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‘Ruga scheme for Fulani herdsmen has come to stay’

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The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Secretary General, Elder Anthony Sani

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Secretary General, Elder Anthony Sani, spoke in this interview with Saxone Akhaine on the security challenges that have continued unabated in the country, the recent Ruga controversy and the issue of alleged Fulanisation and Islamisation of the country. The ACF scribe shed light on the style of governance of President Muhammadu Buhari; his failure to address the problem of insecurity and the ailing state of the economy; what happens after the four years of Buhari’s tenure in office; Igbo presidency in 2023 and other issues of significance in the nation’s polity.

In view of the uncertainty in the nation now, do you think it’s the right time for the Buhari government to plan the settlement of Fulani herdsmen in different parts of the country through the scheme called Ruga?
When you talk of uncertainty in the country, I do not understand what you actually mean. Is it because there has been recent insecurity posed by the surge in the activities of banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling, armed robbery and cultism across the country? What is uncertainty beyond recognition by the governments and Nigerians that we have challenges which must be confronted with all sense of seriousness in order to put an end to such heinous activities? Like the ACF has just said, there is nothing wrong with the timing of Ruga which is a name for settlements of herdsmen or nomads as the case may be. I guess the government wishes to encourage the settlements of nomads in manner that they can have permanent and bigger settlements of nomads preparatory to embracing the concept of establishment of ranches that are currently beyond the economic profile and professional expertise of the individual nomads.

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Furthermore, larger settlements are more amenable to monitoring by relevant authorities than the current settlements based on individual families that are small and scattered across the country in the fashion of nomadic mechanism of living.

Please note that there has been hankering for adoption of ranches as against open grazing for the express purpose of the improvement of the volume and quality of livestock and in order to reduce situations that will bring about clashes between herdsmen and farmers across the country. But the switch from nomadic practices to ranches cannot be a day’s job. We cannot be against open grazing and at the same time oppose any ideas that will bring about ranches.

The last time the government mooted the idea of establishing 94 pilot ranches across some states for the purpose of exposing herders to the modern practices of ranches. But some states said they would not allocate lands for that purpose.

The government has now mooted the idea of bigger settlements called Ruga away from small nomadic practice in the hope of encouraging sedentary practice of rearing life stock, and still some states do not want that. What do such states want nomads to do as means of livelihood? Let such states proffer alternatives for nomads who are Nigerians and entitled to some support from government reminiscent of what government has been doing for farmers.

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Won’t it stoke the suspicion of Fulanisation and Islamisation?
Why should any policy and programme designed to encourage sedentary settlements of nomads leading to practice of modern ranches stoke suspicion? When people talk of Fulanisation by the insurgents, it is laughable in the sense that Boko Haram comprises over 90% of Kanuri ethnic extraction which belongs to the El Kanemi empire that was never part and parcel of the Sokoto Caliphate that was sired by the Fulanis. It is therefore unthinking of anybody to imagine that the Kanuri in Boko Haram would toil with their blood and sweat day and night with all the attendant risks inherent in insurgence in order to bring about Fulanisation for the Fulanis.That is simply not possible.

You may also wish to note that North West comprises mostly of Fulani Muslims who cannot reasonably be expected to organise banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and cattle rustling in order to bring about the Fulanisation of Fulanis.That is meaningless. And when you consider the clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the middle belt have not surged after the elections in the same way the other security challenges have done, then it is hard to buy into the conspiracy theory spawned by former President Obasanjo about Fulanisation and Islamisation.

What do you think about this fear which was given prominence by former President Olusegun Obasanjo?
The fear spawned by former President Obasanjo is not justified because he actually said nothing new about the aims of Osama Bin Laden who founded Alqaeda that has multiplied into so many outfits. It is very important to remember what Osama Bin Laden said, to wit, that he was all out to Islamise the infidel of America and the West, and if possible the whole world. He went further to say Alqaeda was the most decentralised organisation that has been very effective and efficient in the history of the world; and that if he died, he would leave thousands of Osama Bin Laden behind to continue with the campaigns. Hence the emergence of Taliban in Afghanistan, of Alshabab in Somalia, IS in Iraq and Syria, of Boko Haram in Nigeria and of ISWAP in West Africa.

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But when President Obama saw the sects were desecrating the tenets of Islam by killing innocent people, including mostly Muslims, he thought Islam was being misused for a mere strategy of recruiting the gullible as canon fodders in pursuit of worldly aspirations by the promoters. He then delivered a speech in Egypt where he made a clear distinction between terrorism and Islam. That singular speech earned him Nobel Prize and enabled him to bring about a coalition of 66 countries of different faiths that led to the taming of IS in Iraq and Syria. If President Obama had not made that difference between terrorism and Islam, and instead offended the sensitivity of moderate Muslims opposed to Islamic fanatism and whom the world needs to enlist in the campaigns against the so-called Islamic terrorism, the coalition of 66 countries would not have been made possible and a success.

