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RUGA: What it Means and Why Nigerians Distrust the Scheme (Opinion)
Fulani Pastoralist - Happenings 
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RUGA: What it Means and Why Nigerians Distrust the Scheme (Opinion)

What do you know about RUGA?

Itohan Ferguson

The air of unease has been quite palpable since the Buhari led Government of Nigeria announced its intention to set up RUGA settlements in the 36 states of the Federation.

For those unfamiliar with RUGA, it is an acronym for Rural Grazing Area, and according to the Nigerian government, it is the solution to an agelong conflict between Nomadic Fulani herdsmen and Farmers.

RUGA settlement in simple terms is another form of ranching, as cattle are reared in a more controlled environment, as against the nomadic kind of animal husbandry standard with Fulani pastoralists.

These settlements will have a repository for cattle feed, vet clinics for diseased animals; abattoirs to hygienically process meat; road networks to solve the problem of logistics and proper market structures.

According to the Nigerian government, RUGA is not limited to just Fulani herdsmen, because individuals in the business of animal husbandry will benefit from the scheme.

Logical scrutiny of RUGA will reveal that it is a step in the right direction because the proper structure in animal husbandry will attract foreign investment and by extension, revamp the fledgling Nigerian economy.

Research has shown that countries like Brazil, USA, India, New Zealand and Australia make billions of dollars in revenue by exporting cattle and beef products.

Nigeria is a country that imports more than it exports and its primary source of revenue is crude oil, thus exploring the highly profitable global beef market is advantageous.

In hindsight, RUGA solves the problem of indiscriminate grazing, which destroys farmlands. It will also curtail cattle rustling, which is a danger of nomadic cattle rearing.

Cattle rustling is one of the reasons for the lingering conflict between Fulani herdsmen and host communities, which frequently have a bloody conclusion.

Cattle Rustling - Happenings 
Cattle Rustling - Happenings 

Furthermore, ranching is not a novel idea in Nigeria as this form of cattle rearing was embraced in the past. To encourage Fulani pastoralist to adopt a sedentary way of life, the Grazing Reserve Act of 1964 was enacted.

According to the act, several hectares of land was gazetted and preserved for cattle grazing in different parts of the country. For example, in the north, Kachia grazing reserve was 'RUGA' in the past.

Unfortunately, these grazing reserves have either been encroached on by farmers; neglected or urbanised, a clear indication is the Obudu Cattle ranch in Cross River which has been urbanised and turned into a tourist resort.

Faced with the pressure of urbanisation, crop cultivation and population explosion, Fulani pastoralists rely heavily on open grazing to feed their cattle.

For a scheme that would not only solve the century-old problem of grazing rights between farmers and pastoralists; put Nigeria on the international market for beef exportation, it was greeted with chaos, agitation and ethnic incitement.

RUGA: What it Means and Why Nigerians Distrust the Scheme (Opinion)
A mass burial of victims of Fulani Herdsmen Killings

Leaving the startling conclusion that an average Nigerian either do not have a deep understanding of RUGA or they are blinded by the hatred for their 'Fulani' President.

In the face of strong objections from a majority of the Nigerian populace, the RUGA scheme has been indefinitely suspended. Although it may have left lasting damage in the consciousness of the non-Northern Nigerian.

For one, it fosters the belief that President Muhammadu Buhari's government is making moves to 'Islamize' Nigeria.

Secondly, it has planted a deep distrust for the government.

Accordingly, this distrust has resulted in the blind vilification of RUGA, despite its underlying benefits. Naysayers tagged RUGA a land-grabbing strategy by the government, despite FG's rebuttal that state participation in the scheme is voluntary.

Moreover, the Land Use Act of 1978 gives the Governor of a state the absolute power to allocate land to individuals or organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes.

Therefore the federal government does not have the power to 'steal' state land.The response to RUGA permits the worrying reality that Nigeria is still very much in the grip of tribal bigotry.

And we would likely cut off the nose to spite the face because of tribalism and intolerance.