Two years after the suspension of the controversial Rural Grazing Area scheme in July 2019, the Federal Government has introduced a replacement scheme called the Livestock Intervention Programme to address the lingering farmer-herder crisis across the country.
This comes amid the Federal Government’s intensified efforts to revive colonial-era grazing routes in many states across the country as per the directive by the President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to documents from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development sighted by one of our correspondents, the LIP scheme will see the Federal Government establishing eight large herders’ settlements in each of the six pilot states, namely Adamawa, Kwara, Niger, Bauchi, Kaduna and Gombe.
The scheme is expected to be extended to other states, following a successful outing in the pilot states.
The documents as well as interviews with some officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development showed that the LIP is already being implemented in the six pilot states.
The officials confirmed that the six states accepted the establishment of the large herders’ settlements and had already provided land for the purpose.
Unlike the controversial RUGA settlements, which started with 12 pilot states, the ministry officials said the government chose to start the LIP settlements with six pilot states, pending the extension to other states.
They said eight large LIP settlements would be built for herders in each of the states.
Asked if the Federal Government would reactivate the suspended RUGA programme since the clashes between herders and farmers had yet to abate, the acting Director, Animal Husbandry Department, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Winnie Lai-Solarin, replied, “What we have now is the Livestock Intervention Project. And this intervention will take place in the settlements. It might also interest you to know that right now, the intervention has been reduced to six states.”
According to the director, the six pilot states for the LIP are in the North because the region has large settlements and land to grow pasture.
“The states are Adamawa, Kwara, Niger, Bauchi, Kaduna and Gombe,” she noted.
Lai-Solarin confirmed that the Federal Government was establishing the livestock settlement in eight locations in each of the six states.
On why the government reduced the intervention to six pilot states, unlike the RUGA settlements that started with 12 states, the FMARD official explained that the outcry against plans to establish RUGA settlements led to the cutdown.
She, however, noted that some states were still showing interest, despite the initial widespread outcry in many parts of Nigeria.
Lai-Solarin said, “When we started, the states were 12 in number. They included Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Niger, Nasarawa, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Kogi. They were 12 originally.
“And all the states are in the North. The speculation and media reports made people start saying the government wanted to take people’s lands in the South-West, South-East and others.”
She added, “There was never a time that we included states in the South. Rather, speculation and miscommunication gave rise to the concerns by the people that the government was coming to take their land.
“The wrong information went out. Once they heard RUGA, they kicked against it. However, the concept of RUGA was to meet pastoralists where they are in their settlements and provide infrastructure for them there.
“But when that information went out, and because you have settlements in the South and other regions too, it was easy for people to turn it around and say, ‘They (herders) are coming to our states to take our land.’
“But this was when there was no such plan ab initio. Never was such a plan made by the Federal Government.”
Lai-Solarin added that the ministry had been carrying out diverse other interventions to mitigate the clashes between herders and farmers nationwide.
The immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had in May 2019 announced that Buhari approved the RUGA initiative to address the farmer-herder crisis.
A month later, a former Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mohammed Umar, announced that the Federal Government was to commence the pilot phase of the RUGA project in 11 states for a start, including Sokoto, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Kogi, Taraba, Katsina, Plateau, Kebbi, Zamfara and Niger.
“The RUGA settlement will attract a lot of investments to Nigeria and it is our belief that in the next five years, each RUGA settlement will provide nothing less than 2,000 employment opportunities. We are collaborating with the cattle breeders associations in Nigeria,” Umar said at the time.
The scheme, however, met with stiff opposition by southern states whose people saw the move as a land-grabbing move by the Federal Government for Fulani herders.
The Benue State House of Assembly, for instance, called for the removal of the signboards erected in the communities earmarked for RUGA settlements.
Many southern states called for ranching, saying since cattle rearing was a private business, herders ought to buy land and graze their cattle on it, adding that the measure would stop the frequent clashes between herders and farmers.
Also, many lawyers, including a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, kicked against the plan to establish RUGA settlements in parts of the country, describing it as “illegal.”
Falana argued that the Supreme Court had held that the entire land in each state was vested in the governor.
Amid the outcry that trailed the RUGA scheme, the Federal Government suspended the initiative in July 2019.
The government said the reason RUGA was suspended was because it was inconsistent with the National Livestock Transformation Plan, an initiative to establish ranches across the states.
The NLTP was approved by the National Council of Agriculture in conjunction with the National Economic Council.
States that keyed into the NLTP are to receive 49 per cent funding from the Federal Government, while the remaining 51 per cent funding is to be sourced by the state, private sector and development partners.
In February 2021, the Federal Government said it had mapped out 30 grazing reserves across the country for the NLTP implementation.
Meanwhile, as of June 2021, of the over 20 states said to have assented to the NLTP, only four states – Nasarawa, Plateau, Adamawa, and Kaduna – were said to be ready for the scheme’s take-off, according to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Agriculture, Dr Andrew Kwasari.
While the scheme is awaiting full take-off, in a new twist recently, Buhari, in a move believed to challenge the ban on open grazing by southern governors, said in an interview with Arise News that the grazing routes across the country would be revived.
Buhari said he had directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to produce a gazette which delineated grazing routes in all parts of the country in the First Republic.
The President stated, “What I did was to ask him (Malami) to go and dig out the gazette of the First Republic when people were obeying laws.
“There were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes were for when they (herdsmen) were moving up-country, north to south or east to west. They had to go through there.”
The President’s statement followed Malami’s criticism of southern governors for banning open grazing, saying their action was like banning the sale of spare parts in the North.
However, several southern states and institutions like the Nigerian Bar Association and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum faulted the President for the revival of old grazing routes.
Southern states, including Ondo, Delta, Cross River, Enugu, Benue, Akwa Ibom, and Oyo, said there was no existence of a gazette that marked out grazing routes for cattle across the country.
The state governments also insisted on the ban on open grazing, despite the President’s opposition to it.
Also, many lawyers, including the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, insisted that there was no law on grazing routes in any part of Nigeria.