By - Tobi Idowu
On Monday, 24 June, 2019, Nigeria’s Federal government, through its Ministry of Agriculture permanent secretary, Muhammadu Umar, revealed its plan to begin the implementation of a cattle settlement policy across the federating units. The policy, christened the Ruga Settlement, is expected to domicile the country’s herders, who are mostly of the Fulani ethnic extractions, in various large swathes of lands “given” by the states of the federation. According to Umar, the policy had been “settled along with other people that are interested in rearing animals.”
…as President Buhari’s Solution to Herder-Farmer Clashes
Revealing that the programme had already been begun on a 31000-hectare land in Kotongara, Niger state, in central part of the country, Umar further elaborated that government had commenced implementation of the policy in 12 states (out of 36 in the country), which are serving as pilot states for test running President Muhammadu Buhari’s solution to the recurring fatal clashes between herders and farmers in the country. The plan therefore is to get “a place whereby we develop a settlement for them (the herders), we provide water for their animals, we provide pasture, we provide schools for their children; we provide security…”
The herder-farmer crisis, especially in the central part of the country, has been a perennial problem for the largest country in Africa, and has continued to leave scores of people dead or wounded and a lot more displaced in the wake of its devastation. However, the crisis has seemingly gone a notch higher during the administration of Buhari, himself a professed cattle rearing Fulani.
…as a Decoy for Fulanisation Agenda
President Buhari has at various times been accused of pursuing a Fulanisation agenda. The accusation was given impetus by a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who tagged the security crisis rocking the country, and indeed the West African region, as Fulanisation. Not helped by an apparent levity deployed at confronting security issues ravaging the country, especially when it involves having to go after some of his own “ethnic” people found culpable in the crises, Buhari has been accused of being nepotistic and bias by leaders from other ethnic groups, and opposition political rivals.
A major point of argument for the president’s bias was the swiftness with which he dealt decisively with the boisterous, but harmless, proscribed secessionist Igbo group of Eastern Nigeria, known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Nnamdi Kanu, who has since fled the country to avoid prosecution.
Another group consisting of members from the ethnic nationalities of the old Midwestern state, now Edo and Delta states, urged the federal government to limit the creation of the settlements to areas to which the herders are historically native of. “The planned aggregation in whichever guise, of the lands of the 12 ethnic nationalities of the Midwest Region of Nigeria, without recourse to consultations with the traditional and bonafide owners, is akin to an invasion,” the group said a statement.
Using State Fund for Private Business
While faulting the rationale behind using public funds to help settle private enterprise, that is, setting up grazing settlement for the herders, three socio-cultural groups in Benue (one of the flashpoint states in the crisis), contested that the plan justified the accusation levied against the president. The groups, Mdzough U Tiv, Ocetoha K’ Idoma and Omi Ny’Igede, vowed vehement resistance to any plan to take their ancestral land for the herders.
“Let it be known that the common men in Benue state will use all constitutional means to resist the illegal occupation of our land. The plan is to deprive the indigenes of their land, given to them by their forefathers which is their main source of livelihood,” they said.
A former aide to Obasanjo, Jonathan Asake, agreed with the Benue group, suggesting that the plan was going to be exclusive to the Fulani. He further explained that the term “Ruga” was a Fulani word.
Recalling his own experience of the implementation of such plan, Asake, who is from southern Kaduna, said the then government of Kaduna state once approved Ruga settlements in the old Kacia local government area of the state, but over time, the settled Fulani herders expanded beyond their Ruga settlement and even have been attempting to create an emirate.
“We had what was established in 1987 as the Kachia grazing reserve in the then Kachia LG which comprises Zangon Kataf, Chikun and Kajuru and Kachia local government areas of today,” he said. “That grazing reserve has been changed to Laduga. Laduga is actually a Fulani word and no indigene is there. The land has been taken over from the indigenes.
Asake continued that the place has grown into a big town, with hospitals and other amenities. “In fact, the last voter registration exercise there, two registration machines were put there. Today they have a district head and they are now asking for an emirate. It is just a model of what will happen tomorrow in this country when these settlements are established,” he warned.
The Nigerian presidency has denied any sinister motive behind the plan. In a media release through a senior presidential aide, Femi Adesina, the Nigerian government explained that the plan was to stop the continuing clashes between farmers and roaming cattle herders. It said the settlement was not planned as an exclusive benefit to the cattle herders, but in fact for all animal farmers.
“The Federal Government is planning this in order to curb open grazing of animals that continue t pose security threats to farmers and herders,” it said.
“The overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers, a boost in animal protection complete with avalue chain that will increase the quality and hygiene of livestock in terms of beef and milk production, increased quality of feeding and access to animal care and private sector participation in commercial pasture production by way of investments.
Other gains are job creation, access to credit facilities, security for pastoral families and curtailment of cattle rustling.”
The central government went further to accuse some state governors of masterminding the discrediting the policy as a measure of distracting their citizens from their incompetence and inadequacies. “Mostly, these are states leaders that have no explanation to offer their people for continued non-payment of workers’ salaries,” it contested. Stripped of the politics and howling that has attended the recent comments, there is no government plan to seize state land, colonise territory, or impose Ruga on any part of the Federation.
That the president’s efforts at ending the crisis every citizen of the country desperately wants an end to are being met with unrelenting pushback by bulk of the same citizens should normally surprise or even shock. But the president’s culpability in this impasse cannot be ignored. While critics continue to accuse the president of nepotism and sectionalism, his own actions, and even his scarce words, have done more to buttress the accusation. More damagingly, the president’s perceived indifference to and disregard for contrary opinions, values and demands, in a stupendously diverse country like Nigeria all but do more to fan the ember of discord and suspicions that trail his policies. It should not surprise that Ruga policy also suffers from Buhari’s self-created conundrum.
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