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Divisions in the country being pushed to near-breaking point by RUGA settlement controversy

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[FILES] Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development


From cattle colonies to RUGA settlements in every state of the federation
From what we know of the cattle colony scheme, based on a presentation by the then Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Audu Ogbe, the cattle colony scheme is not a scheme for the settlement of Fulani herdsmen. Here is what he said in his presentation:

“We are talking of colonies because 20, 30, or 40 ranchers can share the same colony. A ranch is usually owned by an individual or a company with sometimes very few cattle. Some have more than 200 or 300 cows. In a cattle colony, you could find 30,000 cows owned by different owners.

“The reason we are designing the colony is that we want to prepare on a large scale, on economy of scale, a place where many owners of cattle can coexist, be fed well, because we can make their feeds. They can get good water to drink. Cows drink a lot of water. We can give them green fodder.”

The Hon. Minister talks only of cattle owners or ranchers, but not at all of herders. He goes on to say: “We will tell the herdsmen, if you are passing through a state, you can only go to the colony and stay there, feed your cattle and, when you are moving off, agro-rangers will follow you and make sure you don’t destroy anybody’s farm.”

This statement seems to suggest that a cattle colony under the scheme is conceived only as a ranch, which would be combined with the existing practice of herdsmen roaming over the whole country with their cattle, but stopping at a colony (ranch) to feed them. The Federal Government was obviously quibbling on the issue; its ambivalence suggests that it was not unaware that a “colony” has, in public perception, a meaning that is inseparable from “settlement’ of a multitude of people, a meaning stamped on it by history, from antiquity to modern times. A colony of cattle owners or ranchers does not make much sense; nevertheless, the Hon Minister’s statement, as the authoritative pronouncement of the FG’s design, means that a colony of herdsmen is not within the cattle colony scheme, although it may metamorphose into one over time.

There is another significant respect in which the cattle colony scheme differs from Ruga Settlement, i.e. as respects the approach to the acquisition and use of land for the purpose. The then Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, in his presentation referred to above, laid specific emphasis on this. As he stated:
“The idea is not to go and take anybody’s land. We are not. Somebody who was very angry at this policy said to me in a text, that the word colony means that we are trying to use Fulani to colonise their state and that it reminds them of colonialism.

Well, we don’t really want to take anybody’s land to give anybody. It’s just a biological term and we’re not after taking land from anybody to give anybody…

If you want land, apply to the governor. He doesn’t seize the land. He goes and calls leaders and say, we want to do this here. It will create jobs, you can participate, and they gather and say yes, this area. Governors consult and the traditional rulers consult their people and they consult their educated children.We won’t come to a state, take land and give Fulani or Hausas or Itsekiri or Idoma or Tiv and say this area has been seized and given to an ethnic group. That’s not the idea. We wouldn’t do that here. There is no need to take anybody’s land and forcefully use it.”

The caution, restraint and maturity exhibited in the Minister’s approach to the sensitive issue of the acquisition and use of land is in sharp contrast to the arrogant peremptoriness of the announcement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, that “land for the Ruga Settlement had been gazetted in all the States of the Federation,” in disdainful disregard of the stipulations of the Land Use Act, and without the courtesy of consultations with the State Governors and the Traditional authorities.

From the expose above, a cattle colony, as conceived by the Federal Government (FG) to mean, not a settlement for Fulani herdsmen but simply as a FG-sponsored scheme for the ranching of cattle, differs significantly from a Ruga settlement. Both have one thing in common, viz the ranching of cattle as a project sponsored and facilitated by the Federal Government. But aside from ranching of cattle, Ruga is marked apart from cattle colony by the all-important attribute of providing a place for the settlement of people, categorised by reference to ethnicity and occupation, namely Fulani herdsmen.

That is the distinctive element that marks Ruga apart from cattle colony. Whilst there is so much quibbling about the nature and purpose of a cattle colony, there is no such quibbling that RUGA is meant as a place for the settlement of Fulani herdsmen and their families – the breeders of other animals like pigs, goats, rams, etc might be accommodated, but a Ruga, which is a Fulani word, is meant primarily as a place for the settlement of Fulani herdsmen. No amount of quibbling can disguise the fact that the primary purpose of RUGA is to provide a place for the settlement of Fulani herdsmen.

Ruga, as a place for the settlement of Fulani herdsmen and their families, is conceived by the FG as an organized, more or less self-contained community equipped with various social amenities and facilities to be so provided by the FG from revenue belonging in common to all the ethnic groups comprised in Nigeria. An announcement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, published in the Vanguard of July 6, 2019, lists the social amenities and facilities to be provided as including “schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products,” milking parlours, abattoirs, leather processing facilities, etc. The announcement stated that the Ruga settlements are to be established “across the 36 states of the Federation,” and that “the Federal Government has gazetted lands in ALL the 36 states of the Federation for the Ruga settlement.” The gazetting of such lands was done without consulting the governors or other relevant authorities of the state.

