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RUGA outrage spreads

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*its Buhari secret agenda, say Southern/middle belt leaders.

*Cardinal Okogie explode: It’s height of insolence!

 By OBINNA EZUGWU

 Various leaders of Southern and Middle Belt of Nigeria have continued to voice their anger over the proposed Ruga settlements for Fulani herdsmen across the country despite the decision of the Federal Government to announce its suspension amid the outrage.

This is even as some have queried the rationale behind its suspension when the government had said it was not by compulsion and only Northern States had agreed to implement same. This according to many, including Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, Yoruba Summit Group, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, among others, is an indication that there was a hidden agenda.

The government’s announcement fortnight ago, through the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Umar, who essentially re-echoed what he said was former Minister, Audu Ogbe’s earlier announcement, that the government had approved the establishment of the settlements in all states as a solution to the incessant killings and displacement of communities by Fulani herdsmen, immediately caused an uproar for a number of reasons.

The country’s constitution vests land ownership in every state on the state government. The federal government had broken the law by mapping out land for such settlements, apparently without consulting or obtaining the consent of the states.

But perhaps even more sinister concern: While the herdsmen have continued their campaign of bloodshed across the country, the Buhari government has largely played the ostrich, failing to apprehend the killers while making all manner of excuses for them. Many immediately saw the move as an attempt at land grabbing and a plot to entrench internal Fulani colonisation.

As the controversy raged, the government added flames to the fire by confirming in a statement by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, that, “It is true that government at the centre has gazetted lands in all states of the federation.” But that “the government has limited the take-off to the dozen states with valid requests.”

Shehu had proceeded to state that the settlement sought to “settle migrant pastoral families simply means rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in an organized place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products,” before unleashing verbal attacks on state governments who opposed it.

Many immediately pointed out a certain “mischief” in the idea that taking over people’s ancestral lands to house the Fulani would bring an end to bloodshed that the government has made little or no effort to curb. And Shehu’s somewhat deigning tone didn’t sit well with many.

Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos, His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie last week, delivered perhaps, the most scathing response yet to the Buhari led  government over the policy

In a statement he titled “Face-to-face with truth”, the Catholic clergy took the administration to the cleaners, describing Shehu’s claim that the Ruga settlement was to solve “farmers herders clashes,” as “insolence” and an insult to Nigerians.

Okogie pointed out that Ruga was an act of injustice, stressing it amounted to the height of duplicity for the Presidency to tell Nigerians that this is the solution to the problem of violent herdsmen.

“We are dealing here with a strain of duplicity that is rendered more tragic by the arrogance of government spokespersons. As has become the stock in trade of image makers at the Presidency, whoever disagrees with any policy of this government is treated with disdain,” he said.

“And that is coming from a government that claims to have been democratically elected! The statement that emanated from the Presidency on Sunday, June 30, 2019, rather than offer a credible explanation, served insolence on a plata,” he noted.

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“Nigeria professes to be a representative democracy. As we write, some figures put our population at 200 million. So, we pride ourselves as being among the largest democracies in the world. Since the different arms of government cannot contain 200 million people, we elect some of us to represent us in the legislature and the executive arm of government.

“These representatives of the people have the obligation to consult and report to the people before they act in government. This is what is termed ‘democracy’ – a government of the people, by the people and for the people. But can we find truth in the governance of this country?” he asked.

“Is there truth in Aso Rock or in any of the state government houses? Can it be found in any of the local governments? Can it be said that there is truth in our country’s national assembly? Is it not the case that those whom we elect to represent us take us for granted? Those we hired to serve us have become our masters. And they are despotic.

”We are fed with a steady diet of lies. We are told lies during campaigns when candidates who are utterly unpatriotic and lacking in good character are packaged by campaign organizations and presented to Nigerians as God-sent.

“As soon as they get into governance, they begin to break their campaign promises. We were promised peace and prosperity. But we are offered insecurity and poverty. The length and breadth of our vast country is covered by a thick veil of injustice. When you are citizen of a country where government has repeatedly demonstrated its insincerity, its readiness to tell lies and mix duplicity with insolence, it would be reckless to believe pretentious promises.”

The clergy noted that that the country was bedevilled by a leadership that could not be trusted to tell basic truth, even as he regretted the practice of politicians packaging ‘unprincipled’ individuals to sell to Nigerians as “God-sent.”

