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The RUGA controversy

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Grazing

The controversy that trails the RUGA resettlement scheme begins with the word RUGA itself.

Some say it is an abbreviation of the title given to the scheme—Rural Grazing Area; others argue that there is no difference between it and Ranching. While others say it is generally regarded as Fulani settlement which in Hausa language is called Walde.

Ranching we know; RUGA is strange. For an issue as controversial as that the rule of communication demands that it be made simpler so it can be clear and intelligible to one and all.

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RUGA from the explanation by those familiar with the thinking is an ambitious programme. On the face of it, it sounds laudable.

However, it has come with a crushing baggage which if only for the health and harmonious togetherness as well as collaborative working in the land, it must be dropped as suddenly as it has come. It is combustible, waiting only for a cigarette end to set off a conflagration. It is wrong-headed from conception to implementation. It betrays a deliberate ignorance of the complexities of our land and insensitivity to the touchiness that overcasts the country at this time. Trust in the Presidency is fast eroding. It will be curious if the handlers of the President pretend not to be aware of this. If they are unaware or they are living in denial, it can only lend credence to widely held view that once the Nigerian leaders mount the saddle, they become closed to feelings and sentiments whirling up in the public domain.

The comfort in which they live at no cost to them is paralyzing and befogs their sensing of how distant they are getting from the citizenry. Genuine criticisms are regarded as coming from the camp of the adversaries, at worst enemies or they are opposition induced and sponsored.

The government spokesman has painted the picture of RUGA as a vehicle to drive us to an Eldorado and the much longed-for land of peace. Who is not eagerly looking forward to the murderous insecurity that is engulfing the nation? The situation is such that travelling on the Nigerian roads today is a calculated risk.

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The minions of Darkness—bandits and kidnappers mostly—are lurking in the shadows of motley forests. There is now recourse by the elite who would have in normal times travelled by road, travelling by air. Everyone struggles to get to Akure, to Benin or Ilorin to fly to Lagos. Travelling by air to Enugu, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Calabar is given.

From this development, on hindsight, one can now see how farsighted Aregbesola was when he mulled the idea of building an airport in Osogbo! Fifteen minutes in the air to Ibadan and 35 minutes to Lagos can’t be a bad idea in the circumstances of today’s insecurity reality.

It was under this climate of insecurity, suspicion and eroding trust that the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Muhammadu Umar, spoke about the establishment of RUGA, painting it in glowing and enthralling terms.

The government is starting with pilot exercise in 12 states. According to him, RUGA is a rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in an organized place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value meat and animal products. Beneficiaries will include all persons in animal husbandry, not only Fulani herders.”

Shehu Garba corroborated the statement and went on to say the settlement is optional; there is no compulsion on any state government. The pilot scheme is beginning in the states that have indicated interest.

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The Taraba State Governor spoke in this vein as well even though he is not unaware of the suspicious, delicate and sometimes explosive relationship between the indigenes and herdsmen in his state. Already youths in the state have taken to the streets to denounce the RUGA project.

The programme is hitting the rocks for several justifiable reasons. One: The idea before driving it to materialize in 12 states was not subjected to debate and public scrutiny. Nor was it contained in the APC manifestoes and canvassed on the hustings for President Buhari’s re-election. First it came out in whispers and from there it fell into the hands of rumour vendors, and then came the confirmation by the permanent secretary, Muhammadu Umar.

Although the government spokespersons and apologists say the facility is open to any animal farmer that may wish, it is largely being seen as a project exclusively for the Fulani herdsmen. When there is mention of cattle, it is to the Fulani ethnic group the mind races. Yes, some other people outside the ethnic group engage in animal husbandry including rearing of cows, their number is negligible and do not ring loud in anyone’s consciousness.

The Fulani who have lived harmoniously in several communities across the country for centuries are not seen as the problem, but the stock called “Bororo” believed to have migrated in large numbers and illegally to Nigeria from some West African countries such as Senegal, Guinea, Niger and Mali, and those driven from Ghana. They are the ones accused of mindless killings of farmers and menacing those who survive to abandon their ancestral homes and lands for them to take over.

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In addition to bloodletting they are involved in banditry, assault against women and kidnapping, practices thought to be unheard of until the influx of Bororo Fulani. They have been emboldened with the advent of Buhari whom they seem to have counted upon for geographic and ethnic solidarity.

