Still On The RUGA Conundrum. Monima Daminabo

Call it a welcome anticlimax of sorts, and you will be right on target. That was the suspension last week by President Muhamdu Buhari, of the implementation of the RUGA Project, by agents of the Federal Government. The suspension was conveyed to journalists by the Governor of Ebonyi State Mr Dave Umahi who is also the Chairman of the National Committee on Food Security and Herders-Farmers Conflict, after a meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) with governors of the six geopolitical zones represented.

The RUGA Project is being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources with the intention of settling the herdsmen Fulani and their cattle in federal government acquired land, which will be endowed with infrastructure and sundry facilities, across the states of the federation.

However, according to Umahi the project’s implementation was suspended due to its inconsistency with the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), which had earlier been approved by the NEC to address on a sustainable basis, the lingering and often deadly farmers – herdsmen clashes.

Reactions to the suspension have been flowing in torrents indicating that the issue has hit a raw nerve in the country’s political space. In one vein is the complement of commendations of the President’s response by suspending the implementation of the project, especially in the light of its inconsistency with the NLTP, and which has led many to see RUGA as being smuggled into the country’s political space at a most inauspicious time and political ambience.

This lobby cites the underlying heightened state of tension in the country preceding the arrival of RUGA and which led to the articulation of the NLTP itself. It is significant to add that the rapid escalation of political tension in the country conjured the scary possibility of outbreak of war among Nigerians, and largely justified the President’s intervention, if only to cool frayed nerves.

Without equivocation, reports and signals from across the country confirm that some sections were actually preparing to physically resist any agent of the federal government, including the military, that is set to implement the project within their vicinity. In the other vein is the advocacy by some interests who are opposed to Buhari‘s suspension of the implementation of the project in spite of the manifest threat it poses to national interest and security.

A Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) had issued Buhari a 30-day ultimatum to rescind his decision and allow RUGA as originally intended. According to its spokesman Abdul Azeez Suleiman, failure by Buhari to act as they are demanding, will lead to series of unspecified action by them.

Meanwhile media reports indicate that the President was apparently not properly briefed on the circumstances surrounding the RUGA’s sudden take off and without due consultation with the states. Just as well is also the rather unhelpful comment ascribed to the President’s spokesperson Mr Garba Shehu, as he described the difference between RUGA and NLTP as a matter of mere semantics.

Incidentally, President Buhari could not by any stretch of imagination, have approved a reversal of a policy action as occurred with the RUGA – NLTP mix-up, just on the basis of a mere semantic summersault. At least he was reported to have specifically queried why the RUGA project did not reconcile with the template defined by the NLTP.

For clarification, the NLTP remains the country’s template for solving on a sustainable basis, the age long farmers- herdsman faceoff. Developed and adopted in 2018, it is built on six pillars namely – economic investment, conflict resolution, law and order, humanitarian relief, information education and strategic communication and cross cutting issues. These pillars are to drive the evolution of market driven cattle ranches and other livestock farms, as well as rebuild community based, confidence driven networks, among others. 

Seen in perspective therefore, it cannot be lost on any one that the departure point between RUGA and NLTP is the ethnic flavor of the former as it singles out the ethnic Fulani stock as the primary beneficiaries of its promise. This parochial factor, beyond any other consideration, constitutes not only the primary weakness of the RUGA Project. It also vitiates whatever justification may be assumed for the grandstanding by any pro-RUGA interests, including Mr Garuba Shehu, the NGC and any other faceless ones at this material time. 

In any case, if the primary intention of the RUGA and even the NLTP was not to confer undue advantage on the Fulani stock, such a narrative is yet to be effectively articulated and popularized to drive relevant political conversation in Nigeria. Granted that cattle husbandry remains the traditional forte of the Fulani, contemporary circumstances dictate that any fixation with that mindset remains untenable and therefore unfortunate.

The preceding reality may not have been lost on the country’s agricultural development policy makers, planners and administrators. Their failure however seems to lie in their diminished success in embedding in a sustainable manner, such a positive mindset in the wider Nigerian society. Today there are countless non-Fulani Nigerians who are actively engaged in the various aspects of bovine and cattle husbandry including beef processing and marketing business. in virtually all parts of the country. They are seen as ‘suya’ and ‘kilishi’ processors and vendors, as well as ranchers, animal and skin processors, just to name a few. 

Meanwhile, a painful throwback with respect to the country’s sub-optimal performance in the bovine industry remains the sad commentary on the attitude of tacit denigration by the Northern governments and business leaders, towards the worthy legacies of the late great patriot and national leader – Sir Ahmadu Bello, who in his days as Premier of the North, worked assiduously in the face of significant odds, to establish a complement of industries including the bovine based Bauchi Meat factory in Bauchi, for the economic transformation of the North. Foresighted as he was, he had envisaged that the Bauchi Meat factory would produce beef and related products including canned corned beef for both local and international markets, and thereby drive development in the North East. 

However, typical of many public policy initiatives in Nigeria, they are easily hijacked by opportunistic elements in the system to drive their parochial interests, even to the detriment of national interest. This is believed to be the dubious intent of launching RUGA through the back door, and let it ride surreptitiously into irreversible fixation in the public domain, through a piggy-back flight, on the wings of the NLTP. Buhari has stalled that for now. Yes, for now. Courtesy Daily Trust.

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