“The honesty deficit of government in Nigeria is very high. Promises of change have turned into change of promises. This is a government that tells us Boko Haram is “technically defeated” while Boko Haram continues to kill our poorly equipped soldiers,” he said.

“This is a government that writes off any other report concerning what happens here in Nigeria as false. Take for instance, reports on fulanisation, nepotism, daily blood bath across the country and so on. This is a government bedeviled by a self-inflicted credibility crisis that it needs to address before it can accomplish anything meaningful and useful.

“But its spokespersons prefer to indulge in insolence. That is why this government cannot be engaged in any productive dialogue. A democracy where there is no dialogue, where it is an offence to disagree with government policy, is a democracy that has lost its soul.

“The latest act of injustice is the proposed and now “suspended” project of Ruga settlement. It amounts to the height of duplicity for the Presidency to tell Nigerians that this is the solution to the problem of violent herdsmen. We are dealing here with a strain of duplicity that is rendered more tragic by the arrogance of government spokespersons.

“As has become the stock in trade of image makers at the Presidency, whoever disagrees with any policy of this government is treated with disdain. And that is coming from a government that claims to have been democratically elected! The shjjtatement that emanated from the Presidency on Sunday, June 30, 2019, rather than offer a credible explanation, served insolence on a plata.

“It amounts to a gratuitous insult on the intelligence of those who know the history of this country to say: “RUGA settlement that seeks to settle migrant pastoral families, simply means rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in an organised place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products.”

“This statement, widely reported in the dailies, is insensitive to our need to overcome suspicion in this country. Our history, especially in the pre-colonial era, shows how such “settlements” for “migrant pastoral families” have been used to dispossess people of their ancestral land, used to disturb peaceful co-existence in our multi-ethnic country. Have we not been told in recent memory that if we want peace we must give land to violent herdsmen?

“Why is it that a government that lays claims to democratic credentials would simply refuse to address the concerns of the people of Nigeria? Indeed, there is another name for this policy. It is a “Your land or your life policy” ”The fact that some state governors have accepted this RUGA Settlement proposal does not necessarily mean they are acting in the interest of their people. Who does not know that the political fortune of a state governor in Nigeria is tied to “loyalty” to federal might?

“And who does not know that, when asked to make a choice between his political fortune and the good of the people of his state many a governor would chose the former? “When those who speak for a government said to be democratically elected insult those who hold dissenting opinions, it is not those who are insulted who are diminished. It is the government that is diminished.” he noted.

Okogie’s intervention had come after Southern and Middle Belt Leaders, in a statement by Yinka Odumakin (South West), Prof Chigozie Ogbu (Souh East), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South South) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), accused the government of nursing a hidden agenda.

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They said Shehu’s statement was full of sound fury signifying nothing. “It is true that government at the centre has gazetted lands in all states of the federation but because the idea is not to force this programme on anyone, the government has limited the take-off to the dozen states with valid requests,” the statement read. “We are interested in having the gazette number and its content as we know per the constitution and laws of the country that all land in each state of the federation is vested in the governor.”

A continuing controversy and outrage

Outrage over the proposed Ruga settlements has continued, and has frayed nerves particularly in the southern part of the country, even as it has pitted the North against the South. Many southern leaders insist Ruga is an attempt at “Fulanisation” of the country.

“The Ruga policy is amazement to sane minds,” said Chief Okey Okoroji, lawyer and chieftain of the All Progressive Grand Alliance. “We are still struggling to understand why the Federal Government is pursuing the private business of an ethnic group. They are announcing it and are providing all the logistics.”

Okoroji argues that it is not about cattle rearing, but a conquest agenda. “It is not about mere cattle rearing,” he said. “Those who have benefit of history will understand that the Fulani have steadily sought, and still seeks to conquer Southern Nigeria. And it’s not just for Islamisation purposes alone, but also for political and economic conquest,” he said.

“They want to establish their emirates here and there and rule over the indigenous people. They have used warfare in the past; they succeeded in Northern Nigeria and parts of the Middle Belt. But they now understand that there is no need to use brute force anymore since their man is in power and is the arrow head of that agenda.”

