Lagos based Lawyer Slams Federal Government on the Proposed RUGA Settlement Policy
So much has now been said about the Proposed RUGA settlement for cattle and the nomadic Fulani herdsmen. The policy which apparently has been approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) seems to have generated serious reactions from several quarters. It is instructive to note that only a week before Buhari’s first term cabinet was dissolved in May 2019, then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, disclosed that the president approved the RUGA plan. Why? According to a statement released by the presidency on Sunday, June 30, 2019 the implementation of RUGA settlements is to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders.
To further buttress the idea behind the policy, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Umar, announced on Tuesday, June 25 that the settlements will house nomadic herdsmen who breed animals.
As expected, the RUGA settlements have already started springing up with about eleven States that have reportedly shown interest designated as pilot States. They are Sokoto, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Kogi, Taraba, Katsina, Plateau, Kebbi, Zamfara and Niger. More States are reportedly keying into the plan.
The policy has been met with a lot of resistance particularly within States in the South, Eastern and Western parts of the Country. The resistance is not unreasonable as many suspect that the scheme is a coordinated expansionist attempt to invade the South with the extremist and fanatical religious idiosyncrasies of the North within a very volatile country. It is believed that if the policy is allowed to be implemented in the South, it will pose a serious security threat to the people in the area as Fulani herdsmen are widely known to be quick in unleashing mayhem to neighbours around them who do not share their nomadic or religious views.
In a country where security of lives and property has become a topical issue and where religious and ethnic conflicts have continued to cause conflicts and killings, its is expected that the government should exercise restraint in implementing policies of this nature. Certain factors must be taken into consideration to determine whether the policy is supposed to be a nationwide policy or a policy that should be restricted to areas where cattle rearing and nomadic living is a way of life. In essence, why should a large expanse of land in the Eastern State of Enugu be set aside for Fulani herdsmen from the North? Its tantamount to establishing a Play station centre in a typical village bereft modern facilities and whose only residents are aged, illiterate people above the age of 80 years. Its like establishing a Hijab shop inside a church, its like selling Bibles in the Mosque. An absolutely misplace scheme!
Infact, Contrary to how it was initially claimed in some quarters, the RUGA plan is not part of the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). The NLTP is a N179 billion 10-year initiative (2018-2027) that champions ranching as the way forward for cattle rearing in the country. The plan, presented by the National Economic Council (NEC) in June 2018, recommends that cattle herders are expected to be registered with cooperatives for the purpose of the ranching scheme. These cooperatives will then be able to get rental agreements for land from state governments and also benefit from ranch resources on several terms including loans, grants, and subsidies. This is not what the RUGA scheme as it is today is about.
Now, a look at the Land Use Act, 1979 will reveal that the Lands within the States of the Federation are within the control of the State Governors and in some cases the Local government Chairmen. Section 2 of the Act provides thus;
2. (1) As from the commencement of this Act –
(a) all land in urban areas shall be under the control and management of the Governor of each State. and
(b) all other land shall, subject to this Act, be under the control and management of the Local Government, within the area of jurisdiction of which the land is situated.
Subsection 2 of the section 2 further creates a Land Use and Allocation Committee. It provides thus,
(2) There shall be established in each State a body to be known as “the Land Use and Allocation Committee” which shall have responsibility for:
(a) advising the Governor on any matter connected with the management of land to which paragraph (a) of subsection (1) above relates.
(b) Advising the Governor on any matter connected with the resettlement of persons affected by the revocation of rights of occupancy on the ground of overriding public interest under this Act; and
(c) determining disputes as to the amount of compensation payable under this Act for improvements on land.
The import of these provisions of the law is that any State Government can decide not to be part of the scheme by simply stating that it will not allocate land for the purpose of the scheme and the Federal government does not have the power to compel the States to do otherwise.
It is no longer news that Fulani herdsmen have in the past few years turned neighbouring non-Fulani villages to blood fields and nothing has been done about it. There have been so much killings and maiming and no single Fulani herdsman has been brought to justice. None! None on record! Establishing RUGA settlements in Southern, Eastern and Western States without first changing the orientation of these weapon wielding, blood thirsty, savage Fulani herdsmen would amount to opening a Southern branch of Fulani herdsmen hostilities because the same reason why they kill people in the North will also make them kill people in the South if the settlements are established there.
The government should instead, look at the various communities and establish policies that will be beneficial to the people. For example, Modular refineries should be built in the Niger Delta, instead of destroying local refining innovations.
Industries and tech hubs should be established in the South to create more employment opportunities and boost innovation, more security centres should be established in the North to arrest and prosecute the killer Fulani herdsmen instead of giving them the RUGA incentives. The RUGA settlement may them be established in the North.
In conclusion, the Federal government must at a time like this, look within and critically evaluate the entire situation to ensure that the people do not begin to perceive that the reward for violence is compensation to the violent instead of justice and relief for the victim. The Fulani herdsmen who have been involved in all the killings must be brought to justice. At least, let it be on the news that some Fulani herdsmen have been arrested and accordingly prosecuted and convicted for the incessant killings and maiming. The RUGA settlement cannot be made a nation-wide policy. Not at this time!
Ehiwe O. Samuel is a legal practitioner based in Lagos, Nigeria.
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