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Summary: Open grazing has been continuously linked to several violent crimes in the country: cattle rustling, banditry, and clashes between herdsmen and farmers. As a strategy to address these problems, in May of 2019, the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlement program was authorized by the Federal Government. This policy coverage was among other things, the provision of ranches equipped with facilities for migrant pastoral farmers across different states of the country. Sadly, RUGA policy never got adequate support for implementation. As a result, the crime rate has continued to increase. With adequate support from the relevant bodies, reviving the RUGA policy would help address these problems.
A ranch is an area of land, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle and sheep. Ranching is therefore, the activity of breeding animals in a ranch or fenced area. In the other hand, while ranching is being practiced in one and secured place; open grazing is the opposite way, it is a cultural way of rearing animals moving from one place to another in search for greener pastures. In Nigeria this activity is majorly practice by Fulani herdsmen.
Ruga Settlement seeks to settle migrant pastoral families. It simply means rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, would be settled in an organised place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities. Such amenities include schools, hospitals, road networks, veterinary clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that would process and add value to meats and animal products.
It is apparent that, there is a nexus between open grazing majorly operates by the herdsmen and the other violent crimes bedevilling the nation. From time immemorial, farmers and herdsmen mutually coexist and relate with each even though there exist some few instances where they clash with one another. Whenever there is such clash, they tried to resolve it amicably at local level; the Ardos and Mai-unguwas come together and resolve the issue between the two group before it escalate to a tribal or communal clash.
Few years back, I have written a long essay titled, Farmers/Herders clashes: what is the way out? In that write up I stated how successive governments through the ministry for agriculture have neglected the herdsmen and their business of herding animals, all the policies previously initiated were not geared towards assisting herdsmen in their own business which is cattle rearing but, farmers keep enjoying all sorts of assistance and intervention funds from the federal government in order to boost their businesses.
Even the former minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbe lamented as he said, “for many years, Nigeria have failed to realise that herdsmen were also farmers. When we were busy making plans and supporting cassava and maize farmers, we did not make any provision for herdsmen”. In fact, most of the social intervention programs in various sectors, if not all are geared towards of people living in towns and city centres, neglecting the herders who mostly live-in bushes and forests. All the infrastructures the current government is putting be it the power generations, bridges/and express road networks, Railways, Dams and deep-sea ports, International Airports and houses etc. are only being enjoyed by rural dwellers not by the herders; they too need to be involved in the scheme of things.
Furthermore, the only way through which the herders earn their livelihood is been seriously affected by natural and demographic changes. The Secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore once said “about 413 grazing reserves have been gazetted but today, out of that number, you can’t count up to 20 that are functional”. Over the years gradually, these reserves have been dilapidated because of the lack of maintenance. We used to have the grazing routes or Burtali in Hausa where the herdsmen used to transport their cattle from one place to another without encroaching to people’s farms but, today all these routes have been encroached and consumed by farmers living the herdsmen with no routes to cross while moving with their herds, these and many more have been the root cause of the problem and unless it is being tackle god forbid, this problem will continue to linger.
To tackle this problem which is the root cause that precipitates most crises in Nigeria, in 2019, Mr. President approved the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlement program, with intention to replace open grazing in the country, a very brilliant program. But what happened? Unfortunately, many Nigerians including some governors and socio-political groups had completely criticised and condemned the plan and called for its scrap. Because of this condemnation especially from the south governors, Mr. President suspended the idea, very sad and pity.
I am an ardent supporter of Mr. President, yet I so much blamed him on this RUGA issue, I felt so very bad for his decision to suspend the program. If he believes that the program will solve most of predicaments we have as a nation, then why did he suspended it just to make some sections of the country happy? To me this is a sign of leadership weakness, not the sign of a having listening ears as a leader. What stopped the federal govt from implementing the policy? If these governors said they are not willing to allocate lands for grazing reserves, fine, let it be. There are several governors that have welcomed the idea and ready to work the talk specifically, the governors of Bauchi, Kano, Niger and Zamfara states. Rather than suspending the program Mr. President should have work with these governors and others that showed interest. But because of his perceived allies from the south didn’t buy the idea, he too abolished the program he so much believed, so pathetic!
Typical example of seriousness by some states is Zamfara state. As soon as the federal government announced its intention to have RUGA, the Zamfara state welcomed the program with an open hand. As I am writing this piece, the governor had already earmarked about 300 hectares of land for 3 Ruga settlements in 3 senatorial districts. The work on this gigantic project is still in progress, well planned and encompassing with all the basic infrastructures that could make life meaningful thus schools, light, water, houses, roads, market, sport/recreational centres, medical centres for both human & animals, in addition to the main grazing area that will feed millions heads of cattle and increase other economic activities of the populace.
Even if now Mr. President intends to resuscitate the program it is too late, he will only be racing against the time, because he has no armful time to implement the program. He has less than two years to the end of his second and last tenure. Had it been he commenced the program two years back, by now the program could have been ready to use and the crises we are witnessing would have been subsided to a greater level. Just today I learnt that, the South west governors have now resolved to end open grazing, let us wait and see how far this will go.
Again, as some southern governors rejected the program so also many herders did not subscribe for the Ruga policy. They chose to remain with their routine open grazing which is practically impossible. But, if government is serious and believe the program will yield positive outcome, then they don’t have to listen to all these counter narratives, they should go ahead and implement the program unconditionally.
Conclusively, like I opened up my writing, there is a nexus between open grazing and the other violent crimes such as the banditry, cattle rustling and Kidnapping for ransoms that joined forces to make the Nigerian nation apparently unsecured. To counter or combat the menaces of this illicit entrepreneurship, the government of all levels have to welcome the RUGA, modern Ranching or whatever name we may term it with open hands; as this will go a long way in ameliorating most of the crises we are suffering as a country. Specifically, this will of course curtail the unwanted clash between farmers and herdsmen; it will curb open grazing of animals which continues to pose security threats to farmers and herders.
May we come out of these predicaments stronger and better.
God bless Nigeria.
Key Recommendations: To address the issues of open grazing and the threats it poses, the government at all levels must support the execution of the Rural Grazing Area Policy, which will benefit both herders and all Nigerians.
About the Author: Sanusi Moyi is an anti-money laundering expert. He writes from Abuja.