The Buhari government had in the past, tried to push for the creation of what it called grazing reserves for Fulani herders in various states of the country. But when the move was resisted, it came up again with another term it called Cattle Colony, basically intended to achieve the same purpose of mapping out expands of land in each state for the habitation, if not ownership of Fulani grazers.

This again, caused outrage with many wondering why the government was bent on taking people’s ancestral lands to hand over to herders doing private business. Towards the 2019 election, the push for such settlements appeared to have died down and many would have thought the government has given up the agenda. Ruga was, therefore, for many a wake up call.

“The Federal Government is using every trick in the book to put up something for the Fulani people,” said Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga.

“They have used all sorts of ideas. First, wanted cattle colony and asked the states to donate lands. When the states refused, they came back with Ruga. In every government action, there is always a purpose. The purpose of this one is to take people’s lands and give them to live and rear their cattle. Unfortunately for them, land is a state matter, not federal matter. They will run into problems, definitely, because it cannot stand.”

Chief Uwazurike wondered why the herdsmen and the Federal Government have refused to take the offer of Kano and Nasarawa states to house the herders, but are instead pushing to occupy lands in the South and Middle Belt.

“Kano governor (Abdullahi Ganduje) I know has announced that all the herdsmen who have no place to go to should come to Kano. I don’t understand the point in insisting that the Fulani are accommodated in different states. If someone wants to set up a factory tomorrow and he says that the governor of Niger State should give him a land, they will not give him. They will ask him to go and buy land.

Uwazurike pointed out that it was a “shame that the former Minister of Agriculture, Ogbe, whose Idoma people have been killed in their numbers that is pushing such idea. For the former Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, has written his own epitaph. I know that only very few people have that chance to write their own while they are alive. He has done that.”

Uwazurike’s sentiments we’re reinforced by Afenifere spokesperson, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, who also told Business Hallmark that the Ruga, “would only escalate the problem as this is clearly an agenda for conquest and domination.”

The Afenifere chieftain pointed out that, “If the Fulani are terror as wanderers, what would they become as landlords in other people’s land? It is clear the FG is on some provocative agenda which confirms Obasanjo’s alarm about the Fulanisation project.”

In his initial reaction, Dr. Nnia Nwodo, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, echoed similar views.

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“The Federal Government’s violation of provisions of our constitution on the administration of land in Nigeria, its total violation of valid laws made by Benue State Government in accordance with her inherent powers under our constitution and its violations of extant court judgment on grazing and ranching is a clear pointer to anarchy,” he said in a statement.

“When respect for the rule of law is jettisoned and sheer power, religious bigotry and nepotism displayed, an inevitable resort to self-help and anarchy is being courted. Our country is sliding into avoidable anarchy and doom,” he warned.

The settlement was roundly rejected by governors across party divide in Southern Nigeria, as well as Benue and Taraba states in the North Central and North East respectively. The rejection perhaps, prompted the Federal government to suspend it, and instead opt for the National Livestock Transformation Plan, promoted by the office of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo which essentially recommended ranching and compensation of communities ravaged by the herders.

Indeed, the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), the umbrella body of Fulani herders, had argued that Ruga was part of the programme by Osinbajo’s office, prompting the vice president to issue a statement denying the claim.

In a statement Saturday, Yoruba leaders under the auspices of Yoruba Summit Group (YSG) has accused the government promoting Ruga as  “clandestine and surreptitious takeover of the lands in Southern zones and given to the Fulani herdsmen.”

The group which aired the view in a press release signed by its Publicity Secretary, Mogaji Gboyega Adejumo, insisted that Federal Government must ensure Ruga is dead and buried as according to them, it was not enough to suspend it.

“The questions to ask the Coalition of Northern Groups and by extension, the federal government are these:

“If RUGA was to be truly voluntary, as such was the way of an explanation given by the federal government, with twelve northern states that had already signed up for it, why would a group from the north thereafter threaten the states from the south and southern leaders too, that they either accept RUGA or face the consequences…!??

“Why would also the federal government hastily cancel RUGA purportedly with twelve states from the north already primed and ready for it?”

“The answer to these questions lie on the bases of RUGA being only meant for a clandestine and surreptitious takeover of the lands in Southern zones and given to the Fulani herdsmen.

