Nigeria is known to have survived serious threats of disintegration since the most catastrophic episode of its history- the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). But the nation has been rocked badly by dreadful crises that have left it tottering and questioned its corporate integrity in recent times.
No other issue perhaps had deeper impact and more sensitive than the attempt by the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari to in his own way, resolve the question of farmers-herders clashes with his policy of creating settlements for the Fulani herdsmen otherwise called ‘Ruga’ across states of the federation.
This programme according to the Federal Government will enable the government to build infrastructure for the ranching of cattle with modern facilities in states that have volunteered land, thereby improving the lives of the herders and the communities that will host those infrastructure and create jobs.
However, the extreme opposition to the Ruga policy was unprecedented in Nigeria’s history across most states of the federation. Most opposition to the Ruga idea was hinged on the impression that Buhari intends to settle his wandering Fulani kinsmen from all over the world in ancestral land belonging to indigenous Nigerians in the guise of Ruga settlement. The issue became so controversial and polarised the nation such that some sections of the country dared the president to try the policy and risked unimaginable consequences.
Even the South West said to be the bastion of support for the All Progressives Congress (APC) Federal Government was at the forefront among those who opposed the Ruga idea strongly. That was the message that allegedly scared the president and signaled to him the dangers inherent in the Ruga settlement of the Fulani ethnic group in the land belonging to other people. The anger that accompanied the Ruga idea convulsed the nation that the drums of war were once again beating lauder.
Therefore, on Wednesday June 3, surprisingly it was the Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, under the auspices of the National Economic Council (NEC), instead of the Presidency, which championed the cause that announced the suspension of the programme. Umahi had said that the Ruga project was not the same thing as the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) agreed upon by the NEC and other stakeholders.
Real reason Buhari suspended Ruga Project
Weakened morale in the army
One of the factors said to have compelled the President to jettison the idea was the alleged grumbling in the army and other security outfits. Following years of fighting the Boko Haram insurgents, the army appeared to be suffering from serious overstretch and morale has weakened. The army risks disintegration along ethnic or regional lines if they have to fight in different fronts in parts of the country at the moment especially over sensitive issues of land that border a lot of the soldiers constituting a threat to their own communities.
A security analyst, who wished to remain anonymous told BDSUNDAY that those elements in the army sponsoring Boko Haram have killed morale of soldiers, adding that the weakest part of Buhari’s plan to support the Ruga settlement is the army, which has been badly weakened.
“The weakest part of his plan is the army, the army is very weak and the morale is very low because from what is going on in the front a lot of people are now learning about the evil intension of the Fulani.
“That is why soldiers at the front don’t have the mind to fight because the people who are for Boko Haram at the Army Headquarters continue to undermine the war efforts and operations. So if the army could be so weakened by Boko Haram and be so exposed by Boko Haram that means if you open crisis in about two or three fronts the country will disintegrate,” he said.
The source also noted that the South West region distrusts the Ruga idea, such that even the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was earlier tipped to supervise the project vehemently, dissociated himself from the project, when his kinsmen in the region allegedly warned him against the idea.
Widespread anger that scuttled Ruga project
Some security experts who spoke to BusinessDay had kicked against the idea. Speaking on the issue, a security analyst and columnist, Ben Okezie noted that the Buhari Government allegedly fueled the controversy and caused more confusion stressing that no government in the history of Nigeria has ever settled any particular ethnic group.
“Who are you settling? Now which government has settled anybody in Nigeria except those people who have been hit by natural disaster or those displaced by insurgency? And once they settled them after some time they go back to their homes. Boko Haram displaced so many people, the government settled them in IDP camps and after some time they have gone back to their towns and states to go and farm. The Fulani herdsmen are they not from a place?
“Never in the history of Nigeria are people so disgusted about a policy of government,’’ he said adding that the people of Nigeria will never allow such policy in whatever guise after having witnessed the violence unleashed on them by the herdsmen.
Katch Ononuju, public affairs analyst said also that all the violence allegedly perpetrated by a rogue unit of the Miyetti Allah, the umbrella organisation of the Fulani herdsmen, was to force the indigenous people into submitting their ancestral land to the Fulani for peace.
He also accused President Buhari of getting the policy wrong, adding that the Nigerian people have woken up to the sinister motive by the Fulani and had to scuttle the Ruga agenda.
“This violence was purposefully calibrated so that we can now be asking for peace and then what they will demand from us for that peace is that they want land , it is really sad.
“It is s repetition of what happened in Kaduna and what happened in Jos. As far as I am concerned Nigerians have woken up. If you meet a lot of these people with cows, they don’t even speak Hausa, or English but they are easy with French, most of them come from Mali some also come from different parts of Africa.
“We don’t have a national policy to resettle migrant Fulbe (Fulani) in Nigeria. And Buhari is even trying to take the land belonging to the Nigerian indigenous farmer to give to the Fulbe. They are not Nigerians.
