Ruga: The Fulanis as Victims?

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THE FRONTLINES

By Joseph Ushigiale

President Muhammadu Buhari’s pronouncement that the federal government is suspending the Ruga project has received wide commendations across the board. For once, the voice of the people prevailed over authoritarianism. Going forward, I hope this development would set the very foundation for real changes that would free Nigeria from the shackles of internal slavery/domination, poverty and under development.    

But the current controversy stoked by the federal government’s intention to establish Ruga, which means Ranch settlements, was an avoidable distraction had the government been more circumspect over the matter especially in considering the plurality or diverse composition of the country, the different cultures and the sensibilities therein.

Under the Buhari regime, we have seen how he gradually constructed a narrative to portray his ethnic Fulani tribe as victims of federal government neglect and abandonment. He believed that under his reign, his ethnic group must extract its pound of flesh from the Nigerian commonwealth and play catch up with other ethnic groups.

And so, since 2015 when Buhari assumed office, Nigerians began experiencing the brazen display of raw power by the Fulanis who now parade as if Nigeria belongs to them. Under its umbrella body, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) Fulani herdsmen began forceful occupation of farmlands belonging to farmers in the Middle Belt and other Southern parts of Nigeria; a move that people now describe as a jihad meant to Islamise the South. These nefarious and violent activities of Fulani herders provoked reactions from farmers and the stage was set for a showdown.

The Fulani herders/ farmers conflicts left several hundred dead, millions worth of properties destroyed, houses razed down and thousands of families rendered homeless in Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Enugu states. Yet, the federal government watched without taking any proactive measure to stop the avoidable carnage. In fact, the federal government’s slow reaction to the crises led to speculations that it was fuelling the conflicts surreptitiously. 

Apart from the Fulani herders/farmers, it later emerged that they were also the brains behind the widespread kidnappings for ransoms and increased armed robbery across the country. An elder statesman, Chief Olu Falae, who was 79 years old then, was a victim and was lucky to be alive to narrate his ordeal in the hands of his captors whom he vividly described as Fulani herdsmen.   

Let’s face it, are the Fulanis truly victims and have they been unfairly treated by the Nigerians state as the current narrative goes? How are the Fulanis victims if I may ask? This country has been more than fair to the Fulani tribe. If not, how come Buhari could rise through the military to become both military and democratic head of state twice? Is it not the same system that has benefited the likes of Professor Aminu, Nasir El Rufai, Jega and a host of other Fulani intellectuals holding ranking offices in government today? It could only be that the Buhari regime is using the Fulanis to orchestrate violence across the country and  instill fear so that the larger population would have no option than to acquiesce to this obnoxious arm twisting tactics to use taxpayers money ‘settle’ the Diasporean, who have been chased away from Ghana, their native Guinea and CAR because of the same atrocities, and other local Fulanis too with the Ruga project, radio station in Fulfulde and N100b pay off to stop kidnapping and banditry. Where does this leave other ethnic nationalities?

The last time I checked, the Fulanis are the most privileged ethnic group in Nigeria. Despite their negligible population, under the current Buhari regime, they control central government with Buhari as head of state; are in charge of the security apparatus in the country and control the economy through Forex speculation.

The Fulanis whom, in Buhari’s words, were known only with sticks and bows and arrows; never heard of in previous regimes, now see their privileged new found positions as a right to Lord it over other ethnic groups in the country.

Why is there anger in the land? The president has not taken a disinterested position to assure other ethnics in Nigeria that there’s no ulterior motive in the Ruga project. When the killings in Benue, Taraba and Adamawa were at their peak, he stayed away and deliberately turned a blind eye when innocent farmers were mauled down by Fulani militias. In his first appearance, he told the distressed people of these affected states to be their brothers’ keepers. 

While the federal government was jockeying with the lives of innocent citizens in the hands of the Fulani militias, MACBAN was busy threatening constituted authorities with hell and brimstone over anti-grazing laws; yet Buhari failed to lift a finger against the group. The situation deteriorated to a point that it seemed as if MACBAN was a parallel government in Nigeria because of its belligerent posture towards the anti-grazing laws enacted by some states like Benue.

Thus people started to wonder why, even though Buhari admitted that the Fulanis carry only walking sticks, he failed to take decisive action against the Fulani terrorists who have now exchanged their walking sticks with sophisticated weapons with which they have been using in killing and forcefully dispossessing farmers of their lands, kidnapping for ransoms and engaging in armed robbery.

Buhari who treats these Fulani terrorists and criminals as victims marginalised by the Nigerian state, rather finds it convenient to roll out military tanks against the Niger Delta people who are genuinely agitating for their right (over environmental degradation of their region caused by oil exploration activities) as well as ordering security agents to shoot at sight any person seen attempting to snatch ballot box during the last elections. If the North had the oil that the South has today, I wonder if there would be Nigeria. Is it not the quest to render Niger Delta oil irrelevant that the federal government has been wasting away billion of dollars in its fruitless search for oil in Chad Basin so that the North can also have bragging rights? Until people started getting killed who would have known that Zamfara is a treasure of solid minerals that have all along been exploited by Northerners?

The question is: why is govt using taxpayers money to patronise the Fulanis? Since when has a private business becomes govt business? Many angry Nigerians believe the federal had no business getting involved in voting N100b for the Ruga project because cattle rearing is a private business. Their expectations were that the government would group the Fulanis into co-operatives, seek local and foreign partners to form joint ventures. These joint ventures would then produce bankable ranching projects that would be funded by banks. Rather than pursuing that path, the Buhari regime, including Fulani talking heads like Professors Atahiru Jega and Gambari, who on one hand, bemoaned the blockade of grazing routes and justifying Fulani cattle colonies all over Nigeria   also from the get-go were busy duelling on the re-opening of outdated cattle grazing routes charted by colonialists as the solution to the herders’ farmers clashes. 

They were also arguing about climate change and desertification in the North as the reason for the migration southwards.  These planks of arguments are spurious and untenable. At the time the British charted cattle routes before independence, ranching had been adopted by the West more than a hundred years earlier. This singular decision by the western authorities effectively barred open grazing in their society and automatically quelled herders/farmers tension.

 If this govt was sincere and had no ulterior motive behind it, it should have gone to the archives to exhume records of ranches set up by the regional governments to serve as the basis of its Ruga policy. There are abundant ranch resources in both the North and South that this Ruga project is a complete waste of resources. Obudu Cattle Ranch, established in the 50s has 27 ranges. Each of them can accommodate 3000 cow. Yet this government ignored it and is chasing shadows.

By the way, did Buhari and his cohorts not say ranching was not feasible in Nigeria? How can an ethnic group of between 7m population, according to Google, impose its culture on the rest of the 183m population? The Fulanis adopted a wandering nomadic lifestyle of choice. No one stopped them from settling down in their ancestral homes to utilize amenities provided for the common good. Is Buhari hinting that the Fulanis have nowhere to call their own and so farmers’ lands must forcefully be seized to provide them homeland in Nigeria?

It is a welcome development that finally, wise counsel has prevailed over an issue that had the potential to ignite the gun powder on which Nigeria is already sitting on. Going forward the President should completely abrogate the Ruga project and heed the counsel of Abdullahi Bodejo, the president of the umbrella body of herdsmen in the country, who advised that “What we need is a return to our grazing areas. Facilities should be provided in them so that the herders can graze their cattle because the Ruga issue is political and does not help the Fulanis in the country.