“It is therefore safe in our estimates to infer that, RUGA was never meant for the Northern States; it was absolutely designed for the South! And we the Yoruba, reject this plot in its Entirety!”

“RUGA is meant to be an acronym for Rural Grazing Area, perhaps a compound word for a Set of Ranches, Schools, Vet Clinics, Forage Farms, Hospitals, Police Posts, Roads, Abbatoir, Market and Bus Parks in a single Settlement.

“Whereas, RUGA is an Hausa word that means Village or Settlement, a Bell curve effect, now presents in a low analytical faculty, which will always manifest no matter the good intention.

“Given to the Fulani herdsmen that the World Terrorist Index have rightly named the 4th most dangerous terrorist group in the world, the Yoruba saying an emphatic No, to RUGA!

“With all that the Yoruba have experienced in our land, the burning of villages, killing of our famers, raping of our women RUGA would mean an increase in insecurity — the population of the maurading Fulani herdsmen that have been responsible for the killings of over 10,000 innocent Nigerians in our midst.

“With the RUGA settlements, the Fulani Militia would have military advantage over their poor victims.

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Escalating ethnic tension

In a surprise move on Wednesday, a group which identified itself as Coalition of Northern Youths Groups (CNG) organised a televised press conference, address by Abdul Azeez Suleiman, and had in attendance, Yerima Shettima of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, among other known faces in the region, to issue a 30-day ultimatum President Buhari to rescind Ruga suspension and commence its implementation across the country.

The group also gave governors of Southern states 30-day ultimatum to accept Ruga or they would take action against Southerners doing business in the North.

The threat prompted another response by Ohanaeze president who described it as “irresponsible” “unlawful,” and called on the Igbo to prepare to defend themselves.

“This irresponsible, unlawful and provocative outburst reminds me of the quit notice from Northern Youths two years ago,” Nwodo said.

“Ohanaeze insists that the RUGA policy is an Islamization and a Fulanisation policy. It is a violation of our constitution and Supreme court decisions on the Land Use Act. It’s suspension without cancelation leaves the Federal Government still in violation of our laws.

“The threat to evict law abiding Nigerians from their places of abode in Northern Nigeria is treasonable and obviously like the gun trotting herdsmen will go unnoticed by our Federally controlled law enforcement agencies. Let Abdul, the Federal Government and others like them take notice that Ohanaeze has no objections to all Igbos in the North returning home so long as all Northerners in the East leave the East and we dismantle the Federal structure imposed on us by the military and return to Autonomous Federating Units.

“The nepotism exhibited by this Federal Government, her duplicity of standards in law enforcement, her undisguised Fulanisation policy is repugnant to rule of law and good governance. We will no longer tolerate any further threats from these Northern war mongers.

”After all, who should be the aggrieved under the circumstance? The millipede that has been marched is whimpering, but the person that marched it is complaining that his foot has been soiled. The South that is bearing the yoke of oppression from cattle herders are trying their best to coexist with their aggressors, yet it is the aggressors that are threatening further mayhem. This cannot be.

“I call on all Igbos to be ready to defend themselves. Enough of these threats!” he declared.

Reactions also came from Middle Belt, Igbo, Yoruba, Niger Delta Youths, all of whom berated their Northern counterparts over the threat.

Middle Belt Youth Council in a statement on Friday, described the threat as “empty” and an attempt to seek relevance.

“Nigerians should not take Suleiman Abdul Aziz and his co-travellers serious. They do not own any part of the north. They do not represent any northern youth. Southern Nigerians should ignore their type,” the statement signed by its President, Mr Emmanuel Zopmal said.

Zopmal further called on the Nigeria Police Force not to hesitate to arrest members of the group over their threats even as he urged Nigerians to disregard the threat as it was empty.

“Empty threats have been their stock in trade. They have been using it to raise incomes for themselves. They issued a quit notice to the Igbo in 2017 just to seek relevance among Nigerians.”

Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council (OYC), which had asked for total cancellation of Ruga, in a statement on Friday in Abakaliki, said Northern governors should be held responsible for any harm done to the Igbo in the region.

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“We are fully aware that these recent threat are targeted only at the lives and property of peaceful Nigerians of Igbo extraction doing businesses in the 19 northern states, and this is a declaration of war against the Igbo,” Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, OYC president said.

