The Ruga settlements controversy which enveloped the country last week is gradually dying down on account of its suspension by the President Muhammadu Buhari government. But it has left a bruised image of the president – one that the attempt to exonerate him from the plan has done little to erase. But more importantly, it has once again, brought into focus, the president’s perception of Nigeria, and what it says of his continued ethnic-leaning policies and programmes.
Since Buhari came to power in 2015, the question of the kind of vision he has for the country has remained a contentious issue. While some have insisted he is pursuing an ethnic domination agenda, others have argued to the contrary. The key question has remained: what is Buhari’s vision for Nigeria? But with each passing day, the facts of where he is headed appear clearer and seem to point in the direction of ethnic hegemony.
The Ruga controversy caused those who had accused him of being an ethnic champion whose primary concern is entrenching domination of the country by his Fulani ethnic group to feel a sense of vindication. And those who had argued in his favour in this regard and dismissed allegations of ethnic agenda against him, to pause and think.
The result was that for the first time in Nigeria’s political history, the whole of Southern and the most part of Middle Belt Nigeria achieved a consensus: that Ruga was an attempt at land grabbing at best, and Fulani take-over of the country at worst, and must therefore be resisted. The government perhaps sensed it, and as Senator Shehu Sani, former Kaduna Central Senator called it, “defused the ticking Ruga time bomb.”
Narrating the several atrocious activities of herdsmen in the South West and other regions of the country, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka pointed out last week that the Ruga move had the potential to set the country on fire, arguing that it would have been better if Buhari didn’t return for second term.
The original idea of Ruga was to set up permanent settlements for Fulani herders across the 36 states of the federation. But when the uproar grew, the presidency said while it was true that the government had “gazetted land in all the states, only states that are willing would participate.” This for many people was an attempt to achieve Fulani domination of the country in one fell swoop; by the stroke of the pen, what bitterly fought wars in the last century had failed to achieve.
Numerous commentators quickly drew from the experience of Southern Kaduna and places in the Middle Belt to conclude that such Ruga settlements would in the near future, become emirates, local councils with their own representatives and ultimately usurp existing local traditional institutions.
In an interview with Channels TV fortnight ago, Southern Kaduna born one-time aide to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, Jonathan Asake, argued that Ruga is nothing more than an attempt to ‘Fulanise’ the country.
“I’m from Zangon Kataf Local Government Area in Kaduna State. We have what was established in 1987 as the Kachia grazing reserve in the then old Kachia LG which comprises Zangon Kataf, Chikun and Kajuru and Kachia Local Government Areas of today,” he said.
“That grazing reserve has been changed to Laduga. Laduga is actually a Fulani word and no indigene is allowed there. The land has been taken over from the indigenes. And that place is now a big town, with big hospitals and roads.
“In fact, the last voter registration exercise had two registration machines put there. Today, they have a district head and they are asking for an emirate. It is just a model of what will happen tomorrow in this country when these settlements are established. You will have state constituencies in the state assembly established all over the country strictly for Fulani.”
The suspension of Ruga is calming frayed nerves, but suspicions remain. Many have called for its outright cancellation, arguing that the supposed suspension could be a decoy – what they say is Tagyya – and would only be smuggled in through another means and via a different name.
What Ruga has achieved, perhaps more than anything else, is to strip Buhari much of the benefit of the doubt he has had with regards to the persistent allegation of pursuing an ethnic agenda. Many have continued to wonder why his government seems fixated on providing settlements for Fulani herdsmen as solution to the incessant bloodletting on farming communities, even after claiming that the culprit herdsmen are foreign invaders, yet failing to prosecute them, while paying no attention to the ravaged communities now living in IDP camps and whose homes remain ruined, inaccessible and sometimes occupied by the same killers.
But it would appear to fit into a pattern of the president seeing Nigeria only from the prism of ethnicity and his major interest being the advancement of an ethnic agenda, or as some have alleged, turn Nigeria into a Fulani dominated Islamic republic.
The president’s past submissions that tend to support such project are increasingly being dug up and circulated. Of particular interest to many have been the quote attributed to him while delivering a speech at a seminar organised by the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, August 2001, during which he was alleged to have said:
“I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria… God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country.”
Indeed, there is a sense in which many feel that Buhari has never hidden his ‘understanding’ of Nigeria to be Fulani first and that his loyalty lies with his ethnic group rather than the country. Whilst he was head of state in 1985, Buhari had conveniently undermined a certain Peter Onu, an Igbo Nigerian who was Acting Secretary-General of the OAU, and had sought, at the OAU summit in Addis Ababa, to be elected Substantive Secretary General, and was supported by the likes of Julius Nyerere, then President of Tanzania.
But his own Head of State, Buhari, campaigned against him and instead helped to secure victory for Ide Oumarou, a Fulani man from Niger Republic, much to the amazement of the likes of Nyerere. He chose his ethnic group over his country on the occasion.
When this became subject of debate months ago, the Presidency in a statement by Garba Shehu, Buhari’s spokesperson, denied the claims. But a senior diplomat from Nigeria confirmed to Business Hallmark in a chat that it was indeed what happened at the said OAU summit.
