The aggregation of interests in any plural society like ours should always consider the common good. Leaders of such nations would at the end of their tenures have left indelible legacies that will make posterity to see them as unifiers of disparate interests.
The RUGA controversy is one classic case of the dire need of statesmanship for our leaders. The preceding and tragic events to the introduction of RUGA are such that even the simple minded will predict that it will be dead on arrival. It is therefore not surprising that the protest from some sections of the country have forced the Federal govt to suspend the policy. A quick look into our history as a nation shows that cattle rearing, the major occupation of the Fulani ethnic group(one of the over 500 ethnic groups in Nigeria) was in the past 45-50 years of nationhood not a problem, threat or danger to fellow Nigerians.
They had for years grazed their cattle in all parts of the country without endangering the livelihood of farmers that they relate with from time to time. Truly, desertification and climate change have drastically reduced the available grazing grounds for the herders, the lack of vision in the nation’s successive leadership did not prepare the cattle Fulani for these changes.
Though nomadic education was introduced in the 1990s to make the herders literate, the programme did not focus on their livelihood and the dire need to bring it in tune with global best practices.
Ironically, the defunct Western Regional govt(the forerunner of the present Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo and Delta states) successfully established and ran ranches in the 1960s in some parts of the region notably Ado-Ekiti and Akunu Akoko.
Another critical dimension of this herdsmen crisis which the Federal govt treated with kid gloves is the influx of herders from some West African countries.
This group is said to be largely responsible for the massive destruction of farmlands and the killing of farmers in many communities in Nigeria. The impunity with which the herders have destroyed lives and properties in Nigeria in the last 10-15 years have undoubtedly created the enmity between them and other ethnic nationalities. Such is the pervasive distrust of the cattle Fulani in the Southern and North Central parts of Nigeria that made the ethnic groups in these areas to see the RUGA programme as tantamount to sowing the seed of future conflict between the herders and farmers.
In aggregating the interests of all Nigerians in this matter, the Federal govt should develop a national livestock policy that encourages all states to establish ranches and engage their teeming youth population to go into cattle farming with all attractive incentives.
This step will first and foremost dispel the feeling in some quarters that the nation’s commonwealth is to be used to give preferential treatment to a particular business and ethnic nationality.
Also, aside helping the nation to tackle youth unemployment and the associated vices, such a policy will foster increase in national livestock production that can also give birth to related agro-allied industries like beef processing and packaging, leather works etc. Amenities like schools, hospitals, police posts, good roads, communication facilities etc that will make living in the ranches pleasant can be provided to make them respectable economic centres. This is the statesmanly approach our leaders should adopt to tackle the issue that is virtually dividing rather than uniting us. God bless Nigeria.
Mr. Lai Ademokoya is a veteran Journalist, a Public affair comentator, he retired as Zonal Director in the services of Nigerian Television Authority.