By Damola Emmanuel
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, Tuesday, advised the federal government to handle the issue of cattle rearing in Nigeria “imaginatively” or there will be trouble in the land.
The world renowned Nigerian playwright delivered the stern warning while speaking with journalists in Lagos after the official launch of Solution 17, a youth empowerment and sustainable development initiative, where he was special guest.
Soyinka, during the interaction with newsmen, did a critical appraisal of the RUGA settlement policy of the Buhari Administration, and warned the government to handle the issue with extreme caution as, according to him, “there cannot be any kind of society where cattle take priority over human beings.”
“RUGA,” the internationally acclaimed poet and essayist submitted, “is going to be an exclusive issue and it had better be handled very carefully.”
“Why is it that we fail to take our models from successful performers?” he continued. “There are ways in which people deal, and have dealt for decades-for centuries with cattle everywhere. I travel everywhere. It is nothing so strange; there is nothing mysterious about cattle rearing.
“Why should cattle become a problem just because we like to eat beef? I don’t understand it. There are solutions which are very simple. People have talked about ranching, but the ranching has got to be done in places which are environmentally congenial to that particular kind of trade and at the same time do not afflict humanity.
“What’s the point in trying to provide food and the food chokes us? Which is what cattle and cattle rearers have been doing? We have a situation where cattle walk up to my own door in Abeokuta, which is supposed to be a residential area. There is a problem when cattle go to Ijebu-Ode and eat up Sodipe’s (a furniture maker’s) planted seedlings.
“And this is someone who is working towards a guaranteed environment by planting trees to replace the trees (timber) which he has used. And then cattle come and eat up all of that and you expect people to sit down and be quiet?
“And then Buhari took such a long time. For me, he deserved-and I have written this down- to have lost the last election if only on account of the lackadaisical attitude which he took to the issue of cattle rearers. People have been killed in hundreds till today and it is only because of the failure of leadership at the critical time.
“That is the most important thing and the cattle rearers have been given a sense of impunity: they kill without any compunction; they drive farmers also who are contributing to the food solution of the country away; burn their crops; eat their crops; and then you come with Ruga.
“I think there is going to be trouble in this country if this cattle-rearing issue is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as the priority. There cannot be any kind of society where cattle take priority over human beings. It is as elementary as that.”
The violent clashes between cattle herders and farming communities have been an intractable problem since the onset of the Buhari Administration. Hundreds have died and many more have lost their limbs to the frequent wars between herders and farmers; a problem that has threatened food security in the country.
The administration has severally attempted to douse the fire but solution remained far-fetched. The latest attempt at resolving the problem is the formulation of the RUGA settlement policy.
In the twilight of President Buhari’s first term, the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, disclosed that the federal government had approved the adoption of the RUGA settlement programme as a way of ending the incessant crises between herders and farmers.
“We are going to build settlements where herders will live, grow their cattle and produce milk,”Ogbeh had announced. “The milk will be bought by a Milking parlour thus preventing their wives from moving around with milk. This is especially to avert any conflict between the herders and the farmers.”
On Tuesday, June 25, 2019, the permanent secretary in the ministry, Alhaji Mohammadu Umar, corroborated his erstwhile boss, saying: “Under the new plan (RUGA settlement), cattle herders are expected to be registered and recognized with cooperatives for the purpose of the ranching scheme. These cooperatives will then be able to get rental agreements for land from state governments and also benefit from ranch resources on several terms including loans, grants, and subsidies.’’
But like its precursor, the cattle colony project which died on arrival as pressure groups kicked vigorously against it, the RUGA settlement system has also attracted widespread criticisms from Nigerians, with some states vowing not to yield an inch of land within their geographical spaces to the project.
Those who oppose the RUGA settlement system see it as a means of robbing them of their heritage to placate the cattle herders. Some have also descried the project as a way of using state resources to empower certain ethnic group. Many have simply called for caution.
The misgivings of the opponents notwithstanding, the federal government has vowed to proceed with the project.