BY SIMON REEF MUSA
It’s obvious that the dissonances of voices that wailed against the planned creation of Ruga settlements by the Federal Government proved crucial in compelling President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the scheme. The decision of the president may not be unconnected to the unrelenting opposition by eminent persons, regional organisations and civil society groups that remained unrelenting in condemning the scheme as yet another attempt at foisting the supremacy of an ethnic group over others.
Arguments by government officials in support of the settlements for herdsmen did not add up as it became very glaring even to the imperceptible that there was more to the matter than just a venture that is aimed at creating business for meat processing and other allied businesses. When has it become the business of government to be involved in business? Why should government be interested in the promotion of private business wholly done by a particular ethnic group to the disadvantage of others?
Attempt to disabuse the term ‘Ruga’ as not linked to herdsmen proved puerile. The opposition against the now suspended Ruga settlements was never hinged on hatred for Buhari, as some analyst are wont to portray. The opposition was founded on experience where similar experiences have created room for trepidation over the outcome of such an exercise.
For those who are not conversant with what the suspended Ruga scheme could turn out to be in future, permit a personal narration. I hail from the Ikulu Chiefdom located in Southern Kaduna where the Kachia Grazing Reserve was created in 1964. About 30,000 hectares of lands belonging to my ancestral fathers were confiscated to create the reserve for herdsmen who lived and are still living peacefully in our communities. According to the laws establishing the reserve, no permanent structures of any sort are to be built and those expected to use the place for grazing are to be granted permits that must be renewed at periodic intervals.
But all these have changed as the name of the grazing reserve has been changed to Ladugga, while the size of the reserve has surreptitiously been increased to over 60,000 hectares. Massive infrastructural development by the Kaduna State Government is turning Ladugga into the fastest growing town in the entire Southern Kaduna, with its district head. It’s just a matter of time for an emir to be appointed.
The local Fulani who are supposed to be living are still residing in our communities in their make-shift huts called ‘Ruga’. It was never envisaged that Kachia Grazing Reserve will metamorphose into an urban centre, with a massive voting population that is capable of upturning political tables. In the past few years, members of the Ikulu ethnic group have been killed, while the paramount ruler of the Ikulu chiefdom, HRH Yohannah Sidi Kukah, was once abducted by criminals suspected to be herdsmen and later released after over two-week sojourn in their captivity.
Those who are simply being politically correct are in obvious denial of what the Ruga scheme can unleash on surrounding peaceful communities. If the creation of Ladugga never resolved the violent killings of local community members by herdsmen, how can the establishment of settlements for herdsmen in various parts of the nation solve the bloody national human carnages in the North-central and southern parts of Nigeria? Worthy of mention, too, is the potential threat to national security the Ruga scheme holds for our country. I can bet that the presence of military formations around Ladugga axis has become the saving grace for communities and most certainly road users along Kachia-Kaduna road. Armed herdsmen would have conveniently converted that axis into a terrorist zone. The question on the lips of many is, even without the Ruga scheme, herdsmen are able to unleash terror on unsuspecting victims. What happens when they have FG backed settlements that may not have military formations to help enforce security?
There is need to resettle Nigerians, but not the herders. Those in need of resettlement scheme are victims of banditry in North-west; the sufferers of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east and those who have been killed in cold blood in North-central zone and living in sub-human conditions in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in various states of the nation. President Buhari has confessed that herdsmen killers are foreigners. However, we have had in some instances where officials of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) would own up on attack on some communities as reprisal for killings. The incapacity of the Buhari-led Federal Government to bring these criminals to justice has made many Nigerians to be wary of government’s ploy to push for an old idea in a new clothing.
In spite of the Federal Government’s position that the exercise has been approved by 12 states, Benue and Taraba have clearly declared their opposition. Scores of youths in Plateau and Taraba have staged protests against the scheme which they described as a land grabbing venture. Why would the Federal Government forced states to accept the scheme when Sambisa forest could serve as enough land space to create Ruga settlements? Why should a government be so fixated on building Ruga settlements when there are myriad of problems bedeviling the country? Thousands of Nigerians have been murdered and many thousands displaced, why has the Buhari-led government not tinker with the idea of resettling these victims? Against the backdrop of hardship and crises ravaging the country, why should the need to resettle herdsmen be a topmost priority?
The rumble over Ruga scheme may be suspended for now, but it is imperative to state here that for peace and justice to hold sway, we must enthrone a system that respects the rights of all Nigerians across ethnic and religious divide. Why the insistence on cows over and above other animals that are part of the nation’s livestock that contributes only about 5% to the GDP against farmers’ crops that add 30% to the GDP? Why build a Ruga for only the processing of beef? The concept behind the setting up of Ruga should also include piggery, snailery, hutchery, grass-cutter farming and poultry, among others, in order to accommodate other Nigeria’s ethnic groups. Any attempt at singling out beef for pre-eminent position will amount to foisting the hegemony of one ethnic group over others.
Too many stumbling blocks have been placed on the path national unity. The suspended Ruga scheme is endowed with a great potential to further widen an already exacerbated chasm that has been created to further divide us. Politicians must stop stocking embers of fires for tomorrow’s violence. With government spending about 70 percent of its revenue to service debts, it is clear that the Ruga scheme should be the least of worries for an administration that is being overwhelmed on all sides. We have returned to the dark days of insecurity as criminal elements are holding us to the jugular. The silence of our political representatives in the legislative chamber is ominous and further exposes our democracy as being run without citizens’ welfare taking the centre stage. Let the truth be told: No nation, including Nigeria, can survive the promotion of unequal citizenship predicated on the promotion of the wellbeing of a particular ethnic group over others. Following the suspension of the Ruga scheme by President Buhari, we must avoid the fire next time by ensuring that only justice and equity hold sway in order to preserve our fragile democracy.