AWAY WITH RUGA SETTLEMENTS

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Monday comment2

Eddy Odivwri writes that Ruga should be dumped for good

We thought the idea of cattle colony, muted by the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development had died, when many people objected to the concept.

But suddenly, the idea was repacked and relaunched with a new brand name called RUGA. Ruga in Hausa language means “fast”. It could also mean to dominate.  So the Ruga initiative means literally, a scheme to quickly dominate.

For a government that has just resumed a new mandate, to begin the new term with this huge push on RUGA agenda bespeaks of worrisome future.

The whole thing about the RUGA settlement is for state governments to allocate huge acreage of land for the Fulani herdsmen to ply their private trade. The idea is the brain child of Miyetti Allah, the association of cattle breeders, which the federal government has described as respected “stakeholders”. Really? Which stake are they holding? Do these herdsmen pay tax? Do they have TIN (Tax Identification Numbers}?

 It is rather shocking given how private business concern of some herdsmen had become the prime concern of government so much that, at the moment, it is on the front burner of government policy machinery. Pray, if President Muhammadu Buhari is not a Fulani man, would this herdsmen agenda gain this attention?

It is befuddling to know that we have had several Hausa/Fulani presidents in the past. None had played up the Fulani agenda with so much zealotry as we are seeing now.

Indeed, the herdsmen, who are largely Fulani have become a terror organization as they march round the country with menacing mien and acts. They have killed, maimed and burnt down homes of communities which had attempted to resist them or dared to complain about the destruction of their farms by the cattle. Too often, the herdsmen had operated with the mindset of “if the president be for us, who can be against us”?

Those who do not want to believe that disposition of the herders are confronted with the facts of the matter: i.e that despite all the attacks and killings and havocs caused so far by the Fulani herdsmen, there is no record that any of them has been prosecuted or jailed for the heinous crimes they have perpetrated and keep perpetrating. Do they enjoy special protection?

Government does not seem to be manifestly worried that herdsmen have become arms dealers. As a young boy, the sight of herdsmen and their cows was common in my Orogun kingdom, Delta State. But those herdsmen had only sticks and catapults and at best, bows and arrows with which they shot at wild animals. And they went about their business peacefully. Not anymore. Today, herdsmen have become bearers of sophisticated arms and other dangerous weapons with which they terrorise the people. And nobody challenges them. Even the police and soldiers are silent and helpless(?), as they tactfully decode the unspoken but loud body language of Mr President which seems to be saying “Touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm”. 

Little wonder the herdsmen have upgraded their acts to include kidnapping on the highways and in the farms of the people. Indeed, in many communities, down south are now scared stiff going to their own farms for the fear of the Fulani people who rape, and even kill them.

Agatu community in Benue State is perhaps the face of the victims of this  herdsmen terrorism. Many states including Nasarawa, Plateau, Edo, Delta Enugu, Anambra, etc., have all suffered various attacks from the marauding herdsmen.

So the government says the idea of the RUGA settlement is to finally tackle the recurrent farmers/herdsmen clashes. The government’s argument is that when these Ruga settlements are provided, the herdsmen will have their own colony within which they would operate and that will eliminate their interaction with neighbouring farmers and thus eliminate clashes. That looks really simplistic and bereft of critical thinking. What is the guaranty that given their nomadic nature and character, the herdsmen will remain      confined to those ranches?

Worse still, is the fear of the future. In years to come, children of herdsmen who had settled in such ranches would begin to assume that they own the land, especially after their parents would have passed on.

The sense of entitlement and ownership will begin to take root among such generation of children.  At such times President Buhari and all the people advocating Ruga settlement now would no longer be alive or in position to explain anything. I hear that’s how the indigene-settler dichotomy in Plateau State started. Today, both groups are strange and uncomfortable bedfellows.

What is worse, I doubt if the Miyetti Allah has a comprehensive register of all the cattle rearers spread across Nigeria so as to trace possible perpetrators of attacks when they happen.

This is even more curious as federal government had on several occasions claimed that some of the herdsmen are from other countries like Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroun, etc. So are we, by that claim, going to release our land to even non-Nigerians?

 

It is instructive that the government claims on one hand that the scheme is voluntary for states, yet says in another breath, that there is no going back on it. That means that the Federal Government has indeed taken ownership of the scheme and determined to drive it with the devotion of a zealot.

 

 It is interesting that about 11 states have seemingly accepted the scheme and are said to be in the process of regularizing the documentation process, preparatory to take off.

 

The implication is that states that have resisted the idea may stand the risk of an impending rough ride with the herdsmen. And when they do suffer such sure-to-come attacks, they would have nobody to complain to as they would be likely told that they are on their own having rejected the “federal solution”. No doubt, there is danger blinking ahead.

The questions that worry us on this matter are legion. First, why will a people be forced  (never mind the tag of voluntary) to surrender their ancestral land to some strangers in the name of Fulani herdsmen?  How different is the scheme from the accusation of the plot to “fulanise” Nigeria, by Olusegun Obasanjo?

Would the government go all out to make such a strong case for Tiv or Urhobo yam farmers as well?

To know that beside the quest for land the government was also thinking strongly of funding the scheme, doubly befuddles us. Why would government expend our commonwealth to sponsor the economic interest of just a certain group of people in the country?  Alhaji Saleh Hassan, the secretary general of Miyetti Allah, had confirmed the request for N100billion from government for the building of the ranches, and not necessarily as amnesty or appeasement to stop the clashes.

The story has recently broken that the federal government had indeed released the said sum to the group, but the presidency denied the allegation. Even then, a recent reports revealed that the federal government was considering using N2.26bn grazing reserve budget to prosecute the plan.

Another worry is rewarding the herdsmen with government-funded settlements could inadvertently send the wrong signal that being violent and criminal pays. Or else, how can it be explained that a group that should be undergoing prosecution for the many heinous crimes it has committed is the same group government is struggling so hard to placate and impress? Why is IPOB not that lucky?

 

It is interesting to note that after this piece had been written last Wednesday, the story broke that the federal Government had suspended the Ruga settlement project. We hope it will not be repackaged, deoderised  and represented later. Let it die. And be buried. Forever!