Not only did the FG go ahead to gazette lands in all the 36 states of the federation, it had also commenced construction work in some of the states, notably in Ukum, Otukpo and Tarka Local Government Areas of Benue State, which sparked protests across the state by youths and other interested groups condemning the construction work as an attempt by the FG to take away their land.

The Benue State Government was then prompted by the protests to issue the following statement which exposed the Ruga scheme as a sinister scheme to advance the hegemonic interests of the Fulani ethnic group in Nigeria. The statement reads:

“A few weeks ago, the Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture with his team in Benue State informed officials of the State Ministry of Agriculture that he had received directives from the ministry’s headquarters Abuja to establish Ruga which means ‘Fulani settlement’ in parts of the state. The director stated that the local government areas selected for the settlements were Otukpo, Tarka and Ukum but the Permanent Secretary, Benue State Ministry of Agriculture drew the attention of the director and the his team to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 being implemented in the state.

When they were also reminded about the Land Use Act which confers on the governor the powers to administer lands in all parts of the state, the officials left with a promise to relay the message to their headquarters. They surprisingly returned a few days later with contractors to commence work on the Ruga settlements. We find the approach of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture not only as a gross violation of the Ranching law but also as an insult to the sensibilities of the entire people of Benue State.”

The action of the Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture betrays an intention and a determination by the FG to impose the Ruga Settlement scheme on the country by an overbearing federal might, thereby trampling on the wishes of the state governments in disdainful defiance of a national law bearing on the matter, the Land Use Act entrenched in the Constitution by section 315 thereof. The said action also casts a doubt on the FG’s claim that “no state government would be forced to provide lands for the scheme.”

To make the establishment of Ruga Settlements throughout the country appear not to be an imposition by force of the federal might, the state governments were tricked into appearing to have endorsed it. The president had gotten the National Economic Council (NEC) of which all the state governors are members, with the vice president as chairman, to formulate and develop a National Livestock Transformation Plan which, as he said, provided a basis and a cover for the Ruga Settlement scheme. Having participated in the meeting of NEC that approved the National Livestock Transformation Plan, the state governors were presumed to have endorsed the Rugs Settlement Scheme, but the presumed endorsement was promptly denied by many state governors, who also disclaimed any connection between the scheme and the National Livestock Transformation Plan. 

The vice pesident, when the crisis over the Ruga Settlement Scheme broke, also denied the presumed endorsement, stating in no uncertain words that the plan approved by NEC under the National Livestock Transformation Plan was concerned only with the ranching of cattle, and has nothing to do with the establishment of places throughout the country for the settlement of Fulani herdsmen called Ruga Settlements. The statement by the vice president put paid to the attempt to use the National Livestock Transformation Plan to foist the Ruga Settlement Scheme on the country, which left President Buhari with no alternative but to suspend the Ruga Settlement Scheme, albeit under the false pretence that the suspension was impelled by massive corruption in the course of the implementation of the scheme such as the overpricing of materials needed for the scheme.

Whilst the suspension of the Ruga Settlement Scheme is welcomed by the generality of Nigerians in both the Northern and Southern parts of the country, a group in the North calling themselves by the name the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) has risen in vehement opposition to the suspension, and gave President Buhari “a 30-day ultimatum to implement the Ruga policy across the country.” The Ruga Settlement controversy has thus divided the country into two feuding camps, both poised for violent confrontation, with the potentiality of exploding into a shooting war, unless action is taken to avert it.

It would be idle to deny that ranching of cattle, as an integral part of the Ruga Settlement Scheme, has evident advantages. It is rightly said that the ranching aspect of Ruga “would eliminate the roaming of cattle which had been the cause of conflicts between herders and crop farmers.” It is also rightly said that, “with cattle and their herders restricted to specific areas, the problem of cattle rustling would be eliminated as it would be difficult for the rustlers to steal other herders’ cattle and take them away from where they are settled.

“The model would equally create opportunities to process agricultural wastes such as rice and maize stocks and cassava leaves into feeds for the cattle, while using the dung to generate power in addition to using it as manure for crop farming. The era of cattle roaming around is over across the world. Nigeria cannot be an exception. Our target is to eliminate roaming and the attendant conflicts between herders and crop farmers. We want to stop rustling and kidnappings by young Fulani who wander around in the guise of herdsmen. We want to improve the breed of cattle through artificial insemination. This has been done successfully in Brazil, Argentina, Tanzania, Pakistan. Even Ghana started it last year. That is the way to go.”These are evident advantages which it would be idle to deny.

