The controversial Rural Grazing Area project created by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has numerous layers of positives and negatives that could only be understood with a critical dissection. The program seeks to settle pastoral families in new communities where they would be provided with social amenities and sufficient grazing fields.
Although RUGA was anticipated to cost around ₦2.2bn, the government believes it is an investment that could reduce farmers-herdsmen conflict, increase food production, and help improve the country’s GDP. But not everyone is as positive as the government.
This is because the Fulani herdsmen the presidency is trying to relocate are associated with a series of violent attacks on farmers across the country, which have killed over 3,600 people since 2016. Some commentators, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, believe that these attacks are a form of Fulani domination—and ‘colonialisation’ of the rest of the country. Although, 11 states have backed the RUGA project, others are protesting its establishment in their states.
Such reservations are premised on how the President has soft-pedalled justice against the accused Fulani herdsmen, especially considering Buhari is also ethnically Fulani.
Although the presidency might not be properly communicating its settlement’s benefits, scrapping RUGA and doing nothing about the ongoing herdsmen-farmers crisis could further negatively affect the agricultural industry. With Nigeria's poverty index at 44.2 per cent and food insecurity on the rise, RUGA might be the solution still.
The economic, political, and inter-ethnic value in RUGA could be great, especially as Nigeria has experimented with a similar project (NFDP, also known as Fadama) in the past.
A cue from the Fadama project
The National Fadama Development Project was modelled to directly and foundationally tackle extreme poverty and food insecurity. Although it costs around $450m, it did help raise the income of rural farmers by 63 per cent.
It also made significant contributions in important areas including rural infrastructure and service delivery, social integration among different ethnicities, and propelled rural development. If properly implemented and centred on poverty reduction and food security instead of co-habitation, RUGA could work.
Niger State, for instance, has the largest landmass in Nigeria with about the size of 10 other states combined. It is also home to many Fulani herdsmen. If the promotion of grass farming is promoted in collaboration with neighbouring Northern states, that alone will accommodate a substantial number or herdsmen.
Besides, the establishment of a national grazing reserve in Niger State would encourage the creation of social infrastructures that state urgently needs.
This would keep herders off roads and many southern states, averting conflicts in the process. It would also help the government save money as private investors could provide some of these social amenities through private-public-partnerships.
By properly establishing these settlements, crop farmers would enjoy more freedom without the need to bother about Fulani herdsmen encroachments of their farmland. The herdsmen would also control their own grazing space.
RUGA should utilise the strength of each region and not force them to accommodate herders. The Fadama project leaves us with many valuable lessons on how to package and structure a plan like RUGA. It should be consulted.
Akinyemi Muhammed is a writing fellow at African Liberty and a graduate of Law. He tweets @theprincelyx