Opposition to Ruga Mounts as Critics Reject FG’s Cattle Settlement Policy

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Yinka-Odumakin

Deji Elumoye, Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja, Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu, and Segun James in Lagos

Opposition to federal government’s plan to create cattle colonies, tagged Ruga Settlement, as solution to endemic herders’ confrontation with farmers nationwide, increased wednesday as leaders of socio-cultural organisations as well as social critics rejected the policy as unworkable, vowing to resist its implementation.

Offering opposing views yesterday were leaders of Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere; Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF).

Their objection agrees with the position of South-east governors and the Benue State government expressed on Tuesday, opposing the federal government policy, incidentally enunciated to solve the worsening pastoralist clashes with farmers.

The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammadu Umar, had on Monday said the federal government had commenced the establishment of farm settlements, better known as Ruga settlements, for herdsmen to stop the constant clashes between the herders and farmers.

He said the programme had started in 12 pilot states.

But prominent opinion leaders who spoke to THISDAY on the development, said the decision was unacceptable and would be resisted.

Ijaw leader and convener of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, who emphasised that he was speaking on behalf of the South-south, said President Muhammadu Buhari should be advised to jettison the idea, vowing that his people will resist it.

He said: “I think they should advise him (President Buhari) strongly; our people will not take it. If you want to believe in the unity of Nigeria, the president should abandon that decision. It is unacceptable to us. I am the leader of our people and I am speaking on behalf of our people. Nobody should try it. We will not accept it.

“I was shocked yesterday (Tuesday) when it was announced. It appears we do not have one country. It appears we have a country where some people are ruling, imposing their will and their culture on the other side. This is unacceptable. That is an obnoxious pronouncement – the decision taken by the federal government.

“They have enough land in the north, particularly in the North-west and North-east, after that the North-central. They have no right to come and say they want to come and establish farm settlements in every part of Nigeria. The president has no right; he has no authority; the fact that he is the president of Nigeria does not give him the power to do that! We are in a federation. Federal government has no right! So, they should not try it.

“We in the Niger Delta or South-south we have had enough problem with oil pollution, our ecosystem has been destroyed, now you want to bring cows. We would not accept it! Our people will not accept it.”

On how they would convey their rejection to the federal government, he said: “Our governors should go and protest. They have access to him. The president alone does not hold the power in a federation. We have the president and 36 governors and the National Assembly. This is not a matter of decree or order given by Mr. President. It is a continuous issue and it will violate our own culture. We are fishermen and we are farmers. We cannot go and say there must be fish farm everywhere in the north.”

National Secretary of PANDEF, Dr. Alfred Mulade, told THISDAY that the plan was a recipe for further crisis and insecurity across the nation rather than to curb the heinous activities of herdsmen in the country.

Mulade said: “Without any equivocation, PANDEF strongly condemns the programme and hereby states that there is no land anywhere in the Niger Delta Region for the establishment of such settlements for herdsmen. It is quite disturbing that in a democracy, the federal government would unilaterally decide the establishment of Ruga settlements or cattle colonies.

“It is necessary to note that the Land Use Act, enacted in 1978 to regulate land administration systems and to ensure effective and equitable utilisation of land and land resources in the country, vests all urban land within a state in the state governor, and all non-urban land in the local governments in which they are found.”

A prominent Yoruba leader and Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, expressed similar views.

He said the federal government’s decision to set up settlements for herders would amount to illegality where the state government did not surrender portions of their land for such use.

He said: “They cannot do that except the governor of the state gives them the land. He has not gotten the power to get the land from them by force. Under the Land Use Act, it is the government of the state that has control over the land and until the governor of the state gives him the land he cannot use it!

“I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture went somewhere and started to dig the place without the authority of the governor. It is an illegal and unconstitutional thing. That is why I say he is a civilian dictator. Even the constitution that he imposed on us he is disobeying it. They have not abrogated the Land Use Act.”