President Buhari himself has not helped matters by lack-luster attitude, seemingly looking away, his body language and unguarded pronouncements on the herdsmen-farmer clashes. This is apart from his documented provincialism. Sometimes one wonders whether he worries about the precedent he is setting and what history will say about his inability to rise like a statesman above undisguised sectionalism.

Professor Ben Nwabueze has written about it. Former President Obasanjo has raised alarm over it. Storming petrel Dr. Junaid Mohammed has shouted to the rooftops on it. Ohaeneze national president John Nwodo has not minced words. How do we forge a flourishing union without inclusiveness and deliberately promoting a sense of belonging?

President Buhari told grieving Benue State delegation who visited him to table their experiences and plight, who naturally and predictably would be expecting words of succor and encouragement, to go back to live in peace with the so-called stranger elements in their midst, the tormentors and killers of their people.

He said at another occasion that the deaths in Zamfara were more than deaths which occurred in Taraba and Benue put together. Then came the unconscionable slamming of Benue State authorities by his Minister of Defence, General Mansur Dan Alli (rtd).

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Gen. Dan Alli coming out of a security meeting at the Villa, speaking like Miyetti Allah, the umbrella organization of cattle breeders, blasted the Benue State Government for the enactment of an anti-grazing law which he said led to the horrendous killings by herdsmen in the state. This was at a time the wounds in Benue were still fresh.

In what way do all of these heal wounds and reassure Nigerians in general of fairness from their government? When you string all this together with Buhari’s undisinterested protest visit, accompanied by Gen. Marwa in Year 2000, to Lam Adesina, the then Governor of Oyo State, over clashes in Shaki, Oyo North, you begin to understand the suspicion that has greeted the proposed RUGA project.

In other words, many are inclined to see President Buhari as an interested party. He owns cattle which before he became President was a commercial enterprise. The cows numbered 270 heads. He was also a patron of Miyetti Allah. It will be considered, therefore, unwise and unethical that it is his Administration that would be pushing for the establishment of the RUGA settlements in different parts of the country. It will be recalled that senior government functionaries from Buhari to Audu Ogbe said the Fulani herdsmen menacing the land were not indigenous and the peaceful Fulani we have always known. It must, therefore, sound strange that it is for immigrants states are being asked to provide land for RUGA settlements.

The programme itself is no more than a blue print for rural integration. Every community in the country requires road networks, hospitals, vet clinics, markets and added value manufacturing firms.

The rural integration cannot be made exclusive to only the herdsmen. Such a rural programme will go a long way to make living in villages meaningful and stem drift to over-congested cities in search of greener pastures. Justice and fairness constitute the foundation for peaceful existence in human societies.

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The herdsmen’s atrocities have pervaded the land and they have perpetrated these with impunity, and appeasement with government dangling carrots before them instead of convincingly wielding the stick. Even when government functionaries deny this, Miyetti Allah leadership says it is true.

More than anything else, the point needs to be stressed that animal husbandry is a private business. This cannot be promoted at the expense of other private concerns in the land. What the government may do is to facilitate their access to soft loans from, say, the Bank of Agriculture or even Bank of Industries (BoI). There are experts in these institutions who will be glad to help them draw up business plans and do costing. Where necessary BoI will go the extra mile to help them import equipment and supervise the setting up of the farms.

Land is the true wealth of a people which appreciates. People are tied to their ancestral lands. The connection is not just physical but spiritual. This is why in the event of threat to their land people are ready to give their all to defend it.

A person’s native land is the place that he deserves and which he has pre-natally elected for his spiritual development to facilitate his spiritual goals. Periodically, everyone is drawn to the land of his birth. The body is formed from the materials of the native land, the plants, the food, the water and radiations of the stars, the moon and the sun of the zone of his birth.

The body is sustained and maintained by these radiations for its total and radiant wellness. It is, therefore, not without reason that from time to time a person feels the pull for his native land and birth place.

The point should also not be lost on us that Nigeria is a land of nationalities and not of settlers. For there not to be hostilities in such plural and diverse society, as Chief Obafemi Awolowo would say, Federalism is the answer.

For any authority to sit in Abuja and disingenuously asks states or local governments to give away lands is recipe for avoidable disaster. Indeed, rural lands fall under the jurisdiction of local governments while state governments are assigned lands in urban centres. The RUGA scheme must be scrapped. Every businessman must be made to fend for himself in the spirit of free market economy.


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