Abia Tower. credit: Wikipedia.

…we have addressed all concerns – Abia state govt

Calm is finally returning to God’s Own State, Abia, after two long weeks of apprehension over the President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government’s controversial Ruga settlements for Fulani herdsmen, which particularly unsettled nerves in the state. While the Ruga apprehension was generally felt across the country, particularly in parts of the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria, who saw it as a plot by the Buhari government to ‘Fulanise’ the country, it took a rather intense dimension in Abia.

When the scheme was announced by the Federal Government last month, an announcement which indicated that the said Ruga, which is essentially to create Fulani settlements, would take place in the 36 states of the federation, it caused nationwide outrage, forcing the Buhari administration to backtrack with clarifications that it was only willing states that would adopt Ruga.

The government ultimately announced suspension of the programme and instead opted for the National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, spearheaded by the vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, although many have continued to wonder the rationale behind the suspension when a number of Northern states were already indicating interest.

This happened as different groups called for its outright cancellation as according to them, the suspension was only a deception and that the programme would eventually be reintroduced under another name. Indeed, speculations were rife last week that the President Buhari government was planning to change the Land Use Act which vests control of land under state governments in the guise of national interest with a view to establishing settlements for the Fulani across the country.

Amid the controversy, former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu granted an interview claiming to have actually set up Ruga whilst he was governor between 1999 and 2007, while insisting that the programme was good and should be accepted.

“I provided land for herders in Umuahia during my time as governor of Abia State where cattle were brought from the North for sale across the South-East and there were no problems,” Kalu had said.

“When the executive of Miyetti Allah approached my government, I chose where Shopite is located now for them along the Port Harcourt expressway. One day, I took a 32-seater bus and I asked their Executives to follow me to where I showed them and they agreed that it was appropriate for them and that was how I established RUGA.”

His claim unsettled people in the South East, and particularly Abia. And he received more than a few reprimand. As it turned out, what he set up at the time was cattle market as opposed to Ruga, and the then commissioner for agriculture, Ugwu Rocks Emma, came out to put things in proper perspective, while berating his former boss for not knowing the difference between Ruga – which is a permanent settlement for the Fulani – and a cattle market.

“It is either the Senator does not understand RUGA or he has his reasons for trying to mislead the nation. As a Commissioner for Agriculture, the place Orji Kalu is talking about (Lokpanta cattle market) was under my Ministry. Certain activities there also concerned the Ministry of Commerce. It is simply a cattle market transferred from the Old Gariki (Garki) near Amuzukwu Umuahia,” the former commissioner said in a statement.

“There are no Schools, hospitals, network of roads, FGN-assisted- community infrastructure and no permanent residency. It was because of the nuisance this Garki (pronounced as GARIKI) was causing Umuahia residents that informed relocating the trade to Ubakala. The traders did not like it and Imo State gave them a place at Okigwe along Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, thereby blocking the accruing revenue to Abia.

“Governor Orji Kalu then went further the express to Lokpanta and provided space for the cattle market, thereby collecting the revenue before it will get to Okigwe/Imo State. Today, that spot is the nastiest spot from Enugu to Port Harcourt. The cattle traders are tenants and not landlords. Yet, it is home to the worst type of indiscipline and disregard to public safety to users of the expressway.

“RUGA would mean Lokpanta times 5000 in Land and times 1,000,000 in infrastructure. Security risk would mean times 5000 times 1,000,000. The Senator should consider this to realise what he is wishing his people. But it is obvious he has misunderstood Ruga; Gariki is not Ruga. Enugu gariki was there before Lokpanta, others, too.

“So if Gariki is Ruga , Orji Kalu was not the one who established it in the South East. Again, for those irked by his support for Ruga and advising him to make land available in Igbere or Bende LGA of Abia State, he does not have our mandate to do that. I know our position on Ruga. As a former elected Chairman of Bende LGA and a major stakeholder, I speak authoritatively on this matter.

“For emphasis, Trading spots along major highways are not the same as the proposed (but suspended and really should be cancelled) Ruga Settlement. If not, Ore along Lagos-Benin, Oboloafor along Enugu-Makurdi, Umunede along Onitsha-Benin-Lagos, Lokoja along Kogi-Abuja expressways would all be called Ruga Settlements. My advice therefore to the Senator is to come home and flow with his people who have said ‘NO TO RUGA’.”