“OYC wishes to remind the leadership of the Coalition of the hate speech ban. If the northern governors, Northern Elders Forum, Arewa Consultative Forum, northern traditional rulers led by the Sultan of Sokoto and religious leaders are not behind the recent threat, they should condemn it vehemently and call the warring youths to order,” he noted.

On their part, the Yoruba Youth Sociocultural Association (YYSA) urged Yoruba residing in the Northern parts of the country not to panic as the threat was empty.

“Since we understand their game of whimsy, no amount of intimidation can send Yoruba people away from northern Nigeria. We guarantee our people safety of lives and property. They should face their businesses and continue to live without fear. The Coalition’s threat is unworthy to worry about,” Deputy National Secretary of the YYSA, Adeboye Oluwabusoye said in a statement, Friday.

Similarly, Niger Delta militants under the aegis of Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC) warned that any attempt to grab land for herdsmen to graze their cattle in the zone would be met with resistance.

JRC spokesperson, Cynthia Whyte, in a statement, said the Niger Delta had already borne too much headache for the country and her people and could not afford the luxury of a new Ruga migraine.

Whyte said the 30 days ultimatum by the Coalition was diversionary. “We have felt the hands of Esau. We also know the voice of Jacob. In furtherance thereof, we declare that any attempt to infringe upon the peaceful and secure life of any Niger Deltan anywhere across the country will be met with just recompense,” Whyte said.

But the Northern group remains adamant. In response to Ohanaeze and Afenifere, its spokesperson, told the Saturday Tribune the group was not afraid of the review of the present union because what we have now is a collection of southerners and northerners, not Nigerians and insisted the group would not withdraw the 30-day ultimatum.

“We are not withdrawing the ultimatum on the suspension of the programme by the government. You can’t deny some citizens their rights and think there will be peace in the country.”

Responding to the call by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, on Igbos to defend themselves against any threat from any quarters, Suleiman, who said members of the coalition were not afraid of arrest, described what he called the threats of the Ohanaeze and Afenifere, as “selfish and wicked.”

“I think the two bodies are selfish and wicked. We didn’t start this threat; they started it. First, it was Chief Gani Adams who we read saying he would lead one million Yoruba to fish out herdsmen in the South West. Ohanaeze also called on their people for self-defence. Did we issue any threat? We were just making our stand known on the issue of Ruga.” the Tribune quoted him as saying.

“Let them read our letter and see where we mentioned anything like that. Another person in the Niger Delta said the Fulani herdsmen would not be allowed in their area.

“Truly, to our chagrin, we have begun to see some of these threats being practicalised. Now, we have a video footage of some Igbos chasing herdsmen out of their states. We want to tell them that we are not afraid of them. We are not afraid of anybody.

 “This union, Nigeria, as long as no one will be allowed to go and fend for himself in any part of the region, there will be no peace. We are not afraid of any review of the present union, because what we have now is a collection of southerners and northerners, not Nigerians.”

Meanwhile, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) had backed them in expressing disappointment over the manner the Ruga settlement programme was treated.

NEF, in a statement signed by its deputy convener, Ambassador Yahaya Kwande, said it would open discussion with the Northern Governors’ Forum and the Coalition of Northern Groups to address what it called the harassment of the Fulani and their cattle.

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He, however, appealed to Northerners for restraint and advised the Federal Government to show more concern to the rising threats to lives and economic assets and do everything to de-escalate tensions and distrust among Nigerians.

“The federal and state governments must adopt policies and positions which address the harassment of the Fulani and their cattle, de-escalation of inciting rhetoric and actions and short and long-term solutions to the problems which could damage the livestock industry, worsen community relations and threaten national security.”

The Arewa Consultative Forum, nonetheless, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Muhammad Ibrahim-Biu on Saturday, called on all parties to refrain from actions that tend to overheat the polity.

“The Federal Government has put on hold the Ruga Settlement program, that it was inconsistent with the National Livestock Transformation Plan approved by the National Economic Council,” the group said.

”Moreover, the program was designed as a voluntary (project) for willing state governments. Arewa Consultative Forum, therefore, urges all concerned to exercise restraint in taking actions that may be inimical to peace and stability in our polity.”

 

 

 

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