The implementation of Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements, the latest plan that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government said is expected to put an end to the recurrent conflict between nomadic herders and farmers, has been met with huge condemnation and anger from Nigerians.
The impression in the public domain that the Buhari-led Federal Government wants to force the RUGA settlements down the throat of all Nigerian states has not gone down well with the majority of the citizens.
In a sense, this has generated heated and passionate debate on the state and future of the nation.
Going by reports, the RUGA initiative has been vehemently rejected by a wide spectrum of Nigerians in various quarters with arguments that it is a plot by the government of the day to reposition the Fulani tribe.
Also, for most Nigerians, the issue of concern is the widespread palpable threat posed by the notorious Fulani herdsmen across the country through their violent activities on farm lands and highways as they usually unleash mayhem in geographical areas both contiguous to and far away from their native states.
Already the issue has brought again to the front burner the threat to the security challenge in the land.
In obvious response to the state of insecurity in the country, against the backdrop of the present move by FG to implement RUGA, different regional, socio-cultural, ethnic groups, as well as religious groups have held and are still holding meetings on how to reduce the level of tension, fear and insecurity that is plaguing the polity.
The awareness reached a crescendo with the latest push for RUGA initiative.
A former president, governors and traditional rulers in the Southwest, Pan-Niger Delta Development Forum (PANDEF) representing an agglomeration of views from the South-south, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, governors of the Southeast and the Middle Belt have all, at different fora, reacted to the different strands of the imbroglio, which have engulfed the nation.
But the presidency has defended its position on the controversial programme, insisting that the initiative is for the benefit of all.
In a statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the presidency said the programme is not a scheme to reposition the Fulani people, adding that no state has been forced to partake in the initiative.
The presidency’s statement reads in part: “The Presidency wishes to draw attention to recent unhelpful comments regarding the plan to stop roaming of cattle herders with the attendant clashes with farmers.
“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 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.
“Beneficiaries will include all persons in animal husbandry, not only Fulani herders.”
Despite the defence by the Federal Government, aside from some states in the North, the disapproval has been total from the Southeast, Southwest, South-south, including the Middle-Belt.
Some political observers are of the view that it was the extreme controversy generated, which was volatile enough to cause the breaking of the country that left Buhari with no option than to suspend the programme.
Sunday Sun checks show that what the Federal Government and National Economic Council (NEC) approved was the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) programme and it is not compulsory for all the states, but for any willing state that wants to participate in the NLTP project.
Perhaps, also sensing the commotion that was brewing and gathering like a wild storm the National Executive Committee (NEC) on the farmers-herders crisis again quickly came to the rescue as it gave a double assurance and confirmed the suspension of the programme by the president.
Some of the governors at the meeting included, governors of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi; Plateau, Simon Lalong; and Kebbi, Atiku Bagudu.
According to the committee, the suspension, it claimed, was owing to lack of consistency with the NEC and FG approved national livestock transformation plan which has programmes of rehabilitation of displaced IDPs resulting from the crisis and development of ranching in any willing state.
Also the NEC confirmed that the project is not compulsory and any state interested is required to draw up a development plan towards the implementation in line with the NEC programme based on the challenges inherent it.
Although Buhari has received commendations from some quarters for the foresight in suspension of the matter, most political observers say the exercise was to buy time only for it to be re-introduced later.
The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, who absolutely rejected the RUGA move in his state said that the suspension of the programme by the Federal Government, was commendable, calling it a victory for Nigerians.
Ortom, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, noted that the rejection of the Ruga settlement model was not personal, but rather a struggle by the people of the country against impunity and injustice.
The governor had commended Buhari for heeding to the wisdom call of the people for the suspension of the Ruga settlement programme.
Ortom urged the Federal Government to take a step further to encourage pastoralists and other livestock owners to embrace ranching as the best model of animal husbandry.
The Southeast governors have firmly declared that their states “have no land for cattle colony, Ruga settlement, or in whatever nomenclature you want to call it.’’
President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, declared that the group “would resist Fulani vigilantes in Igbo land.”
In the same vein, leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark declared that the call for Fulani vigilante in the Southeast buttresses the “stance of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who had earlier raised the alarm on alleged plans to ‘Fulanise’ Nigeria” and that PANDEF fully rejects the cattle colonies in the South-south.
Chief Sunny Onuesoke, social commentator and governorship aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State has asked Nigerians to be vigilant as Federal Government can not be trusted following its actions and inactions so far on governance.
Onuesoke said: “The open show of desperation by the President Buhari-led government to please this marauding Fulani herdsmen at all costs only goes to show that there is more to it than meets the eye.
What is so special about these herdsmen that Buhari is hell-bent on pleasing them at all time?
“It is almost three months now; Buhari is yet to implement the new minimum wage for Nigerian workers, instead he is planning to build RUGA settlements for herdsmen across the nation.
What an irony of a president?
“By the suspension of the scheme, it has become clear to everyone that Nigeria does not belong to anyone or group of people. With the outcry and rejection against the RUGA settlement, I had expected the presidency to immediately cancel or scrap the idea instead of just suspending it.
“By suspension, it means the plan is still in place with the possibility of being executed in the future. There is a possibility that the Federal Government will revisit the RUGA idea again and probably implement the establishment of RUGA settlement against the wish of the people”.
Political observers say that recent comments by the Miyetti Allah group was capable of putting Nigeria on fire giving their unyielding position on RUGA, arguing that they need to apply caution rather than behaving as if they own the country.
In their observation, they noted that “Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), which Nigerians primarily saw as the arrowhead of cattle owners has now metamorphosed into a political pressure group issuing irritating statements with an insulting degree of arrogance and self-entitlement to the national patrimony. This is dangerous”.
Also, observers have expressed worry on the recent invitation of MASSOB leader, Chief Ralph Uwazurike by the Department of State Security (DSS) to its Owerri office for questioning, over comments on RUGA settlement that has gone viral on social media.
Uwazurike had in a viral video called on Ndigbo to come together and resist the planned RUGA Settlement project proposed by the Federal Government.
They want both the DSS and the government to tread cautiously on the controversy RUGA has generated, warning that it would be an ill-wind that will blow no good if not handled properly.
For instance, former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode criticized the DSS for the invitation given to Uwazurike.
Fani-Kayode in a tweet on Thursday, faulted the DSS for the invitation, saying that the security agency was yet to invite or arrest the leader of the Arewa Group, AbdulAzeez Suleiman, who threatened Southerners with a 30-day ultimatum over Ruga.
In the tweet Fani-Kayode noted: “How can DSS invite MASSOB leader, Chief Ralph Uwazurike over a video broadcast calling on the Igbo to resist RUGA whilst a Fulani terrorist called AbdulAzeez Suleiman and his Arewa Group, who threatened the lives of Southerners with a 30-day ultimatum over RUGA, are walking free”.
Although Buhari has explained that he feels pained by the level of banditry and deaths in the country, he has been perceived to be soft on handling this singular cause of national instability and angst.
The public impression has been that the venom and military brutality with which the government dealt with the IPOB protests in Aba and Onitsha seem to be missing on the more vexatious Fulani plundering of life and property.
Somehow, the government is perceived as being removed from the realities of the day. This to most commentators appears quite dangerous at this time.
Security has virtually collapsed in the land. The North East, that Buhari declared was technically out of the control of Boko Haram, has known no peace still, while every other parts of the country seem to be having one threat or another.