Pernicious implications and consequences of RUGA Settlements in every state of the federation
THE evident advantages of ranching can be pursued without integrating it with the settlement of Fulani herdsmen on lands belonging to other ethnic nationalities and their constituent villages and families; these are mostly lands passed on from generation to generation, and regarded as an inviolable inheritance, jealously guarded against encroachment by outsiders; any such encroachment excites the deepest sensibilities of the indigenous owners. The settlement of Fulani herdsmen on such lands is bound to give rise to conflicts in the political, social, cultural and economic relations between the Fulani settler groups and the host indigenous communities, especially given the hegemonic tendencies of the Fulani or, as Yinka Odumakin puts it in an article in the Vanguard of July 9, 2019, given the Fuani’s “expansionist agenda meant for ethnic conquest and domination.” It is monstrous that any one, who means well for the country, should ever have conceived the idea of Fulani settlements on lands owned and settled by other ethnic nations comprised in the country. It is simply a monstrous idea which should never have been conceived by anyone, even with the consent of the indigenous owners of the lands in which the Fulani herdsmen are to be settled. There should be no objection to the establishment of Ruga Settlements in areas of the country settled by the Fulani as their traditional habitat, so long as this is not funded from money belonging in common to all of us.

Way forward
A national dialogue has been suggested, no doubt with good intentions, by former President Dr Olusegun Obasanjo as the way forward, but I, for one, do not see how a national aialogue can provide a solution to our problems. It cannot, because President Buhari, as the person to convene the dialogue, organise it and perhaps preside over it is himself the problem facing the country; so he cannot be the solution. Here is a man who contested election for the presidency of Nigeria four consecutive times, winning on the fourth occasion. What drove him to contest the election four consecutive times? Was it the ordinary ambition to become president? The explanation is provided in a speech delivered before an audience of exclusively prominent Northern Moslem leaders on 2 May 2015 at Queen Amina Hall, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. He said:

“I charge you to join me as we build a new Northern Nigeria in a generation….. the best investment we can make in the North is not finding oil in the Chad Basin…. we will start with one local government in each state until we get to every school in all of Northern Nigeria….. To achieve this, I have secured a Northern rehabilitation fund….. to rebuild the North after the devastation of Boko Haram insurgency….. Join me my brothers and sisters and let us finish the work our forefather, Ahmadu Bello, started.”

The speech portrays the picture of someone driven by something more than the ordinary ambition to become president of Nigeria. It requires something more than that to drive a person to contest presidential election for four consecutive times. Buhari was driven by a passion, the passion of a religious zealot, a passion to enthrone Fulani hegemony; a passion to become President of Nigeria in order to carry on and finish the work started by his forebear, Sir Ahmadu Bello. And according to Sheikh Gumi, in his book on Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna’s well-known agenda of consolidating and perpetuating the idea of Northern Nigeria as one united entity “was conceived as a personal mission” handed down to him by his forbear, Sheikh dan Fodio. The agenda had an accompanying ideology whose object, as articulated by the Sardauna, is to maintain Northern Nigeria as a theocracy ruled by a Moslem claiming to be divinely directed, with utter disdain for democracy, and with the Sharia as the supreme governing law; the non-Moslem minority ethnic groups in the North are to be used as “willing tools”, and the South is to be subjugated and reduced to “a conquered territory”, which is not to be allowed to “have control over their future.”

The Sardauna had conceived a kind of jihad for the pursuit and possible accomplishment of his agenda, an agenda which President Buhari had now vowed to carry on to a “finish”, and is doing everything possible to do so, as by the northernisation, Islamisation and Fulanisation of most strategic or key positions in the government, particularly positions in the security agencies, the unleashing of Fulani marauding armed militia and herdsmen on the country to terrorise, maim and kill innocent and defenceless Nigerians, men, women and children, driving thousands from their ancestral homes to a life of wretched existence as internally displaced persons in IDP camps; to the designing of schemes and projects for the establishment of cattle colonies and now Ruga settlements in every state of the federation. It does not seem to me realistic that a president with this kind of agenda and who has embarked on schemes and projects to actualise the agenda should be asked to organise and preside over a national dialogue aimed at liquidating or dismantling a deeply-embedded, if sinister agenda. No solution to our problems can come out of the proposed national dialogue.

The implementation of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, as suggested by former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, provides a better prospect of a solution. The 2014 National Conference was organised and took place more than one year before President Buhari came into power with his northernisation, Islamisation and Fulanisation agenda, and in circumstances completely different from those existing today. Needless to say, the implementation of the recommendations should be subject to such modifications and changes as may be necessary or desirable.
•Nwabueze is a professor of law and a constitutional lawyer


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