That is why I see nothing exotic or quixotic in what former President Obasanjo has said of Islamisation beyond playing to the gallery by saying what the sects want to hear. This is because what the sects do is pure terrorism inspired by mundane political pursuits but attired in the garb of jihadism. Simple.

Since the fear was expressed by a person of Obasanjo’s stature do you think we can treat it lightly?
Former President Obasanjo has been Head of State and President in Nigeria due to forces beyond him. But he has taken his luck too far by arrogating to himself the status of being all-knowing, all-wise and holds all the truth as if he has special grace from God. That was why when he wrote his letter and asked President Buhari not to re contest on account of his perceived feckless performance, some of us felt he carried his luck too far, and advised him to allow Nigerians make that decision. The rest, they say, is now history.

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The former President allowed President Buhari to be his Achilles heel which has demystified him. As a result, he is playing Rambo on the loose. That is unhelpful. This is because giving ethnic and religious coloration to purely criminal actions amounts to a tacit provision of platforms for criminals to hide and perpetrate crimes because they know it is difficult to prosecute ethnicity and religion. Let the former president retrace his steps and play statesman’s activities for the larger interest of the nation. 

What are the best measures to allay the fear of Obasanjo and other citizens?
Answer: Those who entertain fear based on what the former president has expressed should read my comments for realistic appreciation. More so, our security agencies have stepped up efforts against the insecurity posed by the banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling, armed robbery and the insurgence. The recent successes recorded are capable of dispelling misconceptions and inspire confidence and nation’s solidarity on the part of the security agents and the citizens.

Is the government doing enough in this regard?
As long as the governments have not put an end to the insecurity, most Nigerians are bound to conclude that the governments are not doing enough. But that does not suggest the governments have not performed creditably well with the available resources.

My suggestion is that since no government has enough resources to satisfy all the citizens at the same time; and that is why government is an art of balancing competing demands among not only constituents but also among socioeconomic sectors, it may be apposite to reprioritise by deploying more resources in the campaigns against insecurity, considering no economy can thrive amid insecurity. That will bring about adequate number of trained and well equipped police personnel needed for policing the country. I say this because the calls for state police is not more than groping, especially when regard is paid to the fact that insufficient number of trained and ill-equipped police personnel would not be the magic wand.

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Why this fear now and not in the past when there were other governments? And the Buhari government tends to stoke this fear because it has failed to arrest and prosecute the Fulani herdsmen killing and raping. Why is it so?
I am telling you that the fear of Fulanisation and Islamisation is not well founded. Let us be fair in our assessment.

Much of the insecurity we talk about is in the form of guerrilla warfare that is not conventional warfare. And so the arrest of those who commit such heinous crimes is not easy, and has to do with the capacity of our intelligence community that is not well developed. It is that weak intelligence community that has not made it possible for arrests of killers of Chief Bola Ige and killers of many other high-profile politicians on the watch of President Obasanjo over ten years after the events. Consider America with all its technology took over ten years to get at Osama Bin Laden and has put a high prize on the head of Sheik Shekau. So, the perpetration of heinous crimes between some criminal herdsmen and farmers cannot reasonably suggest the regime is indifferent to the challenges of insecurity.

In view of this fear and other sources of tension in the country, don’t you think the north should take the issue of restructuring seriously?
What has restructuring to do with the current challenges? Please note this country has been restructured several times. We started with three regions which became four regions with a weak centre. We have gone from twelve through 19,21,30 and now 36 states. We had Dasuki local government reforms of 1976 that have given a total of 774 local governments today.

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We experimented with a parliamentary form of government through military dictatorship and now presidential system. We also tried confederate arrangement with a weak centre, then a unitary system with a strong centre and now we have a federal system with the national government that is balanced by appropriate state level power.

On the economy’s side, we had indigenisation under Gowon, went through mixed economy, then the Structural Adjustment Programme called SAP under IBB (former Military Head of State Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida) and then went through privatisation under President Obasanjo which also replaced government monopoly with individual monopoly.

And that may explain why some of us posit that any further restructuring may not cut the Gordian knot. We believe those who hanker for restructuring to enable different sections of the country to develop at their own pace are those who want Nigerians to live as if they were in different countries where some sections are on the cutting edge while some others are on the life edge of survival. And they made this submission in blithe disregard for the fact that the unbridled inequality in the polity is a recipe for upheavals leading to disintegration.

