There was widespread relief wednesday as President Muhammadu Buhari demonstrated wisdom and leadership, and suspended the implementation of Ruga settlements, a policy seeking to solve endemic herders' confrontation with crop farmers nationwide by establishing cattle colonies.
With widespread opposition to the policy accross the country, the President shows he was the father of the nation and directed a review of the policy seeking consensus among stakeholders.
An attempt by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources to start the implementation of the policy in 12 pilot states had caused national uproar with the governors of the South-east, South-south, Middle Belt states, in particular Benue and Taraba States clearly objecting to it on the ground that it is unconstitutional because it violates the Land Use Act.
They received support from social critics, including Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who seeing the groundswell of opposition from socio-political groups, including Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum as well as youths from opposing states, warned that the policy, if not carefully considered, could precipitate a national crisis.
The federal government, however, calmed frayed nerves wednesday by halting the herders' settlement plan.
It said it was suspending the plan to establish the settlements because doing so would violate the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) it earlier had approved.
But southern leaders, under the aegis of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF); pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; and its Niger Delta counterpart, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), faulted the federal government's suspension of the Ruga settlements and called for its abolition.
Rising from a meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) Committee on Farmers-Herders' Crisis, presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the State House, members described Ruga as a deviation from the features of NLTP, which they said included the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and ranching.
There had been a controversy on whether Ruga, which was to have pilots in Sokoto, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Kogi, Taraba, Katsina, Plateau, Kebbi, Zamfara, Niger and Benue States, was the same as NLTP.
The controversy got to a head when Miyetti Allah, an association of cattle owners, alleged that Ruga was being supervised by the vice-president, a claim Osinbajo swiftly dismissed as untrue.
The controversy deepened on Monday when the Chairman of Northern Governors' Forum (NGF), Mr. Simon Lalong of Plateau State, told State House reporters that Ruga and NLTP meant the same thing but only had different names.
But Lalong's claim about both programmes was punctured yesterday by the NEC committee of which he is a member when the committee said the idea of Ruga was antithetical to the spirit and letter of NLTP.
However, following the tension generated by Ruga across the country, Osinbajo had summoned the NEC committee meeting yesterday where components of the programme were reviewed and found to be at variance with the NLTP.
A member of the committee and Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Umahi, who was detailed to brief reporters after the meeting, said NEC resolved to announce the suspension of Ruga in line with the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to him, any state willing to implement Ruga must do so in line with the stipulations of NEC and in observance of inherent challenges there-in.
He said: "We are aware today (yesterday) that Mr. President has suspended the implementation of Ruga programme, initiated and being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, because it is not consistent with the NEC and the federal government-approved National Livestock Transformation Plan, which has programmes of rehabilitation of displaced IDPs, resulting from the crisis and also development of ranches in any willing state of the federation. The word is 'willing state of the federation.'
"The National Livestock Transformation Plan - its beauty is that what NEC and the federal government approved is a voluntary programme to all the 36 states who may like to participate.
"So, it is not compulsory. It is any state that is willing that will key into the programme.
"Any state that is interested in this programme is required to bring up a development plan that is geared towards 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's the decision of this committee."
Besides Umahi, other governors at the meeting were Lalong and Atiku Bagudu(Kebbi) and Deputy Governor of Adamawa State, Martins Nasir.
In a swift reaction to the suspension, Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, whose state was vociferous in condemning the scheme, described the action as victory for all peace loving Nigerians.
According to the governor, the rejection of the Ruga settlement model was not personal but rather a struggle by the people of the country against impunity and injustice.
The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Terver Akase, in a statement, said Ortom commended Buhari for heeding the calls of the people for the suspension of Ruga.
He added that the decision to suspend the programme showed that Buhari heard the voices of majority of Nigerians on the matter.
Southern Leaders Insist on Cancellation
However, the SMBLF, Afenifere and PANDEF have faulted the federal government's suspension of the settlement programme for herdsmen.
But the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, commended the suspension of the proposed scheme for herdsmen, urging the federal government to initiate policies and programmes that would unite rather than divide the country.
SMBLF, Afenifere and PANDEF said rather than the suspension of the project, the federal government should cancel it outright
Spokesman of Afenifere and SMBLF, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, stated that the group would have hailed the government decision as being responsive "but for the 30-day ultimatum issued by Coalition of Northern Group on the same day the suspension was announced."
He said: "Reasonable people are bound to suspect that a suspension, not cancellation, was announced to allow the threat givers to pound the sections of the country opposed to the plan to submission."
On his part, the National Secretary of PANDEF, Dr. Alfred Mulade, canvassed for the cancellation of the project.
"This is just not the best thing to be done. The federal government should go a step further to do the needful. And, that is, outright cancellation of that idea because it is anti-peace, progress and development of Nigeria.
"The Ruga shouldn't be mentioned at all. It is against the collective peace and survival of the people of Nigeria. Then the federal government should tender an unreserved apology to the nation, for putting Nigerians through trauma of an unholy concept of Ruga," Mulade said.
In lauding the federal government for suspending the scheme, Ohanaeze Ndigbo urged it to promote programme that would unite rather than divide the country.
The organisation's President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who spoke to THISDAY through his Media Adviser, Chief Emeka Atamah, said the suspension of the programme had further shown that any policy or programme in which the stakeholders are not effectively carried along would collapse.
He said: "This is a clear indication that it's always good to consult widely before taking any decision that will affect the people. Before taking any decision, government must think of the ripple effect on the people.
"The need for clarity and openness don't need to be overemphasised. The vehemence in the rejection of the Ruga settlement across the country shows the country is highly divided.
"Government must, therefore, seek for ways of uniting the people instead of coming up with Ruga."