Fulani herder watches over his cattle. Credit: CC

Nigeria is currently under a state of stress that has been seemingly imposed on it by a crisis of leadership. And nothing underlines this more than the raging discourse on the Ruga initiative designed by the Buhari administration as a permanent panacea of sorts to the incessant herders/farmers conflict which has claimed hundreds of lives.
To start with, the manner the programme was introduced raised many fundamental questions, which in the main, have tended to query the motive behind it, and thereby casting a shadow on its integrity and sincerity. Indeed, these doubts over the motive for its introduction have actually come to settle as the crux of the matter, and also lie at the heart of the debate over its merits. Beyond the immediate conflict however, there is also a sense in which the uncertainty and disquiet of many Nigerians, especially from the Southern flanks of the nation, may have logically proceeded from their long-standing interpretation of the politics of the Buhari administration and its governance trajectory in the last four years, which when thoroughly deconstructed, tends to draw unsettling feelings in the minds of many Nigerians.
Significantly also, President Muhammadu Buhari has in the last four years been criticised by the opposition and human rights groups for not doing enough to bring the herders/ farmers’ conflict under control, with some even going further to accusing his administration of harbouring alleged sympathies for the majorly Fulani herdsmen.
From a review of the comments and utterances of senior members of the administration over the years, it is difficult for this newspaper not to find merit in the view that elements of the administration may have been inclined before now towards not wielding the big stick over the impunity of herdsmen. Rather, the narrative on what some have come to describe as the ‘herdsmen pogrom’ has kept changing with its semiotics somewhat leading to the very unsettling conclusion that the administration is at the best, prevaricating on the issue.
On its part however, the Presidency has denied maintaining a silent position on the matter, insisting that efforts are still ongoing to address the situation. But then as they say, ‘the taste of the pudding is in its eating.’
This newspaper recalls that during its first term, the Buhari administration had announced that it would establish cattle colonies across the country as part of efforts to end the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen. Now, it would seem, the idea of cattle colonies has morphed into Ruga.
Although the idea of Ruga was at its onset, seemingly well-received by the majority of leaders from the northern part of the country with some state governments, about 12, reported to have donated hectares of land for the project, it was also largely rejected by many states in the southern region. The first challenge then emerged from an unfeeling inflexibility in moving to impose the scheme on everyone, albeit in a phased framework.
It is this that has given some credence of sorts to the view of some critics who had described the proposal as an alleged plan by the President to promote a Fulani agenda. And by its ‘poor implementation’ process, the government did not do much to disabuse the mind of the citizens that a nefarious agenda was indeed afoot.
In the view of this newspaper, the widespread apprehension of many ethnic nationalities in the country over the scheme may have also been fuelled by antecedents of this administration. In May this year for example, after it had been called out on the subject, the Buhari administration explained that it had only acquired an amplitude modulation radio broadcast licence to educate herdsmen and farmers and foster harmony between the two groups.
But like Ruga, the government’s action equally faced a backlash from the opposition, civil society and socio-cultural organisations who queried why such a move was not initially done ‘in the full glare of everyone.’
Viewed within this prism, it is understandable that the opposition to this latest move is not out of place. Indeed, it began on June 25, when the Federal Government revealed that it would create what it described as Ruga settlements across the country for herdsmen across the next five years in order to end open grazing, adding that 12 states had already keyed into the programme which had equally received the endorsements of groups like the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN.
The opposition was immediate, and like other initiatives perceived to be pro-Fulani, the policy was immediately rejected by virtually all the state governments and socio-political groups in the North-Central, South-West, South-East and South-South geopolitical zones.
The major reason put forward for the establishment of the herders’ settlements by the Federal Government and supporters of the programme was that it would reduce the security threats posed by open grazing.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, had in defence of the programme said that Ruga, which was optional for state governments, would also provide economic benefits for all Nigerians.
Shehu had in a statement explained, “The Federal Government is planning this (Ruga) in order to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders. The overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers, a boost in animal protection complete with a value chain that will increase the quality and hygiene of livestock, in terms of beef and milk production, increased quality of feeding and access to animal care and private sector participation in commercial pasture production by way of investments.”
But for socio-cultural groups, like Afenifere and Ohaneze, such a claim was anything but true.
“They can tell that to the marines; The Federal Government simply wants to carve out land from every community to give to the Fulani,” the pan-Yoruba group’s spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin, had said.
He added, “For us in the South-West, no inch of Yorubaland would be given for Ruga because it is a plan to colonise the country. It is like what the British did.
“Now that they are talking of local government autonomy, the plan is to turn the Ruga settlements to local governments for the Fulani in the future. So we reject the agenda; we don’t accept it.”
On its part, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, described the planned settlement as an alleged quest by Buhari to “plant his kinsmen in all parts of Nigeria.”
There were also concerns that the establishment of the proposed settlements could further fuel the conflicts that the government said it intended to address.
Adding his voice to the calls for caution, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, pointed this out in particular when he said that Ruga would be “an explosion” if not carefully handled.
In his second term in office, this newspaper is persuaded that President Buhari should concentrate more on diffusing ethnic tensions and building bridges across the deep gorges and divide which his first term had inadvertently created. It is the way to go, the path of statesmanship that demands and compels rising above primordial sentiments.
This newspaper, like many Nigerians, therefore welcomes the latter-day suspension of the Ruga initiative but also want to add that given the facts of the matter, a total cancellation of the scheme is the way to go.
This is more so when, if the truth must be told, that there has never been a time since the Civil War when there was so much uncertainty in the polity than now. It is time President Buhari rises above his background and worldview onto becoming the statesman that the demands of our history and situation has clearly imposed on him today.
History, the patient recorder is noting developments in the country, and the noble thing about its role is that whatever happens today will become the chronicles of tomorrow. Mr President, the call is yours to make.

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