By Danladi Al-Hassan
The Presidency on Sunday shed more light on the controversial Ruga settlements programme that the Federal Government is embarking on in collaboration with state governments, saying that the initiative was not meant to serve the interest of the Fulani ethnic group alone.
The Presidency, in a statement in Abuja on Sunday night by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, explained that the project was meant to serve everyone involved in animal husbandry, but more importantly, to “stop roaming of cattle herders with the attendant clashes with farmers.”
It also stated that the Ruga programme was “voluntary”, and that no state was forced to give up land for the project but accused some state governors of allegedly feeding the public with wrong information about the intention of the federal government.
It noted that these governors were not among those who had volunteered to be part of the project, but were spreading the wrong information about the purpose of the project.
The Presidency gave details, “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 organised 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.”
The Presidency claimed that the Ruga initiative was being politicised by those opposing it to create the impression of a hidden agenda.
It stated further, “Stripped of the politics and howling that has attended the recent comments, there is no government plan to seize state land, colonise 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, 12 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.”
The Presidency criticised such states, saying that their governors had been unable to pay salaries to workers for months, but were quick to oppose the Federal Government.
It added, “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.”