Once again, the Nigerian state was set on an edge when a lot of negative energy was dissipated on the attempted introduction of a settlement scheme by the federal government for nomadic cattle breeders. Mainly of the ethnic Fulani stock, nomadic cattle breeders are to be settled into a sedentary cultural economic lifestyle in areas designated as Ruga; a term believed to have been derived from Rugan Fulani, a Hausa word descriptive of pre-existing traditional Fulani settlements across Nigeria. Complete with basic infrastructural amenities to encourage and sustain a transition from nomadic to sedentary lifestyle, the Ruga scheme has the ultimate objective of curtailing the many incidences of farmers/herders’ clashes across Nigeria.
Even though it was declared voluntary for participating states of the federation, the Ruga scheme was met with resoundingly loud opposition from mostly non-Fulani Nigeria. From the West, East, South and Central Nigeria, the Ruga scheme was not only rejected but denounced in its entirety with unanimity. Much like throwing the baby and the bath water away, it came across as though the rest of Nigeria, in rejecting the Ruga scheme, rejected their ethnic Fulani compatriots along with it.
And not one to remain on the sidelines watching without taking advantage of this moment of national strain to stress further Nigeria’s gaping ethno-geographic fault lines for selfish financial profits, a renegade group of weather-beaten elderly-looking individuals operating under the phantom ‘’Coalition of Northern Youths’’ has issued its usual notice of eviction. Like it did sometime to Nigerians of South East origin, this time Nigerians from the entire southern half of Nigeria were given a 30-day ultimatum to leave northern Nigeria for rejecting the Ruga scheme. As always, this intensely opportunistic group of monetary scavengers acting as agent provocateurs of an imaginary battle between Fulani and non-Fulani Nigeria, the so-called Coalition of Northern Youths, like a stray bullet fired by a drunken gunner, has missed the target once again.
The Ruga controversy has brought to the fore the unresolved question of national identity with the sustaining of indigene/settler dichotomy, which limits economic and political rights of citizens of Nigeria residing outside their place of origin. Whereas, citizenship guarantees every Nigerian, including the ethnic Fulani, political and economic rights in any part of the country they reside in, in reality, these rights are severely limited by non-indigenous status of such Nigerians. The unresolvable conflict between indigenship and citizenship, arising from the rigid ethno-geographic nature of the federating regions that were devoid of mechanisms of assimilation and integration was fundamentally responsible for the collapse of the First Republic in 1966.
To move Nigeria towards a more socio-economically inclusive nation, successive political leadership of Nigeria, since the end the civil war in 1970, have made considerable efforts at national integration. Progressively, deliberate efforts have been made to create an egalitarian nation of a united people under an atmosphere of peace, justice and equality. To this end, Nigerians demonstrated a willingness and capability to cohabit in mutual accommodation irrespective of varied ethno-geographic as well as religious backgrounds. These modest gains in national unity would be sustained throughout the Fourth Republic from 1999 up until 2015.
The rise to power of President Muhammadu Buhari would signal a roll-back of the modest gains of previous leaders at national unity. By elevating ethno-regional and religious sectionalism in heights unprecedented in recent history to a near state policy, President Buhari’s poor management of Nigeria’s plurality has deepened the fault lines leaving it at its most divided stage in its post-Independence history. President Buhari, an ethnic Fulani Muslim of northern Nigerian origin, has demonstrated an unapologetic form of unbridled proclivity of provincialism to such an extent that it has triggered a wave of ethno-geographic and religious populism in his home region that is aimed at coveting political power to advance sectional supremacist advantage as expressed through unashamed nepotism.
By elevating his section of the country above others in a modified form of apartheid, which favours or marginalises Nigerians on the basis of their ethno-geographic and religious background, President Buhari’s less than excellent leadership style has obliterated past efforts at making Nigeria an egalitarian society where justice, equality, equity and fairness are guaranteed to all without discrimination.
By far the biggest failure of leadership is President Buhari’s glaring inability to maintain neutrality in communal disputes between members of his ethnic Fulani stock and other ethnic groupings in Nigeria. Where former President Olusegun Obasanjo demonstrated leadership by reining in the terrorism of the Yoruba militant organisation, OPC, operating out of his home region of south-west Nigeria, President Buhari failed in his duties as commander-in-chief to crack down on killer Fulani herdsmen unleashing terror on farming communities across Nigeria. Rather than take proactive actions to protect Nigerians against armed criminal non-state actors, President Buhari did not only watch in a deliberately self-induced helplessness, but made all manner of excuses for the killers, while ultimately making a plea to victims of terror to learn to live in peace with the perpetrators.
Before coming up with the Ruga settlement scheme that is clearly to the cultural economic advantage of President Buhari’s ethnic Fulani kinsmen, he has not in his first four years conceded any socio-economic intervention scheme to any other section of Nigeria like his predecessors.
When the Buhari administration unveiled the Ruga scheme initiative as a final solution for what it believes to be frequent incidences of farmers/herders’ clashes, it was expectedly met with widespread condemnation and outright rejection as it was perceived as a subtle blackmail to landowners to cede portions of their land as a ransom for a life of peace and security. In rejecting the Ruga scheme, Nigerians didn’t reject their co-suffering ethnic Fulani cattle breeder compatriots but the heightened Fulani ethno-geographic supremacist tendencies of President Buhari.
The solution to incessant mass killings of Nigerians is not the establishment of Ruga settlements but the impartial enforcement of law and order by the President and commander-in-chief.
Without doubt, the ethnic Fulani cattle breeder, who has to move out of his original homestead in the arid Sahel region to seek greener pasture in the savannah and forest vegetative belts of Nigeria, where he is regarded as a settler, is perhaps the most disadvantaged when it comes to the economics of land distribution. This disadvantage can only be overcome not by pulling the trigger of the gun but by the evolution of Nigeria from a country of indigenes where land ownership is a tribal birthright to a country of citizens where land ownership is a matter of economic right. The economic interest of the ethnic Fulani cattle breeder is best served in a united Nigeria. For his failure to unite Nigerians, President Buhari is the problem of the Fulani and not those rejecting the Ruga settlement scheme.