President Muhammadu Buhari succumbed to pressure on Wednesday by suspending the controversial Ruga settlement scheme, designed to settle the Fulani and their cattle on acquired land across states in the federation.
The suspension was announced in Abuja after governors representing the six geopolitical zones of the country met with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Chairman of the National Committee on Food Security/Herders/Farmers Conflicts and Governor of Ebonyi State, Mr Dave Umahi, disclosed the government’s decision to journalists after the meeting.
Besides Umahi, others at the meeting included Plateau State Governor, Mr Simon Lalong; Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu; and the Deputy Governor of Adamawa State, Mr Martins Nasir.
Umahi explained that the controversial Ruga policy was not consistent with the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which was earlier deliberated upon and approved by the National Economic Council. Osinbajo is the Chairman of the NEC.
The Ebonyi State governor spoke further, “We, the NEC committee on farmers/herders crises under the chairmanship of His Excellency, Mr Vice-President, met today to deliberate on the approved programme of NEC and the Federal Government, tagged ‘National Livestock Transformation Programme.’
“We are aware today that Mr President has suspended the implementation of the Ruga programme, initiated and being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“(This is) because it is not consistent with the NEC and the Federal Government-approved National Livestock Transformation plan, which has programmes of rehabilitation of internally displaced persons resulting from crises and also the development of ranches in any willing state of the federation. The word is willing state of the federation.
“The beauty of the National Livestock Transformation plan is that what NEC and the FG approved is a voluntary programme for all the 36 states that like to participate. So, it is not compulsory; it is for any state that is willing to key into the programme.
“Any state that is interested in this programme is required to bring up a development plan that is keyed toward the implementation in line with our own programme here that is unique to his state, based on the challenges that he has in respect of the crisis. That is the decision of this committee.”
The government had last week named 12 states as the pilot states for the Ruga scheme, resulting in immediate nationwide outcry.
The states mentioned included Sokoto, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Kogi, Taraba, Katsina, Plateau, Kebbi, Zamfara and Niger.
Wednesday’s meeting of the committee was the first after the President’s inauguration on May 29.
Last week, as the Ruga project generated tension in the country, the VP’s office quickly denied that Osinbajo was supervising the implementation of the scheme.
The Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Vice-President, Mr Laolu Akande, in a statement, said the VP only knew about the NLTP and not Ruga.
He stated, “The National Livestock Transformation Plan 2019-2028 is a programme to be implemented in seven pilot states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara (as decided by NEC in January), being states in the front lines of the Farmer-Herder crises. Afterwards, six other states have indicated readiness to also implement the plan. They are Katsina, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, and Edo states.
Akande gave other details, “The plan has six pillars through which it aims to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market-oriented value chain while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice.
“The six key pillars include, economic investment, conflict resolution, justice and peace, humanitarian relief and early recovery, human capital development and cross-cutting issues such as gender, youth, research and information and strategic communication.”
But, on his own part, Buhari’s spokesman, Mr Garba Shehu, stated that Ruga and the NLTP were “semantics”, as both meant the same thing.
However, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, the Afenifere, dismissed the suspension of the Ruga settlement programme by the Presidency, describing it as a ploy to buy time.
It endorsed calls for referendum by various groups to determine the future of the country, noting that the insistence on the implementation of the initiative by some northern groups showed that the need for a referendum was more urgent than ever.
Afenifere’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, stated, “I think they are just buying time. We would have said they were bending to public opinion if the programme was cancelled.”
He expressed suspicion over the ultimatum issued by the northern groups and their threat to evict Southerners living in the north if the Ruga programme was not allowed in the Southern part of the country.
Odumakin noted, “How come the day the Ruga was suspended was the day a coalition of northern groups is issuing an ultimatum that the policy must be implemented within three weeks?
“We support the calls by different groups that a United Nations-supervised referendum should hold to determine whether we should live together under true federalism or go our separate ways.”
Opposing the suspension of the initiative, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said it expected the government to cancel it.
The PANDEF National Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, argued that the scheme could compromise national security and the safety of Nigerians.
He said, “The suspension is not enough, it should be cancelled outright because suspension is a temporary measure, what we want is total cancellation. Ruga shouldn’t be mentioned at all. It is against the collective peace and survival of the people of Nigeria.”