A senseless ultimatum
President Muhammadu Buhari, on July 3, 2019, suspended the implementation of the controversial Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiative.
The Nigerian government is believed to have initiated RUGA across the states of the federation as a way to manage the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen which have witnessed the loss of hundreds of lives and destruction of property in various communities.
Within hours of announcing the suspension, Northern interests under the auspices of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) issued a 30-day ultimatum to the President to rescind his decision and, to Southern leaders who opposed the initiative, to welcome it.
Not ready to brook any nonsense, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, the spokesman of the group, at a news conference in Abuja, said:
“…We remind the nation that so long as the Fulani would not be allowed to enjoy their citizens’ right of living and flourishing in any part of this country including the South, no one should also expect us to allow any Southerner to enjoy the same in Northern Nigeria.”
He spiced the threat with an ultimatum.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we advise the federal authorities and the Southern leaders to heed the 30-day notice failing which we would most definitely be left with no option than to consider resorting to our decisive line of action.”
Some Northern elements, on June 6, 2017, in what was termed the Kaduna declaration, had earlier demanded that Igbos residing in the North leave the area within three months. Thus, it was not the first time the country’s unity would be tested.
John Chukwu of Ripples Nigeria examines 5 dominant issues thrown up by the recent outburst coming from a northern collective.
1. A country divided
Nigeria sits on the edge! A clear indication is, perhaps, the monumental disapproval that welcomed the RUGA project, especially the refusal of governors and leaders of the South-east, South-south and South-west to endorse the project. Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State led the governors of the South-east and South-south zones to say that they had no plans for RUGA settlements in their region.
“There will be no part of the South-east that will be given out for the purpose of establishment of RUGA, the zone is purely agrarian with limited landmass for farming and, therefore, cannot accommodate RUGA establishment,” he said.
The Yoruba Youth Council (YYC) Worldwide, on their part, through a statement by Benson Akinwumi, its Deputy National Publicity Secretary said: “the Yoruba Youth Council as a body of all youths in Yoruba land are saying no to RUGA. We don’t want it and we will never allow it.”
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, rejected the initiative saying that the state had no land for policy. “We don’t have lands for any settlement scheme, our land is for commercial agriculture,” he said.
Unlike their Southern counterparts, however, Northern governors did welcome the RUGA project while glossing over the potentially volatile remarks of CNG. Not a reprimand has come the way of the group whose threats have been seen as reckless and capable of throwing the country into a major crisis.
Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State welcomed RUGA.
“The concept is aimed at settling Fulani nomads and other cattle rearers into a permanent abode to minimize migration from one place to another in a bid to eliminate conflicts between herdsmen and farmers,” he said.
His counterpart, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State, through his Director-General Strategic Communication and Press Affairs, Yakubu Lamai, stated: “Nasarawa State will support any move by the Federal Government that will assuage Fulani herders and farmers cries in the State.”
What appears evident from the RUGA exchanges is that Nigeria’s federating units are yet papering over obvious cracks within the system. The resort to ethnic politics remains a favorite past time for politicians intent on converting state authority to exercise of personal power.
The question that has been asked by keen watchers of the polity borders on why there had been massive uproar in the face of claims that consultations were made by stakeholders in the Nigerian project.
2. A house divided
A yet embarrassing situation is the seeming rift within the presidency over whose office is coordinating the RUGA project. The Vice President, Osinbajo, on June 28, 2019, denied through a statement by Laolu Akande, his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity that his office was responsible for RUGA.
“Contrary to claims reported in sections of the media, RUGA settlements are not being supervised by the Office of the Vice President. RUGA is different from the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) approved by State Governors under the auspices of the National Economic Council,” Laolu said.
For daring to make clarifications, Osinbajo was branded a saboteur.
“Instructively, Yemi Osinbajo, apparently obsessed by curious ethnic tendencies, and in a haste to reassure his tribal lords, quickly retracted by dissociating himself from the RUGA resettlement initiative announced by a government he is part of,” Suleiman, spokesman for CNG stated.
Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, stirred further confusion. In an interview, he contradicted himself on an earlier position wherein he said that the Federal Government had earmarked lands in all states of the federation for RUGA. He was to recant later saying the programme would only be implemented in the states that signed up for it.
Femi Adesina, the other President’s spokesman, left even a bigger mess while attempting to explain the difference between NLTP and RUGA. Stating that the government had no land, except the FCT, for the programme, he said: “RUGA is immediate. It can’t wait. It is an emergency response. Do we wait for people to continue to be killed and violence to continue?”
3. A missing vision
Not many critics can decipher if there is a clear-cut strategy on how to deal with the challenge of herdsmen/ farmers clashes. For the most part, the response of the President Buhari-led team has been been staccato in approach.
Even the CNG had its position expressed in unmistaken terms. It said:
“Throughout the last four years, the administration of President Buhari has twisted and wobbled deceitfully around the visibly stewing security situation in Northern Nigeria especially the herders and farmers conflict. The administration had proposed several conflicting and ill-designed approaches to the issue which was apparently only meant to buy time and never to be implemented,” the group stated.
The glaring inconsistencies are better appreciated in the truncated pursuit of the ideas of ranching, cattle colonies, the recently suspended RUGA scheme and Osinbajo’s NLTP.
4. A missing trust
Trust is in short supply between and among Nigeria’s federating units. The CNG harped on same when it alleged that the seeds had been recently watered by the country’s former President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
“The stage for this scenario was systematically set by one-time President Obasanjo who, previously, flew the false kite of the existence of an agenda for the ‘Fulanisation and Islamisation’ of the country which was immediately orchestrated by the cultural and political leaderships of the three zones (South-east, South-south and South-west) that constitute the defunct Southern region,” CNG said.
Mutual suspicion rules, and that is putting it mildly. The federating entities have not only been locked in battle over resource control, but pitched also against each over fears of religious domination.
This can be seen in the different statements authored by social cultural groups across the country.
Nnia Nwodo, the President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, while rejecting RUGA said: “Ohaneze insists that the RUGA policy is an Islamization and a Fulanisation policy; it is a violation of our constitution and Supreme Court decisions on the Land Use Act.”
The Yoruba, Afenifere, through Yinka Odumakin, their spokesman, stated:
“When former President Olusegun Obasanjo said there was a plan to ‘Fulanise’ Nigeria, they said it was not so, but what are you doing? For us in the South-west, no inch of Yorubaland would be given for Ruga because it is a plan to colonise the country.”
The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) on averred, through its National Secretary, Dr Alfred Mulade: “We call on the Federal Government to jettison its plan as it is an invitation to chaos, and a prelude towards the Islamization of this country, which PANDEF is determined to resist, with all vehemence.”
5. Playing the Ostrich
A careful analysis reveals that the pretense at curbing herdsmen/farmers clashes has gone on for too long. The gaps in policy initiatives have become too manifest, and claims that the challenges are ebbing are largely untrue.
Will the Buhari administration learn from the disastrous outing on RUGA? The answers probably lie in the days ahead as the President, known for his slow approach to decision-making, forges his second term cabinet.
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