The Northern Governors Forum has adopted the proposed Federal Government’s National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) as a system that would engender modernisation of pastoral activities. But more to this, the region believes it is one sure way it could end the perennial clashes between herders and farmers which has led to the killings of dozens and razing of houses and farmlands in some of the states.

At the Kaduna Government House, the governors clarified that the scheme was different from the Ruga settlement project which was greeted with outrage from the southern region and by Benue, Taraba, Plateau and some ethnic nationalities.

Through its chairman and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, the body said the plan would ensure resettling of dislocated populations in conflict zones and incorporating them in the new scheme of things. Pleading with other states to key into the pilot project, Lalong stated that the programme provides a veritable platform for peaceful dialogue and reconciliation in the affected communities.

The governors also hinted that the Almajiri phenomenon in the region which was discussed and resolved to get expert advice on how to take the children off the streets, as they had become susceptible to criminal activities.

They pledged the commitment of the Forum to rescue the zone from criminal elements and reposition it to meet the aspirations of the people, especially in the areas of security, economic and social development.

“The Northern Governors Forum convened an emergency meeting to discuss some key topical issues of common interest, particularly the development of the agricultural sector, being the economic live wire of the region.

“The current challenge of insecurity which seems to be persisting despite concerted efforts by all tiers of government was also deliberated based on insightful analyses and the best possible ways to address the menace, which is currently bedeviling the region.“Consequently the Forum resolved to continue to adopt a sustainable and holistic approach towards tackling this challenge in the region.

“It is the Forum’s unwavering determination to rescue the region and reposition it to meet the yearnings and aspirations of our people, especially in the areas of security, economic and social development.” “The Forum therefore adopted the National Livestock Transformation Plan which lays out a clear path for modernising pastoral activities.

“The Forum also received a brief on the Almajiri phenomenon in Northern which is not only endemic but pandemic. “After in-depth discussions, we resolved to collaborate further with experts in this field with a view to finding implementable recommendations to solve the Almajiri phenomenon and take the children off the streets.”

However, as laudable as these governors believe the policy is, some Nigerians have knocked the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government for re-introducing the infamous Ruga scheme through the back door in the name of the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).This came as the government officially inaugurated the programme in Adamawa State. It will be recalled that Professor Yemi Osinbajo, representing the President, inaugurated the NLTP at the Gongoshi Grazing Reserve in Mayo-Belwa Local Government Area of Adamawa State on Tuesday, September 11, 2019.

The Vice President at the inauguration said the plan was designed to run from 2019-2028 as part of the government’s efforts in collaboration with states under the National Economic Council (NEC).The plan was to be implemented in seven pilot states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara.

However, on August 16, stakeholders in Benue State, including the traditional institution, the church, socio-cultural organisations, the academia and civil society, rejected the NLTP during an interface with a delegation from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

The Tor Lobi, Chief Moses Anagende and Tor Kwande, Chief Ambrose Iyortyer, speaking for traditional rulers, said the best thing for the government was to rebuild homes, schools and churches that were destroyed by herders and make efforts to heal the highly traumatised and displaced people.

The thrust of their argument was that the NLTP document only talks about cattle and no other category of livestock, saying it was a way to re-introduce Ruga using another name.

A lecturer at the Benue State University, Professor Amstrong Adejo was also said to have argued that “As captured, livestock was holistic but the conclusion was particular about cattle”.

A difference between the livestock policy and the suspended policy of Ruga, according to a document of the Federal Government, “Ruga is a settlement model comprising 40 units of huts for 10 pastoral families on a minimum of 20 hectares of land with the following facilities: solar powered borehole, harvesting infrastructure, sanitary facility, mini ruminant feed mill, dispensary, watch tower security post and access road.

“The Ruga settlement model was to be spread across 12 states, most of which have persistently experienced farmer/herder’s clashes. The states are Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara.” Attempt to bring southern and western states to curve out land for the scheme was vehemently resisted with public outcry.