But as a democrat, I wish to point out that because there is a national consensus on national problems and no similar consensus on how best to overcome the national challenges or malaise, multiparty democracy allows political parties to represent distinct methods of solving national problems as contained in their respective party manifestos which they use and canvass for electoral mandate needed for execution or implementation.
That is how democracy works. It is not for a few select people to gather in Ibadan or Enugu and try to foist their preferences on the rest of the country. It is also not within the purview of democracy to expect government to undertake far-reaching reforms based on reports by a conference of unelected delegates.

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My take is that the problems of this nation are not in the structure or forms of the government most of which have been tried. Our problems lie in the collapse of our national ideals, moral values and of our sense of what is right and what is evil. We need cultural renaissance on how we do things.

Does Buhari’s seeming opposition to restructuring reflect the position of the leadership of the north?
I am not sure President Buhari can prevent political parties from including restructuring in their manifestos and use it to canvass for electoral mandate needed for implementation. We are only expressing our opinions. It is left for Nigerians to decide democratically whether they want to further restructure the country or not. What we would not accept is the idea that those who profess to be jaunty face of democratic values are the ones trying to foist their preferences on the rest of Nigerians undemocratically. 

Don’t you think that it’s the failure of Buhari to hold the nation together that is the cause of the tension in the country?
How has President Buhari failed to bring the nation together? Recall Boko Haram used to attack almost all parts of northern states of the country, including Abuja, under the immediate past regime.

The sect even controlled some parts of the country before the advent of President Buhari. I remember in 2012 when one attack by gunmen in one night in Plateau State claimed about 500 people, including a serving senator, and within one week another attack in the neighboring village claimed hundreds of people.

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As a result, an organisation in America predicted Nigeria would break by 2015.The split of the country did not come to pass and Boko Haram has been tamed and consigned to fringes of North East, thereby inspiring hope over fear.
It is true that the insecurity has surged of recent after the elections for whatever reasons, but this should not make Nigerians to discount the successes recorded by this regime even as there is the need to do more.

Do you think if he failed to hold the nation together in his first term he can do that in his second term?
President Buhari never failed to keep the nation together in his first term. This is because fact check says no to your claims.

If President Buhari had truly failed in his first term as asserted by some of you, Nigerians would not have voted for him with a wider margin of from 3m votes in 2015 to 3.9m votes in 2019.Interestingly, most of the improvements of about 0.9m votes came from the hub of the main opposition party, the PDP. That should tell you that even though most Nigerians expected the regime to do more and still expect him to do more during the second tenure, they still believe the president is the best in the circumstances the nation has found itself.

If all the causes of tension in the country today persist, do you think that Nigeria will survive Buhari’s second term?
There is no basis of imagining the causes of tension would persist, given the activities of the security agents who have stepped up their campaigns in response to recent surges of actions by criminal elements of the society who should be seen and regarded as such, instead of emboldening them with ethnic and religious coloration that would enable them to hide and commit more crimes. 

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Will the North be happy to see the country break up?
Even though the North can survive if the country breaks up eventually, it is not the wish of the North for the country to break up. This is because the certain benefits of one united big country are by far greater than uncertain gains that come with break-up.

Don’t you think that one major thing the country needs to do for unity is for the South-East to get the presidency in 2023?
Power is never given through intimidation and threat or by playing victim in a multi-party democracy in which political parties devise their winning game plans that include fielding of candidates .There is nothing in the constitution which prevents any political party from picking its presidential candidate from the South East as its winning game plan in 2023.

But some leaders in the North have already said that the presidency is not leaving their region after Buhari?
Answer. Any political party which thinks picking its presidential candidate from South East as its winning game plan is at liberty to do so.

Can the North still produce a person like Buhari with a large following that will ensure that the region produce the presidency in 2023?
I cannot tell whether the North can produce any person with electoral value comparable to Buhari. And this is because nature abhors vacvuun. So when President Buhar’s term expires, there may be somebody not only in the North but also in the South who may have the honesty, integrity, mass appeal and charisma that are comparable to Buhari. Let us reach the bridge.

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What are those urgent things Buhari should do in his second term?
The President was elected on his campaign promises of taming insecurity and corruption in order to pave the way for the economy to take root and thrive. All he needs is to deliver on the promise of his electoral mandate.

Do you think Buhari can deliver these things before he leaves?
It is possible he can deliver because if Ronald Reagan could court America for twelve years, and when he was given the mandate in his 70s,he was able to make America feel young again with the promise of glory days ahead, I think President Buhari can equally play President Reagan by making Nigeria feel young again with promise of glory day ahead.

All that is required of him is unity of purpose, his resolve and determination in the onerous task of impelling progress by multiplying his strength through members of his cabinet while Nigerians learn to be distant runners by foregoing part of their today’s comfort for the good of tomorrow. This is because to diversify an economy is not a day’s job. The situation is not beyond redemption.


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