The presidency last night in Abuja reacted to the raging condemnations of the move by the federal government to establish rural grazing areas (RUGA) in states, saying the federal government had no plan to impose the idea on any state.
It described the idea as a voluntary concept conceived to end protracted conflicts among herders and locals and simultaneously put paid to the threat of deprivation and loss of people's freedom.
The presidency made this position known through a statement by a presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu.
According to the statement, 12 states have so far applied to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for participation in the programme, adding that the number is enough for the pilot phase of the project.
The statement accused some state leaders, which it said had not applied for the project and also not on the invitation list of the government, of fuelling the controversy and advised states to cooperate with the federal government in its search for a solution to the lingering crisis.
"Stripped of the politics and howling that has attended the recent comments, there is no government plan to seize state land, colonize 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.
"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," the statement said.
The statement which further said the idea was meant to contain the roaming of cattle herders and the consequent clashes they often have with farmers, added that RUGA would help to settle the herders in an organised place with the provision of basic facilities.
Explaining that the project would also be beneficial to all and sundry who engage in animal husbandry, presidency insisted that RUGA would help to end open grazing and the security threat it posed to both farmers and herders.
It listed other benefits of the project to include a boost in animal protection including the quality of hygiene of the herd, beef and milk production as well as other accruable benefits such as job creation and access to credit facilities.
It added: "'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 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.
"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."
Again, Southern, Middle Belt Leaders, Reject Policy
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) yesterday sustained its opposition to the establishment of Ruga settlements for herdsmen, warning the federal government to review its decision.
Also, communities under the Akpa Community Development Association (ACDA) in Otukpo, Benue State, have condemned the hoisting of Ruga settlement signpost in the area, describing those that erected it as criminals.
SMBLF in a statement by Messrs Yinka Odumakin (South-west), Prof. Chigozie Ogbu (South-east), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-south) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), said the Ruga settlements were in furtherance of the ethnic domination and conquest of the Fulani in Nigeria, with the alleged encouragement of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
"The idea is repugnant, repulsive and provocative as it seeks to colonise the rest of Nigeria under the guise of promoting cattle rearing, which is private business that should not have the involvement of any responsible government, as lining the might of the federal government behind the business of one ethnic group in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria can only come from a government that is not interested in its unity," SMBLF said.
The forum argued that in the last four years, "We have seen the rate at which the Fulani herdsmen have turned non-Fulani communities into killing fields with the government turning a blind eye to all their crimes while using the instrumentalities of state to defend and shield them from interrogation."
It said that the SMBLF was in Benue State in January 2018 where over 73 people were killed in one day by suspected Fulani herdsmen and then in other various communities in the last four years through the shedding of innocent blood by marauders.
"We challenge the federal government to tell us any court in the country where any herdsman is being tried today for all the killings, kidnappings, raping of women and destruction of farmlands they have carried out against innocent citizens. As if the sinful silence of the government is not enough, it has now decided on a provocative measure to secure territories for them in all the 36 states of the federation," it said.
In Benue State, the National President of ACDA, Dr. Fidelis Otebe, said it was an act of criminality to erect the signpost despite protests from the state that the people did not want any settlement for herders in their domain.
Otebe said yesterday that he had consulted Akpa sons and daughters at home and in the Diaspora and they rejected the intention of the federal government to establish grazing reserves in Akpa land.
"The people have no land to give as grazing reserves in whatever form to anybody, including Fulani herdsmen and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resource," he added.
He said as agrarian settlers, who earned their living through cultivation of agricultural crops, the people have no land for grazing reserves and warned those with the idea to locate the grazing reserves in Akpa to stay clear from the area.
According to him, the people have given land to Agricultural Training Institute, Otobi; Otukpo Multipurpose Dam, Otobi; University of Health Sciences, Akwete; Federal Government College; and Federal Government Tourism Centre for Crafts, among others where compensation were paid to the people.
Meanwhile, the Edo State Government has said that it has not donated land or showed any interest in the project.
Special Adviser, Media and Communication Strategy to the governor, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, said in Benin City yesterday that the reason behind the passive interest of the state was that the state government had agricultural programmes that cut across farm settlement, fisheries, livestock and other animal husbandries.
According to him, this is why the governor has not made a commitment on the matter or move to donate land for the project.
However, despite the protests of the establishment of Ruga settlements for Fulani herdsmen, the federal government has commenced the award of contracts for the projects in some states, THISDAY's investigation has revealed.
THISDAY gathered that the cost of eight-brick Ruga infrastructure with sanitary facilities awarded in Taraba State was N166.3 million.
Taraba is one of the 12 states where the Ruga settlement for herders is to be set up, under a pilot scheme to test run the programme aimed at finding a lasting solution to the perennial clashes between herders and farmers over grazing routes and destruction of farm produce.
Other states are: Adamawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Sokoto, Nasarawa, Kogi, Katsina, Kebbi, Benue, Zamfara and Niger.
THISDAY, however, gathered that despite the stiff opposition to the scheme, the federal government had commenced the award of contracts for the construction of the settlements.
In one of the letters of contract dated May 21, 2019, and signed by a Director in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Developments, one of the contractors was directed to mobilise to contract site in Taraba State and ensure that the contract was delivered within four weeks and according to specifications.
The contractor was warned against asking for contract variation, as it would not be entertained.