“Buhari now thinks that he can change the demographics by importing Foreign Fulani to come and settle in Nigeria and build population because the real problem is that they don’t have population,” he said.
Suspicion had been rife when was reported that the Federal government had earmarked N100 billion to settle the Fulani, followed by the attempt to set up a radio station strictly in Fufulde, the Fulani universal language.
The situation remained dicey as many Nigerians feared that the Buhari government had mutated the idea of the alleged Fulani imposition in the guise of grazing reserve, cattle colony and then Ruga.
However, the spokesman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria in Benue state and one of the national leaders of the group, GarusGololo, blamed the opposition to the Ruga settlement as the handiwork of those who do not wish to have a peaceful settlement of the farmers/herders crisis.
He said that Ruga settlement is being unnecessarily politicised by the opposition to derail the good intentions of President Buhari. “The opposition is using it against the President so that he cannot achieve his aim because they are ashamed that what they could not achieve in 20 years Buhari has achieved in just few years. It is those people who dont want Nigeria to move forward are the ones criticizing this policy,” he said.
History of Fulani struggle for land space
The struggle for land for the Fulani cattle herders is an old story. The trajectory of this crisis between the Fulani and their neighbours particularly in northern Nigeria dates back to the 19th Century.
The post- independent Nigeria however accentuated the crisis as pressures to build Fulani enclaves and enhance their population grossly pitched them in war of attrition with other more sedentary ethnic groups in competition for land and water resources.
In 1987 for instance, the Laguda programme initiated in Kaduna state, has been blamed for giving the Fulani an advantage over others as they allegedly used federal might under the military to seize the land from the indigenous people. It was reported that when they seized the land they set up an Ardo (Fulani local Chief) who will now progress to become an emir as they allegedly did in the place called Jemaa Local Government Area Kaduna state of today.
According to Ononuju, during the military era of the 1970s, the then Benue–Plateau state in the spirit of “One North One People”, allegedly gave the Fulani a piece of land in Bauchi Road part of Jos Plateau state in an area called the Tilden Fulani. It was from that Tilden Fulani that they allegedly started looking into mainland Jos and environs. They allegedly cast their eyes on other rich planes of the Plateau and unleashed violence all over Dogon Dutse, Barkin Ladi and all over Central Plateau fighting for the control of land.
“The Fulani also tried going up to the highlands but met stiffer opposition from the Tarok ethnic group in Langtang and they withdrew. They tried going to Gembu, in Taraba State and have been at war with the Kaka, the Pansa and the Jukun ethnic groups at the Mambilla Plateau. Then they looked towards the Benue valley and they are confronted by the Tiv,” Ononuju said.
Since then it has been a grim battle for land and survival till the present time where the violence level has led to the death of thousands of people and displaced many more.
Solutions not yet in sight
A security analyst Majeed Dahiru, blamed the crisis on the current government of President Buhari failure to show inclusiveness, which has forced people to begin to harden their ground and become territorially protective of whatever resource they may have.
“These resources could be land or mineral resources and it can go as far as political power in voting demography. Ruga settlement is not the solution to our security challenges. The government has failed to protect lives and property. The Buhari administration stood by and watched as killer herdsmen ravaged farming communities and we have not seen prosecution of these killers,” he said.
He added that the solution can never be settlement for the Fulani because “migrant pastoralists all over the Sahel are not interested in settled cattle breeding technology. They preferred nomadic grazing route to any form of grazing be it ranching, be it grazing reserve. They just prefer grazing from the Sahel through the Savannah to the forest region of Nigeria. So unless you re-orientate pastoralists that having come in conflicts with farmers along these so called grazing route, they need to have a settled lifestyle, no amount Ruga will solve this problem.”
The problem may not go away soon because of the nature and character of the pastoralists and their business. It is believed that as far as the pastoralist is concerned the entire globe is borderless, he does not recognise Nigeria’s borders and he does not understand that ownership of land is a cultural thing in sub-saharan Africa especially in a country like Nigeria. As far as he is concerned no body owns land and survival is for the fittest.
And this is compounded by the fact that Nigeria has a very porous and flawed immigration policy that has rendered its borders open to such an extent that Nigeria has become a thoroughfare for all elements out from the Sahelian region.
To tackle this menace, Majeed suggested the Ruga project should not only be suspended, but that a very strong immigration policy that aims to combat this menace be put in place. He urged Nigeria to pull out of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Goods and restore sanity first before it can re-enter the treaty time.
There appears to be no end to this controversy as no concrete alternative has been put in place yet. The pastoralists are as important as the farmers in the chain of food and livestock production and therefore need to have space for their activities. But their style of operation is suffering a reality of modern times and they may have to think about some level of transformation.
Innocent Odoh, Abuja