Enmeshed in The RUGA Ruckus

The Muhammadu Buhari administration is prone to shooting itself in the foot again and again, and validating the accusation that the president is incurably parochial and out of touch with reality. The administration’s poor policy formulation is a fall-out of his lack of sensitivity to the people’s anxieties and expectations.

The Report
The Report

What can be more insensitive than rolling out a program to create Fulani cattle settlements in places where they are not wanted, and the people there have been traumatized by incessant, vicious attacks by marauding herdsmen, who operate outside the law with absolute impunity? Overwhelmed by public disapproval its decision generated the government hurriedly announced it was suspending the scheme. But before the suspension, the government had confirmed that the scheme would kick off with 12 settlements on land either voluntarily donated by states that support it, or compulsorily acquired by the federal government.

Benue is one of the states designated to host the settlements. But the state government and the people have said clearly that they don’t want to host any cattle settlement. The state is one of the few that have anti-open grazing law to check the menace of herdsmen freeloading on other people’s land and farms. The law is designed to promote ranching, which the herdsmen don’t want and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, the umbrella body of the cattle herding business, is totally opposed to.

He is starting his second term with a mandate that is indisputably dubious, by doubling down on his parochialism and advertising his sheer inability to be a leader.

Including Benue in the scheme without the state government’s buy-in, while ignoring the recent history of herdsmen’s bloody rampages there, that cost hundreds of lives and displaced nearly 200,000 people from their communities, speaks eloquently to the federal government’s insensitivity and disregard for the people. The state government is rightly upset that it was not fully consulted before Benue was co-opted into the scheme. It says there is no land for any cattle settlement as the state is totally agrarian and the land resource is already stretched.

Benue is not alone in opposing the scheme and the way it’s being foisted on the states. The opposition to it has been stridently expressed from the whole of the south and many parts of the north-central zone. But what is especially astonishing is the timing of the rollout, and the opaqueness the scheme is wrapped in. The details about the size, nature, and organization of the settlements and which herdsmen will be qualified to own them are not known.

Fulani herdsmen operate beyond national and regional boundaries, many of them grazing their cattle across West Africa – from Mali to Central African Republic. Will the settlements accommodate all herdsmen from everywhere, or they will be reserved exclusively for Nigerian Fulani? This is one of the questions the government needs to answer urgently, as it recklessly pursues a policy that can potentially escalate the already deadly hostility between herdsmen and farmers, of which the latter are mostly the helpless victims.

Another question is equally germane. How will the federal government pay for the lands and from which funds? If the funds exist, have they been appropriated? The government had reportedly assured Miyetti Allah that it would provide N100 billion for the scheme. It sold the cattle settlement scheme to them in exchange for the Fulani herdsmen’s leaders reigning in their people, who have extended their forceful grazing of other people’s lands to banditry and kidnapping that’s spreading havoc and deaths all over the country.

While the government is yet to coherently respond to the mass outrage over the announcement of the cattle settlement scheme, officially named Ruga – a rebranding of the cattle colony first proposed in 2017 by Audu Ogbe, who was minister of agriculture – Miyetti Allah has signalled its endorsement of it by saying that the office of the vice president is in charge of its implementation through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development whose permanent secretary first brought it to the public domain. The announcement by the ministry is a confirmation [was an indication] that the scheme is already a done deal whether the people, whose lands are going to be taken over, like it or not. [Since the idea has not only been suspended and not totally discarded] We all are being railroaded into accepting the new reality that Fulani cattle herders are, indeed, very special people, who must have their way at the expense of defenseless farmers and other Nigerians with lower status. But Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s media aide, Laolu Akande, has dismissed Miyetti Allah’s claim as false, saying that the VP’s office has nothing to do with the controversial scheme.

When President Olusegun Obasanjo recently sounded the alarm that, the unending Boko Haram terrorism in the north-east and raging banditry in the north-west were indicative of a sinister plot of “Islamisation and Fulanisation of the West African region”, he was roundly criticized by those who have never raised their voices in condemnation of the Fulani herdsmen’s despicable excesses and Boko Haram terrorism. They are the same people who, like President Buhari, have been making all kinds of scandalous excuses for the herdsmen’s bloody criminality. They talked of the need to revive cattle grazing routes to appease the herders, notwithstanding the fact that the country’s population has grown exponentially, rendering the special routes unsustainable.

What makes the Ruga scheme even more galling is that the government’s response to every Fulani herdsmen’s mass killing of people in their own homes, farms, and communities has been tepid and non-punitive. The Fulani killers are never arrested, not to talk of they being tried for their crimes. It would have been fine if the government were standing up for the Fulani because they are the ones being killed. Or the government comes down hard on the criminal elements among the herders. But what we are witnessing is the gross anomaly of the government literally appeasing them with tens of billions of naira, while doing practically nothing to ameliorate the pains and losses of hundreds of thousands of their victims.

Against this background of the general perception that the Fulani herdsmen are being treated specially, the government rolls out the Ruga scheme to further rob pepper on the deep emotional and psychological injuries of those traumatized by the usually stealthy and unprovoked violence of the killers. And it has done this while Nigerians are still trying to come to terms with another ill-thought plan to establish a radio station exclusively for the Fulani. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of those forcefully displaced from their lands and communities are languishing in IDP camps, not knowing when they can go back to their homes. And where is the compensation and rehabilitation plan for the victims of Fulani violence?

Buhari’s first term was an unflattering picture of a president whose incompetence in managing the country’s complex political dynamics dangerously widened all the existing national fault lines. He is starting his second term with a mandate that is indisputably dubious, by doubling down on his parochialism and advertising his sheer inability to be a leader.

The Fulani cattle-settlement scheme is a hare-brained idea that is dead on arrival. It is a brazen projection of the president’s disdain for the people and disrespect for their legitimate concerns and deep anxieties about being abandoned by the government. Any attempt to force it on those who are unwilling, for very good reasons, to give up their lands could provoke resistance and create a bonfire of crises. And that would rebound badly on a struggling economy and make the country even more perilously insecure. The scheme, should not just be suspended, it should be immediately and permanently binned while the government finds creative ways to bring animal husbandry, including itinerant cattle grazing, to 21st century standards.

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