The public outrage, which followed the Federal Government’s plan to surreptitiously seize lands from constituent parts of the Nigerian nation to feed the business drive of Fulani herdsmen, has been quite instructive in intergroup relations. The people have spontaneously demonstrated their power of protest through different media platforms.
Fittingly, President Muhammadu Buhari has given an order that the controversial scheme should be suspended till further notice and the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) would take its place. While we commend the president for responding to public outcry, we call on him to go a step further: abolish the plan and perish the thought of Ruga completely. There should be no half measures whatsoever in reducing the tension and threat to national unity, which the Ruga scheme represents. No nation should toy with the destiny of its people through half-baked and offensive policies that fail to recognise the peculiarities of its peoples.
The discordant tune from the Federal Government indicates dissonance and incoherence in policy formulation, articulation and implementation. While official presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu claimed that the Ruga was being coordinated from the Vice President’s office, Professor Yemi Osinbajo promptly came out to distance his office from Ruga and asserted that what government discussed was NLTP.
What exactly is going on Mr. President? Are there fifth columnists within the government that attempted to foist an illegality on the nation? Is the president coordinating government affairs faithfully and efficiently? Who is the chief of staff, an unelected personal official of the presidency, to legislate on such a sensitive matter with arrogant finality?
This newspaper, in line with its public service advocacy and social responsibility obligation, has always insisted and still contends that the way to go is for cattle breeders to establish ranches at their expense wherever they secure land. As a people, we must encourage best practices in conformity with international standards, which would help commerce and stabilise the polity. Nowhere in the world is the state involved in creating settlements for cattle rearing particularly in areas outside their immediate geographical zones.
In Nigeria, such a proposal is akin to pouring petrol on fire because of the incipient divisions that have become entrenched in the country. Needless to say, the violent and atrocious activities of Fulani herdsmen across the land have not endeared them to the other nationalities, which make up the Nigerian nation. The fact that some of them have Malian or Chadian background makes the proposition more frightening, unacceptable and offensive.
A ranch is an ‘extensive farm on which large herds of cattle, sheep or horses are raised’. It is often and should be a private enterprise because it is profitmaking. Ranches are usually established by cattle breeders to maximise the use of geographical space and natural resources available for grazing. Governments are expected to create an atmosphere that would engender the creation of such ranches. The suspended Ruga scheme was to be fully funded by the federal government with taxpayers’ money. This is really strange.
Nigeria is an agglomeration of nations, which have their own cultures, traditions, cuisine, social setup and philosophical orientation. These nations – Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Idoma, Urhobo, Edo – to mention but a few have had centuries of semi-independence, fiercely guarding their territories against external aggression even within the ambit of a united Nigeria. They all exist on a premise – that their way of life would be respected within the sovereign state of Nigeria. Ruga was and is tantamount to negatively altering the political configuration of and character of the people of Nigeria by superimposing one nation on another. Little wonder the people through their gatekeepers and opinion leaders have vehemently risen up against the offensive intrusion. The development has bred resentment and antagonism, which we can hardly afford at this time of our turbulent history. Interestingly, the toxic policy has been perceived by compatriots from a section of the country as an attempt to create a Fulani empire. We fought a civil war to keep the country together. We cannot afford another and as been observed, no country ever survives a second civil war.
While the storm lasted, questions were asked if there was any law to back Ruga. Ruga is a Fulani word for settlement and the puzzle increases when we begin to wonder the wisdom behind foisting an alien cultural practice with an alien name on a people with a different background. It has since come to light that Ruga was surreptitiously gazetted in May 2019 without consultation or a public hearing. No one has been able to present the gazette in public. It will be recalled that the proposed radio for herdsmen was also shrouded in mystery, conceived of and implemented without the knowledge of the minister of information. This scenario feeds the narrative out in the Nigerian space that there is a cabal running this government, which often acts on issues of national importance without the explicit approval of the president. If this is true, we hold the president accountable; for, he was elected to take full responsibility for all actions of the federal government and so the buck stops at his desk.
In the build-up to this, in a cavalier manner, an announcement came from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture conveying government’s decision to start Ruga settlements in the country. The Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom was very vocal against the idea particularly when it leaked that the contract to start the project had been awarded. The Land Use Act now constitutionally defined vests power to control all lands within a state in the governor. How could the Ministry of Agriculture attempt to seize lands without recourse to the state governors?
In the 21st century, such a preposterous and arrogant manner of governance is anachronistic, atavistic, insulting and reminiscent of the days of official vandalism and the power of brute force. No modern state can thrive on this. It is a lesson for all, both the governed and the governors.
It behoves us to remind all elected and appointed representatives of the people that they are accountable to the people. No state governor or senator should appropriate to himself the power of ceding public property and the communal wealth to further their own ambition or please some temporary power holders at the centre. It was so disgraceful to watch some governors speak from both sides of their mouths as it were while the people who elected them stood firmly on the side of truth and fairness. The governors of Ekiti, Ebonyi and Ondo states were good examples of playing to the national gallery. Of regret too was the division along party lines on an issue that ought to transcend party politics. Curiously, all elected officials of the ruling party kept mute while their constituents reeled from the blood bath that has become their homelands.
Also, it is a matter of regret too that all the civil rights and civil society organisations, which once discharged themselves creditably on national issues have suddenly gone silent. They seem to be breaking bread with the powers-that-be or have simply melted into oblivion. They need to be reminded that democracy and the people liberty should not be taken for granted. The way to hell, we are told, is filled with good intentions. What happened to the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO)? Where is the Save Nigeria Group (SNG)? Nigerians must be on guard and in full gear to defend their constitutional rights.
Meanwhile, at this juncture that the self-inflicted Ruga crisis has hit the fan, the President should address the Nigerian people and assure them that he is in charge and that the Ruga idea has been thrown into the dustbin of history. If the pilot scheme of NFTL is optional, as is being touted, it should be so stated and all stakeholders should be on the same page. The presidency should not attempt to play on the intelligence of Nigerians in any manner. It is dangerous to assume that the people would be docile when nihilistic programmes are being developed for implementation.
Finally, the Ruga idea should be discarded completely for the sake of national unity and cohesion. Nigeria needs a leader more than ever before with a vision and a hands-on approach to governance. We need a leader who is alive to his obligations twenty-four hours – to inspire hope in nearly two hundred million citizens. The atmosphere in the country is bleak and fear is palpable in the face of serious security challenges and declining purchasing power of the naira. The doomsday prophecy attributed to the Americans should by design or default not be allowed to descend on us. What is needed is not suspension but cancellation of the toxic Ruga insult.