The leadership of the Senate, on Sunday, challenged the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, to show Nigerians where the N2.258bn he claimed was appropriated for the Rural Grazing Area programme was inserted in the 2019 budget.
The leadership of the upper chamber said it scrutinised the current national fiscal document to authenticate the claims of the presidential liaison officer but found no amount meant for the implementation of Ruga programme in the 2019 budget.
Last week, Enang was reported to have said that the Federal Government made a provision of N2.258bn for the implementation of the programme in the 2019 budget.
Enang was quoted to have told indigenes of Akwa Ibom State, who are students of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, that the budget had been passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Enang got it wrong, he should prove otherwise — Senate Leader
But the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview that no such money was voted for the implementation of Ruga in the 2019 budget. He challenged Enang to prove him wrong.
Abdullahi said, “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,” the Senate Leader added.
Enang claimed he was misquoted —Minority Leader
Also, the Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, in a separate interview with one of our correspondents, assured Nigerians that necessary legislative actions would be taken on the issue when the federal lawmakers resume from their recess in September.
Abaribe also said investigation carried out by him on the issue had revealed that the N2.258bn Ruga fund might not have been specifically captured in the 2019 Federal Government budget.
He said, “I spoke with Ita Enang and he told me that he was misquoted on the issue. So I don’t think we should go ahead discussing the pronouncement since he had told me that he was misquoted.
“I asked him where in the 2019 budget that money is. I also asked him why he would say states in the southern part of the country should support the programme and even provide land for the project and he (Enang) said he never said so.
“I don’t think that we can make further comments on a pronouncement that has been denied. For us, I don’t think any such thing was in the budget. I will have to go through the budget again and check properly.
“However, if such a thing comes up in the course of my findings, then we would do the needful. The Senate will certainly not be a part of anything that will cause disruption of peace and problems within the country.”
Presidential aide keeps mum
When contacted by one of our correspondents, Enang declined comments on the issue.
He said, “Please, I won’t speak on it. Thank you.”
Meanwhile the Senate has said the matter, as well as other national issues, will be attended to when it resumed plenary in September.
We’ll discuss it after recess — Senate spokesperson
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, told one of our correspondents that no matter could be discussed until the members resume from their annual recess.
He said, “When we resume from recess, we will look at all the issues that cropped up while we were on recess and attend to them. The Senate has not taken any decision yet on the issue.”
However, some members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in the Senate have vowed to revisit the N2.258bn RUGA money claims on resumption from their current recess.
The RUGA programme has been suspended by the Federal Government following its poor handling by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, who is the Chairman of the National Food Security, Herders/Farmers’ Conflict, told journalists that the decision to suspend the policy was because it lacked consistency.
He had said, “The suspension is owing to lack of consistency with the National Economic Council and the Federal Government-approved National Livestock Transformation Plan, which has programme for the rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons resulting from the crisis and development of ranching in any willing state.
“The NEC says it is not compulsory but that any willing state is required to put up a development plan towards the implementation in line with the NEC programme based on the challenges inherent there.”
Many Nigerians, including a former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Nduese Essien, on Tuesday criticised the N2.258bn, which Enang claimed was appropriated for the RUGA programme.
They called on the National Assembly to reject it and take the money into other critical sectors of the economy.
Essien, in a statement, also lamented that the Federal Government was funding cattle rearing when oil-producing companies were terminating contracts and the contractors, in turn, were laying off workers in the Niger Delta due to the non-implementation of the Joint Venture Cash Call.
Many lawmakers, especially members of the opposition PDP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, vowed to revisit the Ruga fund which was said to have been appropriated for the controversial programme by the 8th National Assembly.
A senator from the South-East said, “I was in the 8th Senate and I participated actively in the budget process. I don’t know how the RUGA money was inserted. We shall call for a review of the document when we resume from recess. “
Another ranking senator from the South-South geopolitical zone, who also spoke off the record when contacted by one of our correspondents, said he was not sure that the money was captured in the 2019 Appropriation Bill sent to the President for assent.
Reject Ruga, Yoruba leaders tell S’West lawmakers
Meanwhile, some prominent Yoruba leaders on the platform of Voice of Reason have called on all state lawmakers and members of the National Assembly from the South-West to vote against any bill seeking the re-introduction of Ruga under any guise.
The Chairman, Voice of Reason, Dr Olufemi Adegoke, who led Dr Ladi Awosika; Dr Ebun Sonaiya, Capt. Yele Caukcrick (retd.) and others to a press briefing in Lagos, asked the Federal Government to abolish Ruga instead of suspending it.
The Yoruba leaders described the initiative as a ploy to dispossess legitimate land owners of their rights and give the land to herdsmen, who, they claimed, had been trooping to different parts of Nigeria from some West African nations.
He said, “We would like to have a definite statement from the Federal Government that Ruga has been abolished and not suspended. States and Federal Government should invest in the establishment of ranches and farm settlements for all livestock as a way of creating employment for the nation’s youths.
“Consequently, we call on all states and National Assembly members of Yoruba origin to ensure that bills pertaining to the establishment of Ruga or the repeal of the Land Use and Waterfront Acts as currently being proposed by the Federal Government are voted against without reservation.
“Instead of backing the establishment of Ruga or abolition of the Land Use/Waterfront Acts aimed at taking the power to control land from governors, we encourage our parliamentarians to ensure that bills that will help to restructure Nigeria’s political, economic and social structures are enacted and voted for.”
The group also urged government to end herdsmen attacks, kidnapping, robbery and other criminal activities in the South-West.