the protection of the farmers and law abiding people of the state.
“The families and property of our people have been adversely threatened by herdsmen who over the years, have invaded, killed, displaced and attempted to take over our homes and farmlands but who unfortunately, this project stands to directly benefit.
“We align ourselves completely with the position of the state government, expressed through the Chief Press Secretary, confirming the inconclusive discussion on this matter with the officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture before the mobilization to site by contractors of the Federal Government.
“In making our case, we wish to request clarification on the following issues:”How did the Federal Government come to the conclusion of selecting three local governments of Ukum, Tarka and Otukpo in Benue State without consultation with the state government on the availability of land or otherwise for the programme?;
“Who offered the said lands to the Federal Government without the consent of the inhabitants who currently occupy and farm on the said land, considering that the state is predominantly farmers and that this decision has potential to negatively affect their ability to continue farming activities on their “Who is vested with the control and management of land within a state as provided for in the Land Use Act? Has the land for the project been properly acquired and compensation paid? Who has set aside the validly passed state law prohibiting open grazing of livestock in the state to warrant the approval of the project by the Federal Government in the state?
“What is the haste in mobilizing contractors to site when discussions were still ongoing with the representatives of the Federal Government?
“What are the criteria of citing federal projects in states and was this followed in the case of allocating the RUGA project in Benue State?
“Will a state like Benue which is the “Food Basket of the Nation” and one that has suffered immense casualties in life and property arising from herdsmen attacks on harmless farmers not be one that a programme as RUGA should be properly worked out with the state?
“What is the economic potential of the Ruga Project and how different is it from the ranching option already agreed by the State and the National Economic Council?
Imo CAN bids to drag Buhari to UN
In a similar development, Imo State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, yesterday threatened to drag President Muhammadu Buhari to the United Nations should he continue with his Ruga policy for herdsmen in the country.
State Secretary of CAN, Reverend Eches Divine Eches, alleged in Owerri that the RUGA, programme was a strategy to freely create settlements for the Fulanis in the 36 states of the federation.
He called on the five governors of the South Sast states to quickly convene an emergency meeting to jointly and publicly reject the move to establish Ruga settlements for herders.
Eches added that the life of Nigerians would be under threat with such a policy, expressing fears that it could lead to further “killings” in the country.
He said: “We, the Christian Association of Nigeria, Imo State chapter, are saying no to the Ruga policy of President Muhammadu Buhari.
SMBLF rejects Ruga
Meanwhile, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, yesterday, rejected the proposed Ruga settlements for herdsmen, describing the initiative as repugnant, repulsive and provocative.
It also warned governors from the respective regions not to succumb to any pressure to cede an inch of their land for this “awful project.”
In a statement by Messrs Yinka Odumakin (South West), Prof Chigozie Ogbu (South East), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South South) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), the leaders argued that the Ruga settlement “seeks to colonize the rest of Nigeria under the guise of promoting cattle rearing, which is private business.”
The statement read: “SMBLF has reviewed all the arguments about the Ruga Settlements the Federal Government is embarking upon in furtherance of the ethnic domination and conquest of the Fulani in Nigeria which the Buhari government is taking to the next level.
“The idea is repugnant, repulsive and provocative as it seeks to colonize the rest of Nigeria under the guise of promoting cattle rearing ,which is private business that should not have the involvement of any responsible government, as lining the might of the Federal Government behind the business of one ethnic group in a multi-ethnic country as Nigeria can only come from a government that is not interested in its unity.
“In the last four years, we have seen the rate at which the herdsmen have turned non-Fulani communities into killings fields, with the government turning a blind eye to all their crimes, while using the instrumentalities of state to defend and shield them from interrogation.
“If the herdsmen as wanderers had perpetrated untold crimes against indigenous people on a scale that is nothing but genocidal, it is left to imagination what they would do when the Federal Government of Nigeria now forces them on these communities as landlords.”
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