National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told THISDAY that the group rejected the government’s proposal. “We ask all Yoruba not to allow an inch of land for this colonisation project,” he said.

According to him, the latest move confirms former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s suspicion “that a Fulanisation agenda is on through this sinister plot to forcibly take over lands across Nigeria and handover to Fulani.”

The Buhari administration, Odumakin added, should realise that it is daily putting a knife on the ropes “that bind us as different peoples within Nigeria by its openly clannish posturing and sectional conduct.”

Also expressing disagreement with the development, the National Chairman, Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Bitrus Pogu said: “Changing the name of something is semantics; So, all I can tell you is that it is nothing. The same colony or whatever, which is being renamed, nothing special. There is no tribe that deserves any special treatment in this country.

“And we know our local Fulani – every community in this country knows their local Fulani. We know that there has been an influx of Fulani from across West Africa into this country and we cannot just condone foreigners coming to be enjoying government’s patronage just to change demography and do whatever they want to do. We will not accept it.

“I can tell you categorically we are going to put our position across because we know that influx has been going on since the time of Obasanjo, unknown to many communities. But every community in Nigeria knows their local Fulani, who are Nigerians, and we cannot allow them to, under the guise of Ruga or whatever, populate our country with foreigners who have been killing our people. We will oppose it.”

On its part, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo expressed its opposition to plans by the government to build settlements for the herdsmen, saying that the southern states will not subscribe to such plans.

The organisation said any plan by government to build settlements for the herders would be resisted as that would be a direct invitation for anarchy.

The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Organisation, Mr. Chuks Ibegbu, who spoke to THISDAY on behalf of the socio-cultural organisation, said cattle rearing was a private business and as such taxpayers’ money should not be used to build farm settlements for them.

He reaffirmed the organisation’s initial position that the South-east had no land to donate for such settlement.

He said: “Firstly, if the government wants to build settlements for the herders, they must be ready to build for other business interests. They must be ready to build settlements for every category of businesses across the country.

“We are not ready to release our land for any colony, grazing or settlement of any kind. It’s unacceptable to us. Fulani herdsmen should go and negotiate and purchase land if they so desire.

“The federal government has no right to apportion land for private business. I run a farm too and I have many people who are involved in such business; settlements should be built for all of us. Singling out the Fulani herdsmen for settlement is an invitation to anarchy.”

Also, Nigeria’s foremost environmental rights advocate group, the Environmental Rights Action (ERA), warned that the plan was not only dangerous, but provocative in view of the tensed security and ethnic situation in the country.

According to the Executive Director of ERA, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, “This is an extremely provocative move considering the current violent relationships we are experiencing in that context.”

Bassey said what the federal government needed to have done before unveiling the policy was to have consulted widely.

“There should be national consultations on this needless measure and this should be restricted to states that want such settlements,” he stated.

He wondered if the government would build farm settlement for other ethnic nationalities across the country.

A former political adviser to Obasanjo, Mr. Akin Oshuntokun, on his part, said the federal government was going about the plan in a deceitful manner.

He said: “At the inception of the policy, what the federal government told the public was that the establishment of the cattle colonies, which I assume is now called “Ruga settlement,” is subject to the acceptance of the initiative by the state government of the intended location.

“Apparently, it seems it is now going to be imposed regardless of the disposition of any state. A number of states of the intended locations, especially Benue State, have rejected the imposition. This has legal implications. I believe any land acquisition or use in any part of Nigeria is subject to the approval and consent of the state government.”

He warned that implementing the policy is a recipe for crisis.

“Of course, I stand to be corrected. More importantly is that going ahead with the implementation of this policy on the basis of imposition is a recipe for disaster. It is going to compound and deepen the crisis it is ostensibly meant to resolve. You are thereby radicalising an already explosive situation. And whatever is left of Nigeria’s federalism is rendered unto the dogs,” Osuntokun said.