Resolving the nomadic herdsmen nuisance comes in many guises, but nearly all the solutions offered so far by the Federal Government keep on provoking dangerous tensions. The current move, called the Ruga settlement option, is not different. For the past week, the country has been on the edge after the government stated that it was set to commence the scheme in some states. Accordingly, it has reportedly awarded contracts for Ruga settlements in 12 pilot states, including Plateau, Zamfara, Kaduna and Kano. This is a provocative undertaking by the Federal Government.
Indeed, this is a long-running menace being dressed in a new name. Citing desertification, Fulani herders have spread their tentacles to all states of the country, kidnapping, killing, maiming, raping and destroying farmland and settlements with the same insolent cruelty that the Islamist Boko Haram conducts its terror crusade. Surprisingly, the Federal Government has been going round with wrong diagnoses, mischievous justifications and ghastly solutions to the herders’ criminal intent. First, it mooted the idea of reopening the grazing routes, which a former defence minister outrageously claimed were blocked by farmers. From there, the Muhammadu Buhari government explored the “cattle colony” initiative. It is now the Ruga scheme.
As reported, the Ruga settlement option that has already received Buhari’s assent would secure land from “willing states,” build schools, clinics, houses and other infrastructure and settle the nomads there. In a stout defence of the scheme, the Presidency stated, “The overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflict 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.” The government further claimed the settlements would not be an exclusive preserve of the Fulani herders, but open to all forms of animal husbandry. This is a complete ruse.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the Ruga policy has been greeted with indignation and outright rejection by ethnic nationalities in the South-West, South-East, South-South and the North-Central zones. Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, said, “The Federal Government simply wants to carve out land from every community to give to the Fulani… For us in the South-West, no inch of Yorubaland would be given for Ruga because it is a plan to colonise the country. It is like what the British did.” The Ohanaeze, a pan-Igbo body, and Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, share the same sentiments. The SMBLF said government’s rabid interest in the project amid its unpopularity was suggestive of a “mission to settle criminal terrorist herdsmen.” The Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, David Umahi, who is also, governor of Ebonyi State, said the zone had no land for Ruga settlement. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State declared that the state had no land for either Ruga, open grazing or grazing routes; instead, only land for the establishment of ranches.
The Buhari government, which should be more concerned about the security of lives and property, has become the boldest justifier and defender of the herders’ atrocious campaign all over the country. In one blatant and unconscionable falsehood to the British Parliamentary Group, it claimed that the crisis arose out of “competition over scarce land.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Since their activities gained ascendancy in 2014, where only ISIS, Boko Haram and al Shabaab were deemed to be more deadly, the criminal herdsmen, as distinct from the stick-wielding pastoralists, never hid their gory intention. The Economist once wrote, “For most of its history, sub-Saharan Africa has been short of people, not land.” In 2011, the World Bank estimated that the region had 200 million hectares of suitable land that was not being used for crops – almost half of the world’s total, and more than the cultivated area of America. For Nigeria, the Food and Agricultural Organisation says only 46 per cent of the country’s arable land is cultivated.
Certainly, the incremental loss of arable land is confined to a section of the country. A research by Reuters in 2018 found that between 1975 and 2013, the North-Central states lost 84,000 square kilometres of land previously available to herders. In that zone, whereas grazing land was 61 per cent of all land in use, only 14 per cent was farmland.
The result is the present national bedlam. Many of the rod-wielding Fulani pastoralists have suddenly found, as armed robbers did, that kidnapping is the most lucrative underworld business in the country’s unsecured environment. Accounts from most of their victims reveal bands of criminals capitalising on the breakdown of Nigeria’s security system, wreaking incredible carnage on the country. One of the kidnappers told his victims that he took to kidnapping because most of his cattle were rustled, while some were killed, but in return, he was given a gun “so that he would do this business and then share the profit.” Some of the arrested herders confess to taking to crime because the entrenched reward system of the past, in which cattle owners paid herders, had broken down. Left to their own wiles, they took to kidnapping for ransom. Abdulmimini Adamu and Usman Abdullahi, two such suspects arrested by the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response team in Kaduna in May, admitted that they became kidnappers while still herding cattle and farming.
Regrettably, the Federal Government and the northern state governments are refusing to apply the common sense approach to an economic problem, preferring instead to pursue an ethnic and political agenda. Faced with similar crisis, other countries went for realistic solutions. According to the National Geographic, it was conflicts between pastoralists and farmers over land and water sources, overgrazing, and degraded grassland, combined with the invention of barbed wire with which farmers fenced off their land, that stimulated the rapid development of ranching in the Americas. According to the FAO, there were 1.46 billion head of cattle globally in 2015, with Brazil accounting for the highest inventory of 211.76 million head, followed by India, China and the US. Nigeria’s 20 million head placed her 14th in the world and fourth highest in Africa behind Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania.
In Ghana, state policy enforced strong measures to stamp out open grazing. Singapore’s founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, in 1964, saw stray cattle on the streets, and promptly introduced measures to stop open grazing that led to the modernisation of Singapore’s cattle industry. Israel converted its dry land into fertile fields and is reputed to have the highest milk yield per cow through cutting edge techniques. The solution lies in the determination of the Northern states to roll back the encroaching desert, embrace ranching, adopt modern techniques in husbandry and the stark reality that the old nomadic way is no longer feasible in the 21st century. Governors there should prioritise education over religion.
State governors should not sacrifice their people’s interest by playing politics of appeasement and surrendering land for this offensive programme. Cattle rearing, like spare parts trading, cocoa farming, poultry and fishing, is a business and nothing more. While Nigeria is stuck in the past, global meat output reached over 350 million tonnes in 2018, powered by modernisation. Australia’s 25 million head of cattle are run privately on over 47,000 separate properties across its six states, producing three per cent of the world’s beef and fetching AU$7 billion in export revenues annually. A joint $48 million cash injection by private investors from Rwanda, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates is revving up the beef industry in Zimbabwe, according to AfricanRenewal, an online magazine.
Nigeria cannot be different. Ranching, not Ruga settlement, is the way to go.