Despite its suspension, stakeholders have continued to throw brickbats over the Ruga settlement initiative of the Federal Government. What is your take on the issue?
Let me start by saying that I have gone to most of the West African countries, including Cameroon and the Central African Republic. I have come to appreciate the fact that everywhere other than Nigeria, there is a policy put in place to take care of herders/farmers clashes. I have regularly observed that these two conflicting interests are protected in all these countries that I have been to. Unfortunately, in the Nigerian state, the reverse is the case. I have said many times that most of the things that were meant for the sustenance of the nomadic culture were put in place by people who don’t even belong to the tribe. When the European came, they saw reasons to earmark some grazing reserves. Believe me, what General Yakubu Gowon did during his time as the military head of state was marvelous; it was fantastic. The foremost Galambi Cattle Ranch here in Bauchi State – which is 3,000 square meters or close to that – was designed and fenced by Gowon but the unfortunate thing has to do with us: most of us – I am referring to the Fulani, especially those who in one way or the other happen to have found themselves in positions of leadership – have bastardised the process put in place by tribes other than our own. We have failed to see reason to subject our people to accepting modalities in what they do. We should have educated them on the need to settle in a place and get whatever they want there. Their movement should have been restricted to a place for many things: better security, welfare, education of their wards, better medical attention and so on. That has not been done up to this material time. The Land Use Decree of 1978 vested the administration of land in state governments rather than the Federal Government. State governments are very essential in determining land administration as contained in the enabling law. It is good to appreciate the fact that the federal nature of Nigeria calls for caution and promotion of sense of belonging.
Is this controversy necessary?
It is not. I have to make those who feel otherwise appreciate the fact that ours is not a vegan society; all tribes consume meat and milk. Some are even specialists in eating ponmo (cow skin) but, still, they don’t want to apportion an inch of land to take care of their demands. There is this adage about jemage (bat) – which we know does not perch on the land but hangs on trees – out of its negative behaviour, calling for the folding of the land, unknown to it that if the land is folded, the trees will equally be folded. This is very unfortunate. If you think that yours is the only interest to be protected, if you think that your value is the only value to be protected, then you are in trouble. We must accommodate other people’s values. Even animals reconcile with one another; they do associate. If you go to a range or a game reserve, you will see that virtually all the animals tend to be friends with one another. Despite the different species, they belong to a common hegemony and they have to protect themselves. We have seen instances where a buffalo would protect a giraffe and vice versa, and even the other lesser animals before predators.
Many people rejected the Ruga initiative because they were under the impression that the Federal Government wanted to take over their lands and hand them over to their ‘attackers’, the Fulani, who are even considered not to be Nigerians in the first place. What is your take on this?
That is absolutely untrue. They are Nigerians. You can determine a Nigerian by his identity and this is subjected to verification and certainly some of the Fulani that reside in the Enugu State farms are Nigerians and nobody can tell me that they are not Nigerians. If you want to give the dog a bad name in order to hang it, you can just say it out, but the beauty of it is that while we are trying to achieve economic hegemony in West Africa, you don’t have any reason to castigate a fellow African. It doesn’t take us anywhere. Other parts of the world are integrating and becoming one and you are still making pronouncements that they are not Nigerians. What I am trying to say here is this: we have seen several postings on social media and in the newspapers relating to the fact that we do not appreciate others’ values. That is what Nigeria is all about. I see no reason why an Igbo man can possess properties up here in the North in hectares, several hectares of land, and would not have a kind of reciprocal attitude so that he can accommodate somebody to even own just a centimeter of land in his territory. This is very unfortunate.
It is unfortunate that we see others as not humans. I was having a conversation with somebody on Facebook the other day when he made a remark that most of us (he was referring to those of us in the North) don’t even work with our brain; that we tend to leave it behind and think negatively of others. I told him that only a person who doesn’t appreciate other people’s values could call others valueless; that that qualified him to be a person without value. I told him I knew his values and I appreciated them; that I would protect his values and I wanted him to reciprocate. I let him appreciate the fact that I am equally a human being, as ordained by God, Who has created us as different tribes, different nations for purpose of identifying and knowing each other so that we could work as one family.
The president claimed that most of those carrying out attacks in Nigeria are from Libya. How do you situate that?
Let me just say that the president is human and is bound to make mistakes. He had no reason to claim that those that have been carrying out attacks are not Nigerians. I will rather appreciate for him to say that some Nigerians who lived in Libya during the good days of Muammar Gaddafi now had nothing doing in Libya and they have come back. It is not only Nigerians but most West African citizens were in Libya in those good Gaddafi days and were gainfully employed; they had so many things for themselves then but with the fall of Libya, naturally, they have to go back to their roots. Their roots can be anywhere. There was arms proliferation and all. Let me tell you, all tribes are involved in misadventures but it is left for the security of the nation to ascertain and solve the problem.
Some people are seeing the Ruga programme as another plan by Fulanis to conquer the South and take over their farmlands…
That was why I started by praising what General Gowon did. Believe me, if it were Goodluck Jonathan that came up with this plan, everybody would see it as a good scheme but simply because it has been initiated by one of our own, then it became a bad idea altogether. That is just that. We have to appreciate that the constitution which guarantees every citizen of this country the right to own land and posses property.
In what better way do you think this issue should have been approached?
We must learn to compliment and appreciate one another. That is just my point. If I were a governor in the South, if the president demanded for 10 hectares of land from me for starters, I would oblige and give the president a hectare or two for experimentation as the chief security officer of my state. If the experiment worked, then we add more land and if it failed, we take back our land. What is wrong in giving a piece of land for experimentation?
Why can’t the Fulani buy land on their own and create these ranches?
When mechanic villages were created, were mechanics asked to buy land? It was provided by the government. When industries are being established in a place, governments provide the land. The government has been providing land for all kinds of investments in this country, why should the Fulani be an exception?
Miyyeti Allah has given the Federal Government a 30-day ultimatum to reverse its decision on the Ruga suspension. Do you think this demand is in order?
It is not. It sounds confrontational. The matter should not be handled that way.
The Igbo have also warned against any continuation of the programme?
Well, I have seen the position of former President [Olusegun] Obasanjo. He warned of a possible outbreak of another civil war. God forbid. We do not want to see that. But what mechanisms have been put in place to check the occurrence of a second civil war? It is up to those in the corridors of power to allow it or prevent it.
What is the way out?
We must have a dialogue that doesn’t look like the one we had previously under the name of national conference. There must be dialogue so that our problems can be critically analysed and addressed.
Are you calling for the restructuring of the country?
What restructuring? There is nothing to restructure.