Four agrarian communities in Akoko, the Northern Senatorial Districts in Ondo State are on collision course with the state government for allegedly covertly ceding their land for RUGA without any consultation and their consent.
The state government had designated the communities for the establishment of the National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP.
Stakeholders in the communities are angered that they, including their traditional rulers, only woke up to see the signpost of NLTP at their doorstep by the state government without any prior knowledge or briefing by the government and its agencies.
Speculations were rife across the communities that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu wanted to use the programme in the Northern Senatorial District, where he hails from, to play his second term ambition card.
Leaders of the four communities namely Auga, Ise, Ikakumo and Akunnu, AIKA, have not only threatened to drag the state government to the court of law for the forceful takeover but resist it with their blood.
The four communities met recently and reached an agreement to reject the project because they were kept in the dark by the government.
It was gathered that the stakeholders have mandated their traditional rulers to meet with the government and convey their displeasure and rejection.
They kicked against the state government’s action insisting that no consultation was made before it was decided that their communities should be used for the project.
Speaking with newsmen, a prominent leader in Akunnu, Alhaji Kazeem Idris, said: “We are not happy that we woke up to see a signpost at our doorstep saying the area had been earmarked for NLTP better known as RUGA. The government’s action is not only unfortunate but arrogant.
“The community was not consulted or carried along. Even the traditional rulers knew nothing.
“Government did this without regards to anybody. We are crop farmers. The government could have done better by assisting us with a functional cassava processing factory, cashew processing or even better still, motorable road to get our products to its consumers.
“We are amazed that the Ondo State Government could introduce this project into our life so covertly, it is a shame. None of the communities were pre-informed or regarded. They just woke up to a signpost at their doorstep.
“The land actually belongs to Odua Investments. We leased it to Odua Investments years ago for 99 years or so.”
Another leader from Auga, Oriowo Hakeem said: “We do not support a programme that is disguised as RUGA or one that we are not properly briefed about.
“We support everything agriculture. We are predominantly farmers, crop farmers not livestock. Must we be forced into what we don’t know anything about?
Teach us how to process our yam, garri and cashew. Give us the processing facilities. We don’t want to learn a new trade.
“It is important that all AIKA communities should rise up as a body to this development. There was no consultation. There is a fear that this will gradually turn to become a RUGA project. We reject this development, more so, the Federal Government I am aware has put a caveat to such programmes, indicating that where there are oppositions, the project would be moved to other states.
“Government cannot decide to allocate an area for livestock without discussing with the owners of the land. You would have to explain your programme to the indigenous people and decide with them on the best way to forge ahead. They shouldn’t just wake up and find a signpost at their doorstep. We are crop farmers and not livestock farmers. This development is suspicious.
“We have not benefited from the government in the last 20 years. We have no roads, no schools, no hospitals, health centers without doctors, no market, no single agro-processing industry, yet the only thing the government has thought about is to make us a dumping ground for cows, pigs and goats. We need motorable roads for agriculture. Are they going to move the cows on motorcycles to the abattoir? Why put the cart before the horse? Our fears are well-founded and Ondo State could have done better. You just don’t dump things on us without reaching out to us to at least notify us even if you will not seek our consent. This is a democracy, not a military regime. You cannot negotiate our ancestral lands without informing us.
“We will resist it with the last drop of our blood. We are not pawns in a chess game.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, amongst other groups, have frowned at the programme insisting it was RUGA in disguise.
The South West PDP, through its Publicity Secretary, Ayo Fadaka, said: “The idea that there must be a National Livestock Transformation Plan is not itself a bad one, it is indeed a concept that should have been implemented many decades back.
“It is sad enough that the issue of cattle and Fulani have become a sensitive matter in the nation since the inauguration of President Buhari as Commander in Chief since 2015.
“If the goal of the project is to create a ranch where indigenes can have active participation in animal husbandry, it is a welcome decision, but if the intent is to import some Fulani and their cattle to Ondo State, it is certainly not a welcome development.
“The Livestock project should be under the prerogative of the States and not a Federal project. Therefore, we demand that Livestock project must not under any guise be turned on the long run to a new Fulani Colony in Ondo State.”
However, in a swift reaction, the state government has allayed the fear of the people that the programme was RUGA in disguise.
The Senior Special Adviser SSA to the state governor on Agribusiness and Empowerment Akin Olotu, in his reaction, said: “The National livestock transformation plan is not RUGA. It is not about cattle only. It is not about beef only. It is about the holistic development of the sector.
“Ondo State is not doing RUGA. We are doing the upscaling of the entire links on the value- chain of the sector, using a PPP approach. Ours include Piggery, Dairy, Beef and goats etc. Who says Yoruba cannot go into the business? Who is saying Christians cannot go into it?
“Our agenda under the national livestock transformation plan involves goat as well. It involves a breeder station, where our livestock entrepreneurs will have access to sexed semen for artificial insemination and breeds of calves, goats, piglets that are of better quality.
“The National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, is for us all. It is a business for us. It is not an ethnic issue. It is not about any religion. It is about our people, our economy, our future and our well being.”
A top government functionary, who spoke with newsmen in confidence, said: “A research carried out by the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, DAWN, revealed that 12,000 cows are slaughtered daily, with Lagos alone recording the highest of 6,000 cows, while the other south west states share the remaining 6,000.
“This is aside from the cows slaughtered for celebration activities, which of course might not be captured under the state records.
“With the huge daily capital flight that’s at stake here, it’s important that any responsive and responsible government would be interested in addressing the problem once and for all.
“That is exactly what the Ondo State government has done in this case. For those who do not know, the National Livestock Transformation Plan is not a RUGA settlement. It will be recalled that the idea of RUGA was rejected by the entire Southwest states. To put it more succinctly, the idea was buried in the southwest even before it took root.
“The National Livestock Transformation Plan is a private-sector arrangement with support from Brazil. The government is only providing an atmosphere to make it thrive. The project is meant for the people of Ondo State.”