The RUGA idea and its malcontents
Ruga is a Fulani word that means settlement. Thus, when it was muted that the Federal Government intended to establish Ruga settlements across the country—at least for states that were willing to be part of the scheme—there was a national uproar against the scheme from the southern and north-central states. The malcontents of the Ruga idea reasoned that it was an attempt by President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Fulani, to pursue a Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria agenda. From my readings of the situation, three factors fundamentally accounted for the antagonism that confronted the Ruga idea. One, the Ruga idea was seen as a strategic grand plan for the reterritorialization of the Fulani across the country. Two, the Ruga idea was seen as a strategic plan to aid the Fulani negotiation of space and power in the wider Nigerian political system. Three, Ruga was seen as a plan for the massive exportation of Fulani culture, traditions, values and mores across the country. The aftermath of the Uthman Danfodio Jihad was referenced as an archetypical example of Fulani cultural expansionism. There could be many other reasons against Ruga.
Whatever the reasons, the most important thing is that the opposition against the Ruga scheme was so venomous in intensity that the federal government had to hurriedly beat a retreat by suspending its implementation. The one questions that begs to be answered is: was the decision by the federal government to suspend the implementation of the Ruga Scheme the most auspicious in the circumstance? I propose my answer to this question. But first, some background notes. I can wager my bottom dollar that the most philosophically potent force against the Ruga scheme is the fear of land colonisation and Islamisation and the imagined political undertones that it is envisaged that would come in the wake of its implementation. This fear is fed fatter by the prevalent climate of deep-seated ethnic distrust and animosities in the country. Let me give an example. If the Federal government had proposed to establish Ruga settlements in the north-west and northeast regions especially within predominant Fulani geographical spaces the opposition against the scheme wouldn’t have arisen in the first instance. In view of this, therefore, it is my contention that rather than suspend the implementation of the Ruga scheme, the federal government should modify its implementation. How do I mean?
One, the federal government should go ahead with the Ruga scheme. Under the new arrangement, it should establish ten world-class ranches in the Old Bauchi, Old Gongola, Old Kaduna, Old Kano and Old Gongola states. Two in each of these old regions. The combined carrying capacity of these ranches should be such that can conveniently take care of at least ten million cattle. In the event, no one would raise Fulanisation and Islamisation eyebrows because such ranches would have been sited in their ethno-geographical autochtonous locale. If the southern and north-central states are against Ruga for fear of Fulanisation and Islamisation, what would say, Kano and Bauchi, for instance, be afraid of? Nothing, in my view. After all, the Governor of Kano State recently proposed giving out large swathes of land enough for cattle ranching.
Two, pursuant to the Ruga Scheme the federal government would do well if it establishes a National Livestock Cattle Ranching Programme. The programme would serve as the institutional custodian of the Ruga scheme. Under the programme, the federal government should domicile about one hundred billion naira in either the Central Bank of Nigeria or the Bank of Agriculture to be accessed by potential private sector investors for the purposes of cattle ranching. This initiative would encourage and stimulate faster agricultural and economic development especially in the area of the livestock subsector. Three, the federal government as part of the Ruga scheme should establish a National Herders’ Rehabilitation and Reintegration Programme. This programme is important because sedentarisation would bring in its wake serious challenges. Challenges such as idleness, economic disempowerment, social and cultural disorganisation of the herders. To address these challenges the federal government would need to put in place an organisational and policy framework of assisting herders and their families to be socio-culturally and economically rehabilitated and integrated into the society. This arrangement would put paid to the trauma of transhumance and more importantly the ever occurring herders-farmers’ clashes in the country.
These policy measures, if put in place, would reverse the present character of commercial traffic of cattle. Under the present arrangement, Fulani traders transport herds of cattle to other parts of the country to meet the buyers. This should never be the case. The practice should be that whosoever wants to buy cattle should come to meet the buyers (Fulani). This meet-the-buyer commercial model, in my opinion, is the best. A good example would suffice here. There is a thriving dog market between the south and north in the mould of the latter commercial traffic. Dog traders especially from Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers states travel all the way to the Jos Plateau especially to Ngas markets of Amper (Saturday market), Myet (Sunday market), Kalin (Monday market), Kabwir (Wednesday market), Dawaki (Thursday market) to buy dogs and take them back home. This trade has been in existence since the 1950s and has shown no sign of abetting. This commercial model is also noticeable in the akpu (fufu), yam and tomatoes trade-in Benue State. Southern traders come to Ikpayango (Gwer-East local government), Zaki-Biam (Ukum local government) and Ankyenge (Gboko local government) every market days to buy plenty of these products and transport same home.
These businesses have been thriving for many years. Around these businesses have developed economies of scale and value-chains that the locals are taking good advantage of. This commercial model can be replicated in the cattle sub-sector and resultantly shield the Fulani cattle merchants from transportation and other social risks associated with travelling on Nigerian highways.
The cattle sub-sector is a gold mine waiting to be tapped. The contemporary profiling of the Fulani because of their occupational mobility may be a nigh end if the Ruga scheme is modified and implemented in the aforementioned trajectory. And one very good measure to help the sustenance of the Ruga scheme and sedentarisation of herders is for the Fulani elite to take a more than casual interest in the cattle industry by developing business and commercial models around the cattle sub-sector that would economically and socially empower herders to be in a good stead to confront the challenges of the twenty-first century.
Atah wrote from University of Jos