RUGA: Throwing Out The Baby And The Bath Water (2).


By Dele Sobowale

“Opportunity, once lost, can never be regained.” Old adage. Teachers in the first half of the last century invariably attempted to blend philosophy and ethics with whatever they taught us. I remember the late Mr Udoh, our class teacher in Primary Four. He taught history. His favourite was the one credited to Viscount Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805, at the Battle of Trafalgar, who declared: “England expects every man will do his own duty. Thank God, I have done my duty.” It was Mr Udoh’s way of letting us know that we owe a duty to Nigeria which we were expected to discharge. RUGA, the hot potato of the moment, is one of those ethical, political, economic and, yes, political dilemmas which a writer prays never occurs. They invariably place you in a no-win situation.   The coward’s way out would have been to ignore it. That option would not meet the Nelson and Mr Udoh standard. Mr Udoh would roll in his grave if he knew that I chickened out when the call of duty was most urgent. Certainly, there will be consequences arising from these views. But, none of it is unforeseen. The most important thing is to live with my conscience.

Last week, I ended with two categorical statements. First, there is no alternative to RUGA or Farm Settlements or Agbo Malu (as they are called in Yorubaland). They represent the future of animal husbandry because the days of itinerary herdsmen are over – even if they have not become murderous; as they did in the last four years. Second, a matter which is essentially technical and economic in nature has turned into a political, religious and ethnic conflict engulfing Nigeria and is pushing us closer to all out armed conflict. The war drums people are beating everywhere will produce no winners – only various grades of losers. Before presenting the way out of our self-imposed stalemate with the recent announcement of RUGA, let me point out that we have lived with Cattle Settlements (or RUGAs) for as long as many of us can remember. Mobil Road, Apapa was formerly called Malu (Cow) Road. Agege also had a settlement for cows long before I was born 75 years ago. In Ibadan, Agbowo was the Cattle Settlement. In the days when the railway was functioning as it should, cows were brought by train and the herdsmen took them to the settlements for management. No cows roamed around. The future we should aim for is a return to the past when cattle arrived in various parts of the southern states and are professionally herded into RUGAs. How and when we lost the art of managing the situation need not delay us here. But, the fact that we achieved harmony in the past should give us hope that it can be done again. My brothers in the South-West who have been playing to the gallery by stating that “we don’t want Rugas in Yorubaland” are not being totally sincere. We had and still have them.   The most important question now is: what is standing in the way of national progress on this very vital issue – which is very serious? “Leadership is the ability to define issues without aggravating the problems.” Warren Bennis, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 125.

Mythical Phrygian King Midas turned everything he touched to gold – including dust. Nigerian leadership had turned virtually everything they touch, including gold, into dust. RUGA is one of them. With over 50 years in sales and marketing, I can state authoritatively that only a totally trusted person can sell a difficult product. And, the basis of the trust is the belief that the seller will be fair to the buyers; that he will be JUST in his dealings with clients. The “clients” of the FG on RUGA include all the ethnic groups inhabiting all the states of Nigeria. The Nigerian leader belongs to only one of them and, rightly or wrongly, the others feel that his ethnic group has the ambition to seize their land. The southern half of the country is particularly now very distrustful of the North now as never before in our history. Under the circumstances, the only way for the FG to establish the trust, as the best salesmen know, is to demonstrate it in meaningful ways. But, unfortunately, that has not happened. On the contrary, recent news reports have only served to deepen distrust in government; thereby making progress on RUGA and everything else almost impossible. DISTRUST “Buhari reappoints Boss Mustapha, Abba Kyari, keeps mum on Ministers. “ PUNCH, July 6, 2019, p 8.

“Buhari also approved 11 other appointments on Friday [the day before] according to a separate statement by Shehu [Garba]. The 11 are Mohammed Sarki Abba (Senior Special Assistant to the President on Household and Social Events), Ya’u Shehu Darazo (Senior Special Assistant to the President on Special Duties), Dr Suhayb Rafindadi (Personal Physician to the President), Lawal Kazaure (State Chief of Protocol), Sabiu YUsuf (Special Assistant, Office of the President), and Saley Yuguda (Special Assistant, House Keeping). Others are: Ahmed Mayo (Special Assistant, Finance & Administration), Mohammed Sani (Special Assistant Special Duties), Friday Bethel, Personal Assistant, General Duties, Sunday Aghaeze (Personal Assistant, State Photographer) and Bayo Omoboriowo (Personal Assistant, Presidential Photographer).”

Readers should please count and observe the following. Out of fourteen appointments announced, the most important eleven went North; Friday Bethel could come from anywhere; so could Aghaeze. The only clear Southerner was Omoboriowo who occupies the menial position of photographer. Where is the justice in these appointments? How can trust be built on such injustice?

