The Federal Government recently sprang an odious surprise on the polity when it revealed its plan to establish special settlements (Ruga) for herdsmen across the country. It predicated its decision on the need to stop the regular so-called farmers/herders clashes, but which is beginning to look like part of a grand plan to use state power to plant Fulani herdsmen in parts of the country where they are not indigenous. As expected, the plan has ignited a huge controversy in the polity. It has been greeted with outrage, especially in many of the states that have been on the receiving end of the herdsmen’s violence, especially the Middle Belt and the southern states. As a matter of fact, the proposal has been rejected outright in at least four zones out of the six in the country.
It is therefore quite worrisome that the Federal Government is already poised to commence the pilot phase of the project in Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Kaduna and seven other states despite the avalanche of criticisms trailing the proposal from the larger part of the country, specifically the South-South, South-East, South-West and the Middle Belt. The Ruga settlement is a Fulani concept indicating an ethnic colony. The Federal Government wants an ethnic enclave created in spaces belonging to other people by a strange fiat that is unknown to any democratic imagination, let alone ethos. The Federal Government, in establishing the Ruga settlements, has not only audaciously asked other ethnic groups in each of the 36 states of the federation to give up 31,000 hectares of land for Fulani herdsmen but also announced that it has gazetted lands for this purpose in all the states. The herdsmen would then become lords over other people’s heritage. Nothing can be more provocative, thoughtless and unjust.
Interestingly, there is nothing to suggest that this grand plan to alter the entire geopolitical, demographic and cultural structures of the country has been mentioned, let alone debated, by the National Assembly. In other words, the Federal Government is embarking on the project without the involvement of a critical stakeholder in the federation. It is carrying on as if it alone knows what is best for the country. Although the proposal has been rebuffed in many states, a pilot programme has already started in Niger State in what essentially is colonisation of other people by an unduly favoured ethnic group. It is, in fact, being suggested that some contracts have been surreptitiously awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture to effect the establishment of the Ruga settlements, especially in the northern states. The Federal Government claims, without providing any evidence, that these states voluntarily bought into the provocative proposal. It, in fact, says that they “applied” for it.
It is befuddling that the Federal Government could embark on a programme of expropriating certain states to favour a particular ethnic group without an exhaustive debate of same in the National Assembly and in spite of the dire implications for the security and corporate existence of the country. It is even more worrisome that the programme is being pursued with alarming desperation and urgency hitherto unknown to the process of execution of public policy by this administration. It ought to occur to the Federal Government that a proposal like this, particularly at this extremely sensitive period of security lapses and inter-ethnic suspicion, will neither gain popular traction nor bode well for the unity of the country, an integral value which President Muhammadu Buhari recently swore on oath to defend and protect.
We note that the presidency has come out to defend the programme. It has also claimed that Ruga would serve all of those who are involved in animal husbandry regardless of their ethnic origin. But why give it a Fulani name if it is not ethnic-specific? Indeed, the announcement by the Presidency that it has gazetted lands in all the 36 states is a direct affront on the laws of the land. All lands, by the nation’s laws, are vested in the governors of each state. Neither the president nor the Federal Government has any power over an inch of land anywhere in the country. As a matter of fact, some of the governors have come out to deny giving any land to the Federal Government for this provocative project designed to promote the agenda of an ethnic group against the interests of other ethnic nationalities in the country.
To be sure, if other national challenges had been approached with similar desperation and sense of urgency with which the feudal thirst of the Fulani ethnic group is being slaked, the country would have witnessed more phenomenal progress and development than it has hitherto experienced. In a livelier and more robust democracy, this rude and odiously offensive policy proposal would have drawn the ire of the majority of the people, in fact enough to send a democratically elected government on its way home, because it is a policy that proposes to give undue advantage to a sectional interest. Will the Federal Government be similarly inclined to establish poultry and piggery colonies for farmers in other parts of the country?
Businesses like cattle rearing are private and are not exclusive to any particular ethnic group, but investors in that line of business may be encouraged by the government because they also contribute to the country’s GDP. However, it is a different kettle of fish to use national institutions to promote the feudal and sectional interests of an ethnic group over and above others. The herders should, like other investors, buy land for their ranches and not seek exclusive settlements in other peoples’ lands through Federal Government fiat, only to, in the coming years, establish emirates where such never previously existed. That has been done several times in the past and it is nothing short of criminal expansionism.
Given the foregoing, we condemn this plan by the Federal Government to rob Peter to pay Paul in the name of ending the acts of naked terror dubiously dubbed ‘farmers/herders’ clashes.’ In particular, we ask President Buhari to see himself, not as a Fulani promoting Fulani interests at all times but as the leader of all Nigerians who “belongs to everybody and to nobody.” He should shred this Ruga settlement project forthwith in the interest of peace, security and, above all, justice.