Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State has reacted to the controversy over the proposed Ruga Settlement, an initiative the federal government says will check insecurity arising from open animal grazing.
The proposal, kickstarting in some northern states on a pilot phase, has sparked controversy with many Nigerians accusing the federal government of pushing a land grab policy.
Some have also questioned why the government is funding and piloting an initiative that is effectively supposed to be a private business.
Some state governments, including Benue and Edo, have rejected the planned Ruga Settlement. The South East and South South states have also said they will not welcome the programme.
As a member of a committee handling the government’s effort to check incessant clashes between herders and farmers, Mr Lalong defended the programme on Monday after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.
Read the excerpts:
On his visit to the president
I came to see the president on behalf of my state and on behalf of the 19 northern states as chairman of Northern governors’ forum. I came in to have a discussion with Mr President. Of course many of you know that I just came back from Egypt where we went to cheer our Super Eagles and I also brought him the concerns of our players over there and he promised to handle the matter immediately. Because football is a unifying factor in Nigeria and we shouldn’t joke with it, if they bring back the cup it will cement our relationship and that is one of it.
Secondly, it’s how we intend to start operation in respect to the general insecurity in the north and I have already briefed him because we are still going to have our meeting in the north. Particularly also, some of the issues about my state is to express our gratitude for his support when we have the National Assembly leadership position. Of course you know I am a beneficiary – the deputy speaker directly comes from my state and I should come and say thank you for giving me deputy speaker and for ensuring that we had a smooth election.
Given the security challenges confronting northern Nigeria what do we expect to see from your leadership?
So many things. I am going to take over tomorrow (Tuesday). I have not done the formal handingover but I am going back to Kaduna to take the handing-over and thereafter, create a roadmap for peace and security in the north and we are also thinking of immediately organising a northern security summit.
The Ruga Settlement project is now becoming a controversial issue for the entire country, what is your view on this project and what is the position of plateau state?
I think the Ruga thing should not be anything that should bring controversy with the level of sensitisation we’ve already made. I am a member of the food security committee, I am a member of the herdsmen/farmers committee, we’ve gone a long way on this issue and we’ve said that the only solution that can address some of these insecurity issues between herdsmen and farmers is the ranching policy. You remember that one time we have gone far when some people called it colony and called it this and that, and it created controversy.
Again, we have gone far under the leadership of Mr Vice President, and then we are hearing other terms, what they are talking about is the same thing that we are talking about. But I think when they mentioned Ruga, it may be particular to a particular tribe but what we are doing is all encompassing, it’s for the benefit of Nigeria. I have said particularly in my state that animal husbandry, livestocks rearing is not a prerogative of one tribe, everybody must get involved in it and that is what we have done in our state when we registered for it. We said we are going to put these structures to enable us to encourage youth, train youth. Right now we are training permanent secretaries, retired civil servants who would also get involved in it so that we can address some of the insecurity that we have in the nation.
So, when somebody mentioned another word, people would not wait to question and find out who and who are bringing those words, that is just the simple fact. But if you go to what we have done because they have mentioned some states which are included, yes, those states applied, those states said we have land for it. It’s not federal government that is imposing it on any state. To the benefit of Mr President, the president has not imposed that on any states, it was voluntary. And they said any state that is prepared to do that to address insecurity in his state should come and apply. So some of the states applied and we are at the level of the pilot scheme and some mischief makers would start bringing terms to cause confusion in the country. It’s very unfortunate.
On whether it is political?
I don’t know whether it is political. Of course I am a member of the committee, by the time we addressed that issue some people said yes we would prefer to do open grazing in our state, some said we would prefer to do ranching in our state and some said in our state we would call it Ruga model. So different states with their different approaches, but Ruga term is not general to everybody. In my state we call it livestock something, it’s not Ruga and we have explained it to people.
There is a picture that it’s the federal government that is funding this Ruga project. Does that give you any concern?
No, I was here one time when people asked why the federal government is subsidising agriculture, subsidising ranching? And I also asked why is the federal government subsidising agriculture? This is a policy that we felt that it is not only for economic sense, but it would also address the issue of security. So if it is going to address insecurity in a period the country is confronted with serious security challenges then federal government would come and assist those who want to do it. They are not imposing it on any state, I am a member of this committee under the chairmanship of the Vice President, the federal government has not imposed that on any state. They said if you have land for pilot scheme they can assist, and donor agencies are coming from all over, it is not a federal government project, the World Bank is involved, the African Development Bank is involved. So if you have a scheme like this that can check poverty, bring revenue and also address insecurity, you will need to go into it but with due consultation from your state.
We did a lot of sensitisation in my state; it took me three months to do sensitisation and we all agreed that we should bring this concept to empower people. It is not meant to empower one tribe, it is for everybody and that would address the issue of insecurity because we don’t want people moving from one place to another looking for grasses.
The fact that federal government is bring the subsidy was a request from the committee chaired by Mr Vice President. Goodluck Jonathan did it and he budgeted about N10 billion but we didn’t see the money. If he had done that at that time, we would not be fighting insecurity between herders and farmers today.