The implementation of Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements, the latest plan by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to put an end to a recurring conflict between nomadic herders and farmers, has been met with considerable outrage from Nigerians.
The Benue State government and several notable Southern and Middle Belt socio-political groups have completely condemned the plan and called for it to be scrapped.
Many have also slammed it as further confirmation of the president's alleged plan to Islamise the country, an ever-present allegation relentlessly dismissed by the Federal Government.
From the little the government has made public about the RUGA plan, here are seven things to know:
1. Buhari approved the RUGA plan in May
Only a week before Buhari's first term cabinet was dissolved in May 2019, then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, disclosed that the president approved the RUGA plan.
"Just 10 days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari approved a programme called the RUGA settlement," Ogbeh said on May 21, 2019.
According to a statement released by the presidency on Sunday, June 30, the implementation of RUGA settlements is to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders.
The conflict, most notably over land access and resources, has led to the death of thousands in the past few years, with herders usually blamed for majority of attacks.
2. The settlements will house herders and animal farmers
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.
"We felt that to do away with herders-farmers' conflict, we need to settle our nomads and those who breed animals.
"We want to put them in a place that has been developed as a settlement, where we provide water for their animals, pasture, schools for their children, security, agro-rangers, etc," he said.
The presidency disclosed on Sunday that animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in RUGA settlements 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.
3. FG believes RUGA settlements will be of benefit to everyone
Umar noted that RUGA settlements will put an end to the nomadic lifestyle of herdsmen, who are usually, but not exclusively, Fulani.
He said the provision of cattle markets will mark the end of herdsmen having to transport their herds mostly by foot and avoid conflict with local farming communities.
He said, "We also felt that we need to develop cattle markets whereby you don't need to be transporting animals through very long distances.
"We will also bring in investors that will set up modern centres where cattle breeders can slaughter their animals. When we do that, a lot of other things will come up.
"We are going to change their lifestyle, take them away from our streets and from wandering in the bush and develop districts, hamlets and towns and definitely in the next five to 10 years you will never see a nomad moving about, wandering or kidnapping. And this will end all these security challenges."
Umar estimated that each RUGA settlement will provide at least 2,000 jobs and will be a major attraction for foreign investors.
"The RUGA settlement will attract a lot of investments to Nigeria and it is our belief that in the next five years, each RUGA settlement will provide nothing less than 2,000 employment opportunities," he said.
The presidency also said in its Sunday statement that RUGA settlements will be of benefit to everyone in animal husbandry and not just Fulani 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," the presidency said.
4. 11 pilot states have shown interest
RUGA settlements have already started springing up with 11 states that have reportedly shown interest designated as pilot states. They are Sokoto, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Kogi, Taraba, Katsina, Plateau, Kebbi, Zamfara and Niger.
According to Umar, each state will have at least six locations where nomadic herders will be settled alongside others interested in rearing animals.
"Already state and local governments are buying into the initiative. Many states have indicated interest. They have been coming to the ministry and will like to join to ensure that we set up RUGA settlements in their states so that their nomads will have a place. Also, they will have cattle markets and modern abattoirs in their states," he said.
Benue State had initially been listed as an interested pilot state, but Governor Samuel Ortom publicly denounced RUGA settlements after the Federal Government appeared to ignore its objections and tried to implement the plan in the state.
5. RUGA not covered in the National Livestock Transformation Plan
Contrary to how it was initially claimed in some quarters, the RUGA plan is not part of the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).
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.
The funding of the plan from the federal government and state governments is expected to last for the first three years in the pilot phase for a total of N70 billion while private sector interests and investments between the third and tenth year is expected to be in excess of N100 billion.
In response to the outrage caused by the RUGA settlements, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who chairs NEC, has publicly dismissed claims that the plan is associated with NLTP.
"On the National Livestock Transformation Plan, 13 States are already in the process of implementation of a plan to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market oriented value chain while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice.
"The States are Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, and Edo.
"These States are at different stages in the process, but have indicated readiness to implement the plan. Truth is: this FG will not impose on any state government regarding its land," Osinbajo's spokesperson, Laolu Akande, said in a statement on Friday, June 28.
6. RUGA plan is quite similar to NLTP
Despite distancing the National Livestock Transformation Plan from the RUGA settlements initiative, similarities between the two exist in abundance.
Just like NLTP, RUGA promotes ranching as the way forward for cattle rearing in the country.
Umar also revealed that cattle herders that hope to benefit from RUGA settlements are expected to be registered with cooperatives for the purpose of the ranching scheme.
It is only the cooperatives that will then be able to get rental agreements for land from state governments and also benefit from ranch resources on several terms.
These are similar conditions stipulated under the National Livestock Transformation Plan.
7. The Federal Government is "bent" on making RUGA a success
While speaking last week, Umar noted that the Buhari-led government "is bent on making the plan work" because of its huge and far-reaching impact on public safety and national security.
In its Sunday statement, the presidency urged states to join the Federal Government 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 presidency said.
The government also called for leaders to not politicise the RUGA initiative, assuring the public that the Buhari-led administration has no plans to force settlements on any state even though it has gazetted lands across the federation.m