The Strident Cry On The Banks Of River Benue And The Rejection Of RUGA Settlements

The Oasis Reporters

June 26, 2019

Can the weak and elderly caught up in the maelstrom of violence between herdsmen and farmers ever have the strength to rebuild their lives and homes ?

What waters Benue State, making it a great crop agricultural belt is one of Nigeria’s two greatest rivers, the River Benue. States contiguous to it like Taraba, Plateau and Nassarawa for instance are equally huge destinations for the growth of crops. Besides the water, is the fertile land, and pundits would agree that fresh water fish would be plentiful there, just as it is in the Niger Delta region, whose main protein source is fish. Not animal protein.

Conversely, water equally sustains large animals, but Fulani herdsmen initially avoided the coastal region because a sting from the little tsetse fly that inhabits riverine communities would put the large cow to sleep, and ultimately lead to its death, meaning huge losses to the herder.

The situation worked out well for all, such that while herdsmen kept away from coastal regions, farmers continued to make their bumper harvests and unfortunately the far northern states that have vast lands which can support large animals if rain water as well as underground water had been harnessed sufficiently for grass to grow and support animal husbandry, showed a lack of competence to do so.

Meanwhile as Fulani herdsmen continued to cast covetous glances at the savanna grasslands and the dense forests of the South, European veterinary researchers found a cure for trypanosomiasis, the sleeping disease caused by the tsetse fly insect.

This ended peace, for the herders came with a ferocity to cleanse the grasslands of human habitation for animals to graze, and crop farmers to disappear. This has been the underlying crux of the internecine conflicts between the seeming farmers and herders clashes often talked about, but it goes far deeper than that.

Thousands have died in the massacres over the years, and many communities have been displaced, while sorrow, tears and blood have become the signs of the times.

In an amazing political set up, each time the north presents election candidates for the rest of the country, it remains curious that despite the minority status in the north, Fulani candidates often emerge, and suspicions remain rife that herdsmen who are mainly Fulani, take advantage of that leadership to advance the interests of their tribe, even while the most wilder herdsmen are suspected to be of a larger West African origin, outside of Nigeria but who are intent on settling in the country. Many kidnappings, murders and instability are suspected to emanate from this group even as no data is available for a conclusive proof.

States of the Middle belt region and the south appear poised to resist the policy of settling the Fulani herdsmen in their region, as can be seen from a statement signed by Terver Akase, Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom.

He writes :

“BENUE REJECTS RUGA SETTLEMENTS

It has become necessary to make the position of the government and people of Benue State abundantly clear on the Ruga settlements for herdsmen being implemented by the Federal Government across the states including Benue.

A few weeks ago, the Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture with his team in Benue State informed officials of the State Ministry of Agriculture that he had received directives from the Ministry’s headquarters in Abuja to establish Ruga which means ‘Fulani settlement’ in parts of the State.

The Director stated that the local government areas selected for the Ruga settlements were Otukpo, Tarka and Ukum.

The Permanent Secretary, Benue State Ministry of Agriculture drew the attention of the Director and his team to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 being implemented in the state. When they were also reminded about the Land Use Act which confers on the Governor the powers to administer lands in all parts of the State, officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture left with a promise to relay the message to their headquarters. They surprisingly returned a few days later with contractors to commence work on the Ruga settlements.

We find the approach of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture not only as a gross violation of the Ranching law but also as an insult to the sensibilities of the entire people of Benue State.

It could be recalled that the people and government of Benue State rejected cattle colonies and still reject the policy in whichever robes it is disguised.

Governor Samuel Ortom made the stand of Benue State known during the unveiling of the Livestock Development Programme in Abuja last year. He stressed that the State would embrace the policy only if it supports implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.

The Governor also insisted that Benue State has no land for open grazing of cattle and he restated ranching as a lasting solution to the incessant herders and farmers crisis which the country ought to embrace.

Governor Ortom made similar presentations at different fora to buttress why open grazing of livestock is not feasible in a densely populated country with over 200 million people.

During the National Council on Agriculture summit which took place in Owerri, Imo State in April this year, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture attempted to impose Ruga settlement patterns on the states but the Benue State delegation seized the opportunity to remind the summit that Benue State has a law on ranching which has phased out open grazing. No one at the summit put forth an alternative method of animal husbandry to counter the state’s presentation.

It could also be recalled that the National Economic Council, NEC, had also unanimously adopted ranching as the best method of livestock breeding for the country. It is therefore shocking to see the Federal Government turning round to establish Fulani herdsmen settlements in some states including Benue, contrary to the position of NEC.

We wish to remind those pushing for Ruga settlements that the Constitution of the country gives states the right to make laws for the governance of their people. Any attempt to subvert such right is a direct attack on the Constitution. Those behind such a move are enemies of peace and progress.

The Government of Benue State is willing to support cattle owners to establish ranches as stipulated by the law prohibiting open grazing.

We however wish to reiterate that Benue State has no land for grazing reserves, grazing routes, cattle colonies or ruga settlements. The State only has land for the establishment of ranches.”

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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