Four prominent Nigerians addressed those attending the launching of the book,   BATTLELINES, written by Chief Segun Osoba. They were General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) former Military Head of State; Ambassador Babagana Kingibe; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. All of them pointed to ethnic distrust as the leading cause of our disunity today. Who among them can read that list and not see clearly the wilful inequities fueling ethnic distrust? Who among them can fail to see the deliberate exclusion of Southerners from the offices that matter? Who then can expect southerners to accept a proposal packed full with hidden dangers, now and in the future? The two southern leaders, as well as the Chairman of the ruling party, who would ordinarily be expected to drive the acceptance of the government’s controversial proposals within their own zone, must certainly understand that they are increasingly being separated from the people they should be leading. Where is a single Edo State person on that list? Even the introduction of  RUGA was handled like a cult decision to which only the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, was privy. Officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture went to some states to announce RUGA which would eventually involve the take over of millions of hectares of land nationwide and the VP, who is the Chairman of the National Economic Council, NEC, was not aware of it. He was working on a different project!!! Having turned the programme into a clandestine operation, was the administration surprised about the spontaneous uprising against it nationwide?


“Nobody is a failure, if he dares to try something worthwhile.” Robert Schuller. With distrust deliberately fostered by the political leadership, it is now an uphill task for anybody to attempt to point to the merits of RUGA. Given the tension in the land regarding anything associated with herdsmen and their activities, the chances of failure are extremely high. Yet, it is in everybody’s interest for us to solve this monster problem. Let me briefly define the underlying problems which hopefully will suspend our emotions and turn us into a united country. Data, admittedly not totally reliable, indicate that there are between 12 and 20 million cattle. Virtually all are now herded around and the movements and the resulting invasion of farms, communities, schools, hotels, private compounds etc have created the conflicts now pushing us closer to civil war everyday. For the purpose of this discussion, 15 million will be adopted as the cattle population which we want placed in ranches – if possible today. That fact alone makes this matter a major economic decision – given the fact that Nigerians have not acquired the knowledge of Ranch Management. But, if our long and painful experience with poultry serves as a guide, we are in for a rough ride for at least 30 years.

All the 15 million beasts disappear behind fences any time soon. The number of cattle in the average ranch will ultimately determine the number of ranches we will need. At 1,000 cattle per ranch, at least 15,000 settlements will be required or about 420 RUGAs per state. That fact alone should scare all of us – given its implications with regard to land availability. The FG which sent officials out to establish RUGA in twelve states was acting without thinking through the enormous challenges the nation will face with total ranching. The same charge can be made against the vocal champions of ranching as the “only solution”. It might eventually become the final solution. It certainly will not occur for 30 years for another reason – which is economic in nature as well.

Establishing fenced cattle settlements is a costly undertaking – more costly than poultry, fishery and piggery. It is also more daunting. Cows consume enormous amounts of feed which must be provided regularly otherwise they become nasty tenants of the ranch. An attempt by a family friend to establish one in a village near Idiroko in Ogun State years ago provided the example of how difficult the venture can be. He started with ten and gradually increased to twenty. Two problems forced him to give up. First, the quantity of grass that was needed and the volume of cattle waste which must be evacuated. Waste disposal proved to be the project killer. It was almost impossible to find workers to evacuate them. After a while it was totally impossible to find dump sites for them anywhere. People around were up in arms on account of cattle waste seeping into wells and surface water sources.   If only twenty cows in a ranch can be so difficult to manage, the reader can imagine what to expect from a 1,000 cattle ranch.

The truth is: those clamouring for “immediate ranching” have not given sufficient consideration to the economic and social costs of the revolutionary change. This leads us back to the political leadership deficit on this vital and long-term programme requiring a great deal of study. The recommendations of the study groups – including Animal Scientists, Economists, representatives of farmers, Engineers, Environmentalists, Water Resource experts, Waste disposal technicians, Sociologists, Human Resource Managers, Trainers etc – will then have to be placed before the Council of State, the National Assembly, States legislative Houses etc for ratification; in order to make it a national programme which every stakeholder embraces. The attempt to ambush the rest of the country by clandestine introduction of RUGA would have failed to solve the problem. It would have been scrapped eventually; the FG should scrap it now. As it is, nobody has an idea how much we will need to invest to build ranches for 15 million animals. Without an idea of that estimate and how the funds will be raised, all the noise being made now about Cattle Settlements will remain just that – noise. There will be no solution and tensions will escalate. We can seize this opportunity to engage in a sober discussion of ranching or RUGA without preconditions from any party or we can prepare for war….

P.S. The FG should get another advocate for this programme. Ogapatapata cannot elicit the faith – defined as “trust without reservation” – this issue needs to make the transformation successful.


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