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Ndigbo, Ruga settlement and 2023 presidency

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
21 July 2019   |   3:11 am
Last week, Northern elders asked Ndigbo to either accept the implementation of Federal Government’s suspended Ruga settlement plan for herders in their area or forget their presidential ambition in 2023.

[FILES] President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo. Photo/Orientaltimes

Last week, Northern elders asked Ndigbo to either accept the implementation of Federal Government’s suspended Ruga settlement plan for herders in their area or forget their presidential ambition in 2023.

Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, the Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters to the late former President Shehu Shagari had reportedly conveyed the elders’ decision that the Southeast people’s rejection of the policy was equivalent to forfeiture of their 2023 presidential slot.

In The Beginning
The northern elders’ position was in response to the opposition of herder’s settlement plan in the Southeast zone. Apex Igbo socio- cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said it has no land for the project in the zone. The organisation had gone ahead to threaten the governors, traditional rulers and community leaders that may want to yield any portion of land in the zone for the Ruga settlement program, even as it doubted the motives behind the move.

The President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo, insisted that it was in violation of provisions of the Constitution on the administration of land in Nigeria, warning that jettisoning the rule of law for sheer power was tantamount to courting religious bigotry and nepotism and would inevitably resort to self-help and anarchy.He had queried the motive surrounding the project, especially when the people were not consulted and the growing insecurity in the country. Indeed, the body believes the project would exacerbate the already fragile security network, going by the clashes between farmers and herders in communities

Ohanaeze was not alone in the opposition to the plan. Southern leaders and Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, among others, had insisted that the implementation of the project would not solve existing conflicts between herders and farmers, accusing government of attempting to force the policy on the people.

Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, who is also the chairman, National Food Security/Herders/Farmers Conflict Committee of the National Economic Council had stated at a meeting, after the programme was suspended that the project’s implementation by the Ministry of Agriculture was not consistent with NEC and Federal Government’s approved National Livestock Transformation plan, which has programmes of rehabilitation of displaced IDPs, as well as development of ranches in any willing state of the federation.

Umahi had clarified that what NEC and Federal Government approved “is a voluntary programme in all the 36 states that may like to participate. So, it is not compulsory, as it is for any state willing to key into the programme. Any state that is interested in this programme is required to bring up a development plan that is geared towards the implementation in line with our programme.”

But no sooner was the suspension announced than a Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) rose to oppose it. The group, through their Spokesperson, Abdul Azeez Suleman, gave southern leaders 30 days to accept the Ruga project in peace and a 30-day ultimatum to President Buhari to implement the programme.

He had accused the President of “deceitfully wobbling” over the security situation in the North, and chided some northern leaders for “fraudulently’ promoting agitations for power shift to the South in 2023. They said unless the Fulani were allowed to rear their cattle in peace in the South, they will not allow southerners to enjoy peace in the North.

Ruga As Bait For Presidency In 2023
TO show their disdain for Ndigbo’s opposition to Ruga settlement plan and apparently the erroneous belief in their repository of political power, Yakassai stated that the North would not support Igbo’s aspiration for the Presidency in 2023. He said his people would only endorse Igbo aspiration, if the zone reviews its stand and accepts the policy.

It was not the first time Yakassai would come down hard on Ndigbos. Two years ago, he had endorsed the unpopular call for Igbo residing in the North to leave their territory, following the success of the sit-at-home order called by proponents of Biafra Republic. He was also recently quoted as saying Igbo don’t deserve Presidency in 2023, and that the North should not allow power return to the South.

Several reactions have, however, continued to trail his recent outburst on Igbo presidency in 2023 over Ruga settlement.  Many have viewed it as an attempt to ensnare the zone, while others wondered the real motive behind Ruga and its relationship with Presidency in 2023. There are also those who feel it was in the character of the politician to attack any Igbo cause.

However, emeritus President of pan Igbo Association, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike described the attempt to use Ruga as bait for 2023 as “idiotic.” The senior lawyer stated that Ndigbo would vie for Presidency in 2023 on merit, adding that it is only God that would determine how it would happen. He said: “Ndigbo do not believe in the Fulani settlement known as Ruga. Ruga as bait for 2023 Presidency is idiotic. Nobody will determine what will happen, and only God can do that. There are several betrayals in this country and alluding posture of what one is not is the worse disservice.”

On its part, the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) said it was an “insult on the collective aspiration of Ndigbo by anybody or group of persons to arrogate sharing of political power in Nigeria unto themselves.” MASSOB leader, Uchenna Madu said: “Yakassai and Northern elders forum are far lesser in comparison to Igbo ingenuity. They lack the capacity to give direction to the present crop of Igbo, who are wiser.

“The era of political dictation for Ndigbo in Nigeria has gone. Ndigbo are more determined to confront our common enemies squarely. The era of superiority complex and Nigeria ownership tendencies are no more operational. “MASSOB wishes to remind the northern political parasites, including their elders’ forum, that though we (MASSOB) are not interested in Presidency because we are Biafra, it is within the alienable rights of Ndigbo to contest that office, if they wish to remain in Nigeria and no amount of campaign of calumny can stop it. However, let me remind Yakassai and others, that we are more interested in the actualisation and restoration of Biafra, and will do all within our power to realise it. Giving Igbo Presidency whether now or in the future will not alter the resolve.

