Why FG should drop Ruga completely in Benue – Saaku
Despite the suspension of the planned Ruga settlement for Fulani herdsmen in different parts of the country by the federal government, the Benue state government as well as concerned groups and individuals have continued to mount opposition to the plan. In this interview with The Abuja Inquirer's SCHOLASTICA JOSEPH, state chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Mr. Aondongu Saaku, explains why the Ruga will never be accepted in Benue. He accused the federal government of trying to escalate the crisis in Benue, pointing out that some influential Benue politicians were behind Ruga. Excerpts:
What is your take on the proposed Ruga settlement by the federal government, though suspended, in Benue state and other parts of the country?
First and foremost, I feel the federal government is not contented with the crisis going on in the country and wants to increase it. What we know in Benue state is Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law. Thinking of any colony, Ruga, or by whatever name there are called, are alien to us and none of us is interested in that.
But some people are saying Ruga, colony and open grazing prohibition law are the same…
No, they are not. I read animal science and I worked a lot with Fulani, when you are going to a Fulani settlement, they tell you you’re going to Ruga. So Ruga is a Fulani settlement, it is not a ranch because they go out with their animals and graze very far away from the home.
The colony, as is conceived, they also go to graze outside. But in ranching, you have to control the animals, we are not talking of controlling human beings, we are talking of controlling animals. I want you to know that a Benue farmer has been ranching throughout his life from time immemorial, our parents have been ranching.
For instance, a farmer has cattle or sheep or pigs or these other animals in the house, when it is dry season, they are let loose to go anywhere but as soon as the rain sets in, they are all controlled, is that not ranching? Must it be on a very big scale like that? I think what they are thinking about is different from what we are talking about.
Secondly, I am agreeing totally with what former President Olusegun Obasanjo said that the aim of the federal government now is to Fulanize Nigeria. I'm close to 70years now but when I was young, I knew that Fulani do come and go. They come in dry season because of the water and go in rainy season. They have all along been taken as visitors in Benue state. Forget about sometimes government will be talking about indigenous Fulani in the state, we don’t have indigenous Fulani in the state, they were always coming and going.
Please tell me, what has the federal government done with the Igbos that are in the north or in other towns, what has the federal government done to the Tiv people because if you go to Kaduna you will see Tiv people there, what has the federal government done with them? Why the Fulani? Because the head of the government is a Fulani man. We are really not happy over that and we cannot allow that.
What effects will it have on farmers in Benue state?
The land they are going to take is very vast land and at the end of the day like you said it means they are going to be part of this place and their cows, more Fulani are going to be invited to come to this state. I tell you honestly, Benue has no land for such a project, we don’t have even enough for our crops.
A Benue man does not eat meat and sleep rather he believes in taking the crops without meat even for a month, so we have no land for such a project. For instance, an organization is here that farmers will be clustered to produce the crops we want but we don’t even have that land for clustering so how then or where do we now get land for Ruga?
Somewhere in Otukpo there is a sign post at a particular site. People are wondering who gave them the land. If they go ahead to establish it what will happen?
I want you to know, some of our big shots, the politician who are looking for money. Some might have bought lands somewhere, they are the people that are bringing that trouble. If not virtually there is no land. I have asked my colleagues to aggregate for 5000 farmers for the cultivation of rice and soya beans but the land is not there. Until land will be cleared and even if it is cleared not everybody will be there because we have more people looking for that land than the land is available. So the person might have bought that land and might have given it out but I want you to understand one basic thing, even if it were a mistake it has been committed. Nigerian constitution has bestowed the land under the authority of the state governor, not the federal government, not the local government but the state government. So if our governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, is not informed and somebody has gone behind to give that kind of land you may see that the person might have taken that land from the peasant farmers and we shall not in any way agree to that. It is better to die and forget it than to sit and suffer or watch people doing it and that’s what I'm telling you and that is the position of farmers.
What programmes does AFAN have for farmers in Benue state in this cropping season?
Actually, we have aggregated over 2,218 farmers for ginger which they may be doing in University of Agriculture, Makurdi, we have 300 hectares of land for farmers for maize, we have 540 farmers in Guma farming rice, in Guma too that is Agasha, we still have up to 400 farmers doing that, we have over a 1,700 farming rice in Gwer West and as you can see my colleague here aggregated 315 farmers for rice and I have aggregated 4,500 farmers for soya beans production in Obi and Oju and I have also aggregated 530 farmers for soya bean production in Tarkaa that area somebody is talking of Ruga.
So in all, we have over 6000 farmers that are going in for soya beans. I have not even talked of Ushongo, we have very many who are doing that in Gboko. Gboko alone is having over 5000 farmers going in for soya beans and there are people who have not even gotten the land enough to do it talk less of the Ruga.
For the Benue man, we have our animals in Tiv land, we have pigs which we are even using in marriages. So there is no big deal about that, we are not interested in Ruga.
To boost production for Benue farmers this year, state government flagged off fertilizer distribution and sale. How accessible are the products for farmers in the state?
If you go just the next door here, you will see seedlings. Benue state government is doing everything possible to promote agriculture. You know, over 90 percent of the state lives on farming and of this figure, 75 percent or 70 are peasant farmers. There is no way we can do without bringing in inputs and it's worth commending that even in the face of paucity of funds, the state government is doing everything possible to make sure we have seed, fertilizers and chemicals from different companies that are now partnering with state government and AFAN to promote agriculture in Benue state. We know that farming is our factory we have no other factory.
In the face of Ruga, what’s your advice to farmers in Benue?
My advice is that everyone should stick to farm and continue farming. It is when you leave the farm far off that somebody will think it is empty, so we should continue cropping. Somebody who has been farming only maize should go into pepper and other diverse crops so that we make use of the land and that is our heritage.
The land we have was given to us by God, we can never succumb to any pressure and we advise that our governor should continue because he didn’t sit on his own and enacted that law, it is the farmers that cried out before it was done and all farmers are behind him, we are ready to go with him.
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