Yet, in October 2000, Buhari led a high-level delegation of his kinsmen, including former Lagos state governor, Gen. Buba Marwa, Alhaji Aliko Muhammed, Alhaji Abdulrazak and Alhaji Hassan to confront then Oyo State governor, Lam Adesina over alleged killings of Fulani cattle men in Saki, Oke Ogun Area of the state. But as it turned out from the accounts of the state Director of State Security Service (SSS) and Commissioner of Police who were summoned by the governor, the Fulani were actually the culprit, and Adesina did not fail to point out to Buhari that his action was unbecoming of a statesman.
The then Oyo governor had pointed out that Buhari and his Arewa team had been “sending wrong signals to a number of us who believe in the unity and peace of Nigeria; you have been too critical of the efforts of the Federal Government. I am saying this because Nigeria, at this point, cannot afford to break and the words you northern leaders utter are very weighty; at the South here, we normally analyze them critically.”
It was during the presidency of Obasanjo and the understanding at the time that the then president was intent on going for second term, which irked the conservative North, prompting the introduction of Sharia in 2000, among other things, in an attempt to stop him.
Buhari was said to have led this fight against Obasanjo, and that according to some accounts, it was what informed his decision to join presidential race in 2003, and subsequently.
Indeed, Buhari’s actions at the time had perhaps informed Bola Ahmed Tinubu, then Lagos State governor’s description of him in 2003 as “an agent of destabilisation, an ethnic bigot and a religious fanatic, unfit to rule Nigeria.”
Still, Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai had in a statement in 2010, also berated Buhari, noting that his “insensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity and his parochial focus are already well-known.
The Kaduna governor had explained that, “In 1984, Buhari allowed 53 suitcases belonging to his ADC’s father (the emir of Gwandu) to enter Nigeria unchecked at a time the country was exchanging old currency for new. Against all canons of legal decency, he used retroactive laws to execute three young men for drug-peddling after they were convicted by a military tribunal and not regular courts of law.
“Buhari was so high handed that he gave himself and his officials immunity even from truthful reporting. That obnoxious Decree 4, against which truth was an offence, was used to jail journalists in an attempt to cower the media as a whole. That tyrannical legislation showed the essence of his intolerance. These are facts of recent history.”
Surprisingly, however, in the lead up to the 2015 presidential election, Tinubu, El-Rufai, among other prominent Nigerians sold Buhari to the populace as a Spartan, incorruptible man of integrity coming to deal with corruption and return Nigeria to the part of greatness. The narrative became quite pervasive that even Obasanjo whose presidency Buhari allegedly entered politics to fight, bought into it and tore his PDP membership card to spite then President Goodluck Jonathan and the party under whose platform he governed for eight years.
They succeeded in making Buhari president in 2015. But it didn’t take long for him to convince the likes of Obasanjo that he was pursuing an ethnic agenda. And that the idea of him being an incorruptible man of integrity was misplaced. Delivering at the second session of the seventh Synod of the Anglican Communion, Oleh Diocese, in the Isoko Delta State, Obasanjo alleged that there was a “Fulanisation” agenda.
Buhari had ostensibly ensured that all the arms-bearing forces in the country, including the army, police, civil defence, Customs, DSS, Immigration and police, among others, as well as intelligence agencies, were headed by people from his Northern constituency, which for many was clear indication of where he was headed. Concerning the army, it bears emphasising that while there are Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Naval Staff among others, the Chief of Army Staff remains the overall head of the army and Chief of defence is comparatively ceremonial.
Buhari decision to populate the armed forces with his ‘kinsmen’ had particularly drawn the ire of many.
For Chief Tola Adeniyi, author and former Managing Director of the Daily Times of Nigeria, it was the first major indication that the president was transitioning into a “dictator” and “ethnic champion.”
“Buhari is a Fulani irredentist,” he said. “He is dancing to the tune of his Fulani masters and he is also acting the Fulani script on Nigeria. As far as he is concerned, Nigeria is their fiefdom and should be treated as such.”
Chief Abia Onyike, administrator and journalist said he had seen enough to conclude that Buhari “is a sectarian leader, he is extremely one sided and very parochial. He has benefited from the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy, and that is the banner that raised him to the presidency.”
Onyike alleged that, “the herdsmen are the latest invention by the neo-fascist rulers of Nigeria to continue their genocide against the Nigerian people, especially against some selected sections of the Nigerian people, including the Igbo people, especially the Christians because the APC is an alliance of fundamentalists.”
While Buhari was sold mostly as an anti corruption champion, it has turned out that, as many argue, the anti-corruption fight is only a tool for suppression of opposition as most dictators in history are wont to do.
Loyalists have been shielded while opponents are being hounded.
On the campaign trail in 2014, Buhari and the APC had promised to restructure Nigeria into a workable federal system, but once in power, he reneged on the promise and instead maintained the status quo, seeing the unitary structure perhaps as more suitable to exert control.
Afenifere Chieftain and elder statesman, Pa Ayo Adebanjo particularly called the president out on his refusal to accede to restructuring, describing him as “a dictator and an unyielding conservative.”