“The word RUGA is a Fulani word with a Fulani meaning that favours only Fulani people. Igbo land will never be comfortable with Ruga or any Islamisation agenda. MASSOB and other pro-Biafra groups are always ready to defend Biafra land from political and religious marauders.”

Former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya warned against comments that could further compromise the country’s security situation. He said: “It was unfortunate that certain elders in the north are “behaving in a manner elders are not known for. It is really sad that some people have continued to hold to wrong notions and those tenets that created the war several years ago. Some people are trying to push Ndigbo to the wall and I know they can resist it. That was how the Nigeria/Biafra war started. It started like a joke, when people who were living together suddenly became enemies because of a few leaders’ resolve to keep an ethnic part of the country on its knees.

“The other day, Miyetti Allah said they want to set up vigilante groups in the Southeast. As if that was not enough, the Federal Government came with Ruga and is insisting it will be implemented throughout the country. The simple question is: Who is this Ruga for? If people are rearing cattle, is it not the responsibility of those rearing to provide for it? Many Nigerians have talked about ranching and rather than encourage it, government is looking elsewhere.

“No right thinking person in Nigeria should claim ownership of political power and that he/she reserves the right to allocate it whenever and anytime he feels. I know political power is not dashed, that there must be a struggle to claim it. Ndigbo believe it is their turn to rule this country after Buhari. It is not out of place, but attaching conditions to it, as if there are people who are repository to it should be discouraged.”

On his part, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chuks Ibegbu, noted that 2023 Presidency was not a do or die thing for Ndigbo, stressing that “we are more inclined to the restructuring of the country.” He explained that the agitation to ensure that power did not return to South in 2023 did not start with Ruga implementation, as certain elements in the North had held similar views, when they vowed to resist any such move. He said peace would remain elusive in the country; so long segments of the country were treated unjustly.

On the ultimatum that they won’t guarantee the safety of Igbo in the North if the Ruga was not implemented, he stated that it was not the first time such quit notice was issued, stressing that, “we were given a three-month ultimatum in 2017.
He said: “We were also given a three-month ultimatum in 2017. We have told our people to be ready to defend themselves. Ndigbo are waiting and we will not continue to be looked at as a people that are relegated.”
On the sideline, however, proponents of Igbo for Presidency 2023 Movement are not letting anything to chance in their resolve to position the zone for the job before then. With the successful inauguration of Ebonyi chapter of the Movement some weeks ago, the Anambra State chapter inauguration has been slated for July 30, while others follow suit.

Wooing Igbo With Presidency
THERE are serious indications that the 2023 Presidency bait was employed by some leaders in the North to secure Southeast support for President Buhari’s re-election. At a function he attended in Owerri, the Imo State capital, Boss Mustapha, Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) had hinged support for Igbo presidency to voting Buhari in the election.

Mustapha was not alone in the game plan. Ministers who served Buhari until 2019 made Igbo 2023 Presidency their campaign slogan and dished out the promise at every opportunity. The elections have come and gone. Buhari was returned. However, since his re-election, the sound beat has been that since Buhari did not win Igbo land, they don’t deserve to ask for Presidency or support of the ruling APC in that regard. This is irrespective of the election outcome, which showed an improved performance for Buhari in the zone.

Feelers are that the process of denying the zone opportunity to produce a President in 2023 has already started with the recently held elections in the National Assembly that failed to go the way of the Igbo. A source said: “Nothing more is expected to change. Certain persons are giving Federal Government ultimatum and nobody cares. They are again asking Ndigbo to leave, and it will appear that they are the owners of Nigeria. Our silence should not be taken as weakness. We know there is a plot to provoke us and deny us what belongs to us. Let them rule Nigeria and appropriate all to themselves, but we are not cowards.”

Allocations Already Made?
THERE have been reports, especially in the social media, that Southeast governors have already allocated land for the Ruga settlement project. IPOB alleged that, while Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State has allocated a site at Olokoro in Umuahia, Enugu Governor has allocated some areas in the state’s three senatorial zones, as well as Afikpo in Ebonyi State by the Governor, among others.

IPOB insisted that Southeast does not have enough landmass for the project, stressing that Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi States combined measured 29525km2, while Kogi State alone has a landmass of 298334km2. It alleged that the allocation was part of the deal reached with the Governors that enabled them regain their seats after the 2019 elections, adding that “some of them have been promised the Presidency in 2023 as compensation, should they allow implementation of the policy in their states.”

Those who believe that parts of the Southeast have already been allocated for the Ruga project further alleged use of Air Force helicopters to drop weapons for the Fulani occupants in the areas. Air force officials in Enugu have, however, denied the allegation. Perhaps, overwhelmed by the growing suspicion that they may have sold out, the Governors, on Tuesday night, broke their silence, when they made it clear that they did not have land for Ruga settlement in the zone.

“The fact remains that no Southeast Governor has donated any land or intends to donate any land for the Ruga programme being promoted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), as approved by the National Economic Council (NEC), due to lack of enough land in the entire zone,” the Governors said in a statement by their Director General, Prof Uchenna Ortuanya.