Mr. Emma’s was a timely intervention to help settle frayed nerves. But it was only the beginning of the Ruga controversy in the state.

A more unsettling report came, to the effect, that the traditional ruler of Okwu-Olokoro autonomous community in Umuahia South Local Government Area of Abia State, Eze Boniface Izuogu had sold hectares of community land to the Fulani herdsmen for the said Ruga. And at the same time, the state government had provided 263 hectares of land at Arungwa in Osisioma Local Government for the same project.

Again, the claim caused uproar so intense that the state government and the traditional ruler in question had to address press conferences to deny same. The state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Uche Ihediwa who addressed the press in Umuahia, said the land in question was meant for trailer park, describing the allegation as “unfortunate, wicked and malicious insinuations.”

The Attorney General explained that the federal government originally made a request for land for the purpose of establishing Trailer Park at Umunneochi, Umuahia and Osisioma. The request he said, was made through the federal ministry of works to ease the reconstruction of the Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriage way during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. But the project at Arungwa was aborted because the available land measured 20 hectares whereas the federal government wanted 50 hectares of land.

“There was nothing untoward about the request for land made under former President Jonathan,” he said, adding that the state government has at present not even issued letter of allocation much less the certificate of occupancy.

Ihediwa regretted that the land request made in September 2014 by the Jonathan administration “had assumed, as he described it,” a dangerous colouration” because of the tetchy issue of Ruga project being pursued by the Buhari government. He said that the affected land at Arungwa has since been redesignated for vehicle assembly plant attracted from China by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.

The Attorney General who was flanked by the traditional ruler of Arungwa Eze Ndukwe Enwereji stated that the federal government had always requested for land any time it wanted to establish a federal project in Abia. However he made it clear that the state government reserved the right to revoke any land allocated to the federal government if the purpose clause was violated.

The Attorney General who was in company of the traditional ruler of Arungwa, Eze Ndukwe Enwereji, blamed the traditional ruler of Umuobasi, Eze (Prof.) S. I. Owuala whose autonomous community is contiguous to Arungwa, for spreading the “false rumour” that Abia had allocated land for Ruga at Arungwa. He announced that the state government has issued a seven day ultimatum to the royal father “to apologise to the state government or we meet him in court”.

Ihediwa insisted that Abia would never allocate land for Ruga as such action “will be insensitive and contrary to the stand of the Southeast governors” on the Ruga issue, adding the region had already taken steps to checkmate Ruga project in any ratification.

He said that government would “now scrutinize with a tooth comb any request for land in excess of five hectares even if it is for hospital” adding that “we’ve been sensitizing our people about giving out their lands. Eze Izuogu also described the report as false, saying, “I did not do such a thing and I won’t do such a thing”.

“Somebody, who does not like me and had been looking for a way to kill me and my family decided to write against me by saying that I have sold the land to the Fulani herdsmen. There is no way in this civilized society like Okwu-Olokoro that a traditional ruler will single-handedly sell a land spanning 260 hectares to Fulani herdsmen,” the traditional ruler said.

“Since this write-up has been made, I have received more than 200 calls from different countries of the world, asking why I sold a land belonging to Biafrans to the Fulani herdsmen, which I didn’t do. Some of these calls come with a threat to wipe out my family”.

Also intervening, the Secretary of the land donors – MOUAU and Chairman Umuahia South traditional rulers’ council, HRM Eze Godfrey Onwuka described the report as baseless and false, arguing that the land was acquired before the civilian government was ushered-in. While exonerating Eze Izuogu from the allegations, Eze Onwuka argued that most of them were not even traditional rulers when the said land was acquired by the government.

But the accused traditional ruler, HRH Eze Prof. Owualah MNIM, last week, came out with the other side of the story. He described the Attorney General’s assertion of him originating the story as “malicious” noting that nothing can be farther from the truth. Tension continued to flair for days in the state. But the clarification by the state government has succeeded in calming things down.

When last week, BusinessHallmark visited the state, residents who spoke said they were no longer worried as the issues have been settled.

“There was tension here for some time,” said Mr. John Okorie, a Umuahia resident. “But for now everyone is calm. The Ruga controversy is over and everyone is calm now.”

When our correspondent reached out to Mr. Sam Hart, Senior Special Assistant to the governor on public communications, he noted that “the state government has addressed all the concerns,” and there was no longer any controversy anywhere.



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