It is also said that one of the cardinal objectives of the programme was to reduce herders/farmers clashes that have claimed many lives and property worth billions of Naira in Nigeria.
Besides, the Presidency said some of the state leaders that were kicking against the programme were those that do not have any justifiable reason for failing to pay workers in their states.
These came as a coalition of United Nations agencies, led by the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, UNTFHS, weekend, met with key stakeholders to discuss the protracted conflict affecting communities, particularly in Benue and Nasarawa states.
This is even as a group of Tiv professionals in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, yesterday called on the Federal Government to immediately put its Ruga settlement project in Benue State on hold or face legal action.
Meanwhile, Imo State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, has threatened to drag President Muhammadu Buhari to the United Nations if he should continue with his Ruga policy for herdsmen in the country.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, also rejected the proposed Ruga settlements for herdsmen, describing the initiative as repugnant, repulsive and very provocative.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba.
The statement read: “The Presidency wishes to draw attention to recent unhelpful comments regarding the plan to stop roaming of cattle herders with the attendant clashes with farmers.
“Ruga Settlement” that seeks to settle migrant pastoral families simply means rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in an organized place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products.
“Beneficiaries will include all persons in animal husbandry, not only Fulani herders.
“The Federal Government is planning this in order to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders.
“The overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers, a boost in animal protection complete with a value chain that will increase the quality and hygiene of livestock in terms of beef and milk production, increased quality of feeding and access to animal care and private sector participation in commercial pasture production by way of investments.
“Other gains are job creation, access to credit facilities, security for pastoral families and curtailment of cattle rustling.”
Debunking the insinuation that the Federal Government was confiscating lands for the programme, Shehu said, “Stripped of the politics and howling that has attended the recent comments, there is no government plan to seize state land, colonize territory or impose Ruga on any part of the federation. Government has made it clear time and again that the programme is voluntary.
“So far, twelve states have applied to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, making lands available for the take-off of the scheme in their states. This number is sufficient for the pilot scheme.
“Unfortunately, some state governments that have not signified interest in the scheme and, therefore, are not on the invitation list have been misleading people that the Federal Government is embarking on a scheme to take away their lands.
“Mostly, these are state leaders that have no explanation to offer their people for continued non-payment of workers’ salaries. It is true that government at the centre has gazetted lands in all states of the federation but because the idea is not to force this programme on anyone, the government has limited the take-off to the dozen states with valid requests.
“We urge states to join the Federal Government at the centre in encouraging all sides to these conflicts to make efforts towards finding a peaceful resolution. As we seek a permanent solution to these unwanted conflicts, efforts must be made to ensure that no innocent person faces any kind of deprivation or loss of right and freedom under our laws.”
Meanwhile, the dialogue by the UN coalition is the first in a series of consultations for the implementation of UNTFHS programme, a three-year project being implemented by UNDP, UNHCR and FAO in partnership with Benue and Nasarawa State governments.
Violent conflicts have led to massive displacement of people in the affected communities, with death of hundreds and loss of livelihoods, posing a formidable threat to the country’s food security and long-term stability.
UN team meets stakeholders
While in Makurdi, the team, led by Ms. Mehrnaz Mostafavi, met with representatives of civil society organizations, farmers associations, local and state government representatives, community elders, traditional leaders and representatives of local and international non-governmental organizations.
The meeting offered opportunity for the exchange of information on key elements of the human security approach which could be employed in promoting dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts, especially between the herdsmen and farmers in the region.
The team later engaged in a policy dialogue in Abuja, organized by UNDP, in collaboration with UNHCR and FAO.
The event, dubbed “Transitioning from humanitarian relief to long-term development: Addressing the herdsmen-farmers conflict in Nigeria” brought together senior UN representatives in the country, experts from national and local governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector, and explored several policy options that could be adopted in the quest to end the conflict.
Key among the recommendations were the advocacy for comprehensive solutions, preventive and mitigating measures, which required that all key stakeholders were integrated into policy planning and response frameworks, thereby strengthening long term resilience and safeguarding sustainable development.
UN Resident Co-ordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said: “The human security approach recognizes the full array of challenges that can both propel the devastating force of a crisis and undercut prospects for sustainable peace and development.
“Essential understanding presents opportunities to complement immediate humanitarian efforts, while helping to shape long-term solutions that put people on the path towards inclusive and sustainable development.”
Chief of the United Nations Human Security Unit, who is also leading the team, Ms. Mehrnaz Mostafavi, noted that the challenges to human security of both farmers and herders and activities were structured around addressing the numerous risks to safeguard livelihoods and promote peace”.
She added that a piecemeal approach will not address the prevalent cycle of violence and multi-faceted nature of the herder-farmer conflict, noting that a comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses the root causes of the conflict, while reducing the vulnerability of communities to protection risks, was required.
According to her, the overall goal of the intervention is to contribute to ending the herdsmen-farmers conflict in affected states.
‘Halt plans on Ruga or face legal action’
Similarly, a group of Professionals in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, has called on the Federal Government to immediately put its Ruga settlement project in Benue State on hold or be prepared to meet it in court.
Addressing the media in Abuja yesterday, the group accused the governnent of being insincere in its settlement project, alleging that the Ruga project was the governnent’s hidden agenda to take over some parts of the state for the Fulani ethnic group.
In a prepared text signed by the chairman, Engr. Benjamin Nyior and General Secretary, Mr Dennis Mernyi, the group insisted that the government must stay action on the project or face action in court, given that the project was being carried out “without proper consultation with the state government and the people of the state whose lands are to be taken up for the said project.”
Nyior, who read the text of the briefing before newamen, said: “We, consequently, call on the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and anybody directly or indirectly connected with the implementation of the RUGA Settlement project to stay action until parties affected by it are fully consulted and their willingness or otherwise to benefit from it is secured.
“It should be noted that the introduction of the RUGA Programme and the manner in which contracts have hurriedly been awarded and contractors mobilized to site, the resultant spontaneous reactions from different quarters rising in opposition to it all over the country, calls for its suspension to allow deep consultation and creation of needed awareness on the real intention of the programme to Nigerians, including the good people of Benue State.