The federal government has set social media and a large part of the nation on fire with its plan to build “Ruga” settlements for cattle herders. Until it offered explanations this Sunday through a statement signed by Garba Shehu, the news was that each of Nigeria’s 36 states was to mandatorily give up large expanses of land in six locations for the project. But the statement from the Presidency suggests that only 12 northern states have offered to have “Ruga” and that no state would be compelled to host one. The 12 states have yet to be named.
South-east and south-south governors are united in their opposition to “Ruga”, as are most south-west and north-central states. And an overwhelming majority of opinions in the media and elsewhere are clearly against the scheme because they suspect an ulterior motive on the part of the government at the centre. We belong to this majority.
The minority canvassing “no harm” in having “Ruga” across the nation should answer a few questions.
First, “Ruga” is a Fulani word for “home”. If the settlement will be for herders of all animals from every part of the country, why does it not bear different names in different states? If history is any guide, we know that Fulani settlers in parts of the country have never relocated since they first set foot in those places. After a few decades, they created emirates and struggled with the original inhabitants for land other privileges. Only recently, an important Nigerian like former President Olusegun Obasanjo alerted the nation to a plot of “Fulanisation” and “Islamisation” of Nigeria by the Muhammadu Buhari government. “Ruga” perfectly lends credence to the existence of such a plot.
Second, the federal government and its agents have publicly declared that the “bandits” currently terrorising crop farmers in parts of the country are foreigners. They have sacked several villages, murdered thousands of Nigerians and taken over their lands without receiving condemnations from the federal government. Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai once claimed that his government had to appease these foreigners so they would stop killing Nigerians. Are these AK 47-wielding herdsmen the same people “Ruga” settlements are being prepared for? Are they being appeased, once again, in order, as Shehu’s release claimed, “to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders” and reduce “conflicts between herders and farmers”? If the foreigners are Fulani from other African nations, have they been arrested and prosecuted for the several crimes they have committed against bona fide Nigerians? Do they hold valid Nigerian passports? Are their rifles licensed or do they possess AK 47 illegally?
Third, Shehu said the “Ruga” programme is voluntary as “there is no government plan to seize state land, colonize territory or impose Ruga on any part of the federation”. Is Benue one of the states that have voluntarily approved “Ruga” even after the state House of Assembly has since enacted a law banning cattle colonies? Yet, contracts for the construction of “Ruga” in Benue have already been awarded and signposts indicating the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as clients of the contractors have been erected. A permanent secretary from the ministry has since confirmed that there was a directive to erect “Ruga” without due consultations with the government and people of each state.
Fourth, the Nigerian constitution vests ownership of land on state governments. Whose land is the federal government going to seize in order to build “Ruga”? Will it acquire land by force or buy it from those who may be willing to sell theirs?
There are valid reasons, therefore, for many to be sceptical about the federal government’s motives. Here is a government that has not completed any visible project in four years and yet eager to build estates and business premises for cattle herders. Between herdsmen and people displaced by Boko Haram and “bandits”, who are needier? Has the government rebuilt homes set aflame by the terrorists? The wounds inflicted on the victims of Fulani herdsmen are still festering; this is the time to placate the victims and not time to add insult to injury.
Not long ago, it was reported that the federal government had handed Miyetti Allah, the umbrella body of cattle herders, N100billion. The government denied it, but an official of Miyetti Allah confirmed that, indeed, they requested more than N150billion. If government has not given the herders N100billion, then, the nation ought to know how “Ruga” would be funded.
Maybe the federal government just wanted to test the waters by flying a kite. The result is clear enough: almost all non-Fulani Nigerians reject “Ruga” and whatever it represents. Public funds (obtained mainly from oil in the south-east and south-south) should not be used to support the private businesses of the Fulani under any guise.
With: The Oracle Today