Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, on Tuesday warned the Federal Government that its handling of Ruga herdsmen settlements could spark an explosion in the country.
Soyinka, at the inauguration of the United Nations Solutions 17 SDG programme in Lagos, said the Ruga project of the Federal Government was not the best approach to resolving the herders-farmers’ clashes.
The Nobel laureate said this just as the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom; the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, the Middle Belt Forum and other groups clashed with the Presidency on Tuesday over the project.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Monday on The News at 10 on Channels Television, had said Benue was not among states where the Ruga project would be sited.
Shehu said the decision of the Federal Government to keep quiet about the project was deliberate because of the manner in which politicians were exploiting the Ruga controversy.
But Ortom, through his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, said Shehu was not saying the truth when he claimed that the state was not included in the project.
In Lagos on Tuesday, Soyinka faulted the Federal Government over the project. He stated, “Ruga is going to be an explosion if not handled with care. But why do we not take our policies from good models?
“This is not the way people and countries deal with issues of cattle. I travel everywhere. It has to be handled in a way that is logical, comprehensible to the environment. When a cow walks up to the window of my house in Abeokuta, a house which is located in a residential area, then there’s a problem.
“When a cow goes to Ijebu Ode and eats up their seedlings and so on and you expect people to be quiet? People have been killed in hundreds just because of the failure of leadership at a critical time.
“And the cattle herders have been given a sense of impunity. They kill without any compunction, they drive away the farmers who have been contributing to the food solutions in the country, the cattle eat their crops and then you come up with Ruga.
“I think that there is going to be trouble in this country if this Ruga thing is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as priority. Any country where cattle take priority over human life is definitely at an elementary stage.”
In the interview with Channels Television on Monday, the presidential media aide, Shehu, had said opposition to the Ruga project was based on politics and blackmail.
Benue not part of Ruga project – Presidency
The presidential aide said, “My agreement with the officials that have given us information in the ministry of agriculture is that we would keep silent about it. One thing I will tell you is that the most outspoken critic of this policy, who is the governor of Benue State, is not invited, is not a part of it. He has no business meddling in this affair and if he has work to do, let him stay on his job and do it.”
When challenged with the fact that Nigerians had a right to know about any government policy, Shehu responded, “I agree with you. In any case the Federal Government has approved funding for this project. So, already, in some of these states, work is going on.
“They have started mobilising in Niger. But because the entire opposition to this is based on politics and blackmail and the promotion of ethnic hatred, our decision is perhaps to protect those people who are cooperating with the Federal Government in solving a problem that worries everyone.”
All the 12 states that have signed unto it have done so by application and they have met the given criteria. Every opposition to this is politics.”
Ortom using Ruga to divert attention from his failure – Presidency
Shehu also lashed out at Ortom, saying he was using the Ruga controversy to divert attention from his failure.
Shehu stated, “One thing I can tell you is that Benue is absolutely absent from this. They have not applied and they have not been invited. But the thing is that the nature of politics in that place; people have used this ethnicity to get to power. They need it in order to stay in power because they have no answers to the problem of their people.”
Buhari’s aide contradicts Osinbajo
Also the presidential aide contradicted Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s claim on the Ruga project.
Osinbajo had while refuting a statement by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, said the Ruga project was different from the National Livestock Transformation Plan
In a statement, the Vice-President had said, “Contrary to claims reported in sections of the media, Ruga settlements are not being supervised by the Office of the Vice-President. Ruga is different from the National Livestock Transformation Plan approved by state governors under the auspices of the National Economic Council.
“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.”
But Shehu said Ruga and the National Livestock Transformation Plan were only different in names. When asked if the two were different, he said, “It is just a matter of semantics. These herders who roam the entire country and overrun farmlands cause fights.
“So, we want to settle them in one place, provide the entire infrastructure they need. As a matter of fact, markets will come to this Ruga settlement or ranches. There will be establishment of meat processors, the utilisation of by-products, including sanitary wares that will be developed from hoofs and horns. There will be a lot of business and money from this. It is not confined to Fulani. It is a business open to all Nigerians.”
FG wants Ruga settlements in Benue three senatorial zones, Ortom insists
Responding to Shehu’s claims, Ortom said that the presidential aide should be truthful in his claims on Ruga settlements.
Ortom, in a statement by his chief press secretary, said that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture once wrote to him about the decision to establish Ruga settlement in three senatorial districts of the state.
The governor said that the state ministry of agriculture had to write back stating that the state had no land for the plan.
He stated, “The Federal Government, through its Ministry of Agriculture, wrote to the Benue State Government informing it about the decision to establish Ruga settlements in the three senatorial zones of the state.
“Our ministry of agriculture which received the correspondence responded that Benue has no land for the Ruga settlements.
“It added that the state only had land for ranches as stipulated by the state’s Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.
“ The Benue State Government subsequently made public its rejection of the Ruga model of animal husbandry and reminded those pushing for the illegal settlement patterns about provisions of the country’s Constitution and the Land Use Act.
“We were therefore shocked to hear Mallam Shehu claim that Governor Ortom was not invited/included in the Ruga project and therefore had no right to comment on it.
“If the Senior Special Assistant to the President claims that Benue was not included in the Ruga arrangement, why did the Federal Government send contractors to mount the project’s signposts in parts of the state?
“If Benue was not included in the Ruga settlements, why did the Federal Government say it has gazetted land in the 36 states for the project?
“It is now clear that Mallam Garba Shehu is misleading the Presidency and telling lies about a sensitive matter that affects the entire country.”
While speaking on the claim that he as a governor liked to fuel ethnic division, Ortom said that he was elected because people found him worthy.