The former minister of lands, housing and urban development, Mr. Nduese Essien, has slammed the federal government for desperately renewing the implementation of the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) programme by allocating N2.258 billion in the 2019 budget for it.
Essien who served as the as a member of the House of Representatives (1999 to 2007) described the development as “worrisome” adding that the federal government was setting wrong priorities for itself.
“When we were thinking that the federal government had suspended the RUGA project, behold the special assistant to the president on national assembly matters, Ita Enang, has just alerted the nation that a provision of N2.2 billion had already been made in the 2019 federal government budget for the scheme and that money had always been spent on Ruga.
“He is also urging the state governments particularly those in the southern part of the country to make land available for the smooth take off of the Ruga cattle settlement programme.
“The renewed desperation to force through this programme is becoming more worrisome to ardent followers of Nigerian history, development and politics.
“Firstly, why the sudden interest in cattle rearing in Nigeria when it is only an occupation to individuals in a section of the country?
“Secondly, why the sudden upsurge in the population of cattle in Nigeria to the extent that the traditional threshold for cattle is no longer adequate to accommodate them and so colonies have to be established for them all over the country including the rain forest belt?
“We are inclined to believe that there is a deliberate movement of cattle and its herders from other parts of Africa into Nigeria to account for the upsurge in cattle population.
“Thirdly, has cattle suddenly displaced oil as the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy? It’s unbelievable that a country which cannot provide the generality of citizens in existing settlements with housing, regular power supply, portable water, schools, good roads and primary health care now wants to create new settlements with such facilities for cattle and its herders all over the country.
“There certainly appears to be a lot more to the Ruga Scheme than we are made to know. Disappointingly, when appropriation is being made for cattle rearing and monies promptly released, the joint cash calls to the petroleum industry is always suffering delayed payments.
“In the ensuing scheme of economic development, we need to put our priorities right. We need to diversify the economy by investing surplus earnings from the oil sector in other areas. But we do not have to kill the petroleum industry by starving it of operating funds when due,” he said.
He deplored a situation in which the government was making budgetary allocations for cattle rearing instead of appropriating funds for joint cash calls in the petroleum industry.
“Disappointingly, when appropriation is being made for cattle rearing and monies promptly released, the joint cash calls to the petroleum industry is always suffering delayed payments.
“Currently, some petroleum industry operators have laid off some of their services contractors who have equally laid off their workers, thus compounding the unemployment situation,” he added.
He called on the national assembly to vire the provision for RUGA to other uses.