RUGA: My Treaty To Senator Ita Enang

By Franklyn ISONG

I would say, my weekend was, however, spiced up with another interesting twist in the unending discourse generated by the now suspended Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) programme of the federal government which was championed by the federal ministry of Agriculture under the former minister, Audu Ogbeh.

Between the third quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, the word “RUGA” became so associated with anger and bitterness across the southern part of the country and in the middle belt.

To say, I do not know of a government proposed policy as controversial as RUGA, is to say the very least. Jokingly, some pundits have reasoned that RUGA has consumed its initiator – former minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh. Because he was not reappointed as a minister by President Muhammadu Buhari.

RUGA was widely greeted with outright rejection and had raised contentious debate likely to result into another “civil war” between the northerners and southerners of the Nigerian state. But the dust generated died almost immediately, when Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state announced suspension of the programme by President Buhari on July 3, 2019.

“We the NEC committee on farmers/ herders crisis under the chairmanship of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo met today to deliberate on the approved programme of National Economic Council (NEC) and federal. government, tagged, the National Livestock Transformation Programme. We are aware that today that Mr. President has suspended the implementation of RUGA programme, initiated and being implemented by the federal ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, because it is not consistent with the NEC and federal government approved National Livestock Transformation plan which has programmes of rehabilitation of displaced IDPs, resulting from the crisis and also development of ranches in any willing state of the federation. The word is willing state of the federation,” Dave Umahi said.

Till this moment, the President is yet to contradict Dave Umahi’s statement on the suspension of RUGA.

Though, Senator Ita Enang, like any other Nigerian, has the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and rights to freedom to hold his opinion on any issue. But, being an appointee of the President, methinks since the President, Ita Enang’s boss, has suspended the programme, and more also, Akwa Ibom people are against the RUGA programme, my friend and brother, Ita Enang needed not to have reopened the RUGA issue. At least, not when he is aware that the people of Ikot Obio Nso community in Mkpat Enin LGA are still mourning the loss of lives and properties as a result of fulani herdsmen attack last week. Throughout the one-hour radio programme on Planet 101.1 FM, I did not hear Ita Enang condemn the Mkpat Enin attack nor sympathise with the affected community. If he did, it was not to my hearing.

Enang laboured to convince his listeners on what they already knew of the idea behind the controversial RUGA project. He introduced a fresh dimension into the discourse by claiming that the 2019 budget has a provision of N2.2bn for RUGA.

“There is a provision of N2.2 billion in the 2019 budget. The Benue State government had passed the Anti-open Gracing Law. This means that anyone found rearing his animals in the open would have to be convicted. This is exactly the concept of RUGA. All the noise people are making is to create panic and confusion everywhere. More than 90 percent of the cows you see in Akwa Ibom are owned by our people. They are owned by retired generals, former military and civilian governors, former and serving senators, members of the House of Assembly, Speakers and Deputy Speakers, local government chairmen, serving and former House of Representatives members, former and present leaders of the PDP, including those of the APC,” Ita Enang stated.

I would think, Ita Enang probably did not do a thorough job this time around! While I agree with him that majority of cows in the state are owned by Akwa Ibomites, his assertion that RUGA is captured in 2019 budget, is misleading the public especially, coming from his calibre. This is why the Senate leadership through the senate leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, swiftly dismissed it as false, saying; “We have gone through the 2019 budget critically and we did not come across any money that was voted for RUGA programme implementation there. Let Senator Ita Enang prove us wrong, then we will take the issue up from there. He who alleges must prove.” With greatest respect to Senator Enang, I consider it a disservice to the society, for a public office holder to distort official information meant for public consumption.

Albeit, while, I disagree with Ita Enang on the RUGA project, I am not in support of anyone from the state losing his/her federal appointment for whatever reason, as being speculated in the media lately. Akwa Ibom state lays the golden eggs that feeds the nation, its people, therefore, deserve more federal appointments and federal presence. We can disagree on issues, as a people but, it shouldn’t get to the point of celebrating someone’s downfall in Akwa Ibom.

My final take on RUGA, like I posited in my previous piece, is that Akwa Ibom land is for industries and not for RUGA settlement!

•Franklyn Isong is a public affairs commentator and conscience of the society

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