On the other hand, the livestock document states: “Nigeria’s population is expected to be 250+ million by 2030. This requires an urgent modernisation of key elements of the economy in order to generate jobs, household income and promote social stability. “Existing federal policy has taken some preliminary steps towards diversification. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP, 2017-2020) places agriculture at the centre of the government’s economic diversification strategy.

“Similarly, the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP, 2016-2020) highlights the role of the livestock sector in agricultural development, and transforming and modernizing livestock systems can meet growing nutritional demand and help achieve government set targets in the APP and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The fundamental challenge with respect to the current model of meat and dairy production is the inefficiency of the system. Pastoralists account for the majority of beef and milk production in Nigeria.

According to experts, small-scale production methods as well as the supply chain in efficiency ensures that only a small fraction of production makes it into industrial value chains.

“Nomadic livestock production in Nigeria is facing major crises and is at a crossroads due to declining availability of pasture and grazing land, overgrazing, and most importantly, the recurrent and fatal conflicts between pastoralists and crop farmers.”It added that “The main thrust of this strategy is to support and strengthen the development of market-driven ranches in the livestock ecosystem for improved livestock productivity through breed (genetic) improvement and pasture production, in addition to efficient land and water productivity improvements.

“It will encourage investigation and action on the issues of access to land and water, the establishment and management of quality livestock, and provision of feed, infrastructure, markets, veterinary and other support services which are required to establish and operate profitable and sustainable livestock ranches.”

On the implementation of NLTP, the Federal Government policy says “This strategy is supported by the development of an Implementation Plan (IP) that provides a guiding framework to states for implementing the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).” In the phase one, “the NLTP will initially support the development of pilot ranches in each of 7 pilot states (Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara). States can also opt-in with private land provisions to help shape the success of the pilot phase.

The livestock policy also says, “The overall responsibility for the co-ordination of the NLTP will be carried out at the Federal level by the NEC NLTP Steering Committee through the Programme Coordination Secretariat (PCS) to be domiciled in the Office of the Vice President,” accounting for the inauguration by Vice President Osinbajo recently, where he declared that, “I wish to emphasise that this is not Ruga.

Because the idea of Ruga settlements launched by the Ministry of Agriculture created a problem being  perceived as a plan to seize lands to create settlements for herders.”

Opponents of the new policy linked the components of the policy documents to the suspended policy which is very difficult to convince Nigerians that the livestock policy is not exclusive for herdsmen. It appears, from the spirit and letter of the document, a reformed Ruga agenda.

One of these experts, Dr Chijioke Uwasomba of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, said, “The impression being created is that perhaps, given the agitated responses of Nigerians, especially the South-east, South-south, South-west and the North-central, this may be a backhand way of implementing Ruga”

Another academic, Dr Akin Oloniruha, said, “The National Livestock Transformation Plan has many components including, cattle improvement and breeding; this involves farmers who have more than 30 heads of cattle registering with Federal Ministry of Agriculture for upgrade of their cattle for higher meat of milk yield, using artificial insemination; small ruminant (sheep and goat) and poultry.

“However, in our country, people can for selfish reasons, twist government programmes in directions not originally intended. Otherwise, the programme, as originally conceived, is laudable.”Arguments against the Ruga scheme and its offshoots have been that public resources are being allocated to the development of private cattle breeding and rearing businesses as a reward for attacks on farmers and killing innocent rural dwellers by herdsmen, while the affected farmers and villages are left to wallow in sorrow (over the loss of their loved ones), hunger and poverty. The proponents of Ruga or cattle colony have always argued that the government does support other categories of farmers, but had not supported herdsmen for once.

The herdsmen, however, have been destroying farmers’ crops for years with impunity. Not only that, other categories of farmers have always been either given subsidised inputs or loans. They had never been given other people’s land, free building and social facilities by the Federal Government, as espoused in the NLTP and the Ruga scheme. Farm settlements of the old regional governments were built on community’s land though; the same community people were the beneficiaries of the settlements, not other people. The name National Livestock Transformation Plan suggests a broader inclusive coverage, but its policy statement and implementation components actually point to one direction: A Ruga project in another form.

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