Opinion | RUGA, A Necessary “Evil”

By Michael Dedon

There is a present controversy raging across the land over the FG’s proposed “Ruga Settlement” and I have before now maintained my cool in order to understand the concept and see the inherent benefits in it, if any.

The Ruga settlements have been criticized by some Nigerians who claim it is a ploy to claim land across the country for Fulani herders. This is no thanks to the disposition of Buhari who does not pretend about his bias for his ethnicity and religion. But should we throw away the baby and the bath water?

“Ruga” is actually an acronym for “Rural Grazing Areas” and its objective, as stated by the FG, is to settle migrant pastoral families 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. The overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers.

There is no gainsaying the fact that cattle rearing is mostly unregulated in Nigeria and there has been a lot of skirmishes between herdsmen and farmers. Several states in Nigeria, have for the past 4 years come under intense, continuous, coordinated and unabated attacks allegedly by the Fulani herdsmen with kidnappings to boot. Most of these unprovoked attacks often leave an unaccountable number of persons, especially women and children dead, communities ransacked and burnt down, and farmlands destroyed. So the pertinent question is how do we put a stop to this menace?

The FG’s Ruga scheme is to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders. However, the critics say the Ruga settlement program have a sectional goal; the furtherance and empowerment of one ethnic group using state resources and to some others, it is simply land grab for Fulanis coming from outside Nigeria to settle. All these are all plausible argument but we should not lose sight of the overall goal of putting a stop to the menace of herdsmen.

Whether or not the states reject the FG’s Ruga initiative, there is the need to regulate the cattle rearing business in the country for two reasons viz: (i) security and (ii) boosting of IGR.

For security reasons, we need to regulate the industry so that herdsmen cannot continue roaming our country side and towns/cities and in the process precipitating conflict and the attendant violence. Restricting herdsmen to an identifiable location will be paramount in tackling this scourge.

The states should promulgate laws banning open grazing and restricting herdsmen to cattle colonies where they are only able to carry on their business and any herdsman found outside of these colonies could be termed a felon and dealt with accordingly. By this, the states will also boost their revenue base by way of imposition of tax/levies. The cattle business is a multi billion naira industry that can generate additional revenue if only it is tapped.

I know the views expressed here may not be popular due to prevailing sentiments against the herdsmen but every thing cannot and should not be politicized. Even if the states reject the FG’s Ruga initiative, they need to come up with their own schemes to put a stop to open gazing and the attendant criminality.

Michael Dedon, ESQ, is an attorney, arbitrator, writer and social commentator.