Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Ambassador Hassan Ardo is Nigerian envoy to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. He speaks on the Ruga project, remarks by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, the crisis in the state and other key issues.
What is your understanding of RUGA and how do you feel about the agitations against the scheme?
I was surprised when the governor’s of Taraba and Benue among others came out to protest against Ruga project. This is a project that has been in the pipeline for a very long time. The first ranch was established in 1951 in Obudu in Cross River, South South Nigeria. So it is not a new thing. The question I am asking now is that when the governor proposed the establishment of ranches, was he expecting the cattle to be inside cartoons or on top of the trees? It is the same land that will be used for the ranches. So what is the difference here? Again, people need to know that RUGA is not only meant for the Fulani because there are some people who own a lot of cows and they are not even Fulani. Most of the Fulani you see with large herds of cattle are only keeping them for some people in government, some big shots in the system. So who says RUGA is exclusively for the Fulani? Definitely it is not only the Fulani that will benefit. It will benefit the farmer, the herders, the GDP of the country, the cows and everybody.
We kicked against the ranching when the governor came up with it because there were no preliminaries. There was no arrangement on ground for the proper take off of the project and one could see that it was already a failed project because it was ill motivated. You don’t just wake up one day and say the people should cage their cows in one place when there is no food, water, veterinary care or anything at all, that is why the people were protesting. So if we are saying there is no land, are we saying that the ranches they were proposing are going to be done in heaven?
I think we need to start thinking objectively especially when it comes to issues of national development. The moment we allow sentiments to rule out sense of judgement, we are bound to make certain mistakes that could cost us dearly. We end up shooting ourselves in the leg. Just imagine the benefits that Ruga will bring to this country. Apart from bringing solution to the perennial herders’ farmers’ crisis, it will bring a major boost to livestock production and that would be a boost to the country’s GDP. It will provide employment for lots of people who will be involved in the cultivation of grasses, processing of other by products from cattle and a whole lot. What I don’t understand is that, the state government has proposed the establishment of ranches and they are complaining that there is no money for the project. Now the federal has come up with a system to fund the ranches and they are still kicking against it. So you begin to wonder whether there is sincerity in all of their propositions. I can tell you authoritatively that the only reason the governor of Taraba State is opposing Ruga is because he feels it is meant for a particular group of people, the Fulani. The question is that, even if it is meant for the Fulani, are they not his subjects? Shouldn’t they be provided for? Is that not a way of lessening his burdens? But we must clarify that this scheme isn’t just for the Fulani. In fact, the top beneficiaries of this project would not even be the Fulani. As it stands now, most of those making the best out of cows are not even Fulani. The herdsmen you see moving around in the bushes are not benefiting from the cows as much as the merchants enjoying the comfort of their homes. As the governor, in the last five years or so has he allocated one Naira to livestock production in the state? Why is he complaining now that the Federal Government has come up with this policy? How can you allocate N400 million as annual budget for fisheries in Taraba State and livestock production has no allocation? What does that tell you? It simply means the man is not interested in livestock development in the state. We are just creating issues out of nothing. On the Mambilla plateau that crisis erupted the last time, was it because people were moving with the cattle? It was the same governor that caused it. I wrote a letter to him in May of that year regarding the issue. What did he do? Nothing! This is not an issue we should politicise.
The argument is that cattle rearing are a private business and so the Federal Government has no business establishing RUGA. Is that not correct?
You see, the thing about hypocrisy is that, once you get engulfed in it, you start reasoning like an imbecile no matter how learned and intelligent you are. Nigerian Airports that are built by the federal and state governments, how many governments owned aircrafts are using them? Is it not private businesses? The Taraba State governor has been paying hundreds of millions of Naira on the purchase of fertilizer. Which of the government farms are they using the fertilizer on? Is it not private businesses or is crop farms now a government business? The roads, schools and other public infrastructure that the government invest huge amounts in providing, who are those using them? So what are we talking about? Who said RUGA was only meant for Fulani herdsmen? The state PDP chairman, Victor Bala Kona acquired massive land in Gyembu. Ask him how he acquired the land and for what purpose? If they are saying there is no land for RUGA. What about the funds that the Federal Government is using to bail out banks? Are they not private businesses?
How do you feel about the suspension of the project?
The president is at liberty to suspend anything in reaction to public outcry. For me, I think it is an opportunity for us to study this programme holistically and see why people are agitating and trying to cause unnecessary confusion. This shows us how mature our president is. Ordinarily, one would have expected him to flare up because they are frustrating his genuine efforts at bringing lasting solution to the perennial herders’ farmers’ crisis in the country. Otherwise, how will people who embraced Fadama now stand against RUGA?
Back to Taraba, there has been killings and destructions between the Tiv and Jukun in southern Taraba for the past three months. What does this portends to the entire state and how do you assess the reaction of the state government?
I must say that the crisis is most unfortunate and the state government has exhibited the highest level of insensitivity to the plight of the people in the state. It simply shows that we have a governor but we don’t have government. At the onset of this killings, he packed his things and traveled abroad to go and rest. Who goes to sleep when his house is on fire? When he was asked, he said that it is not only in Taraba that people are being killed. Is that the kind of reaction the people should expect from someone they supposedly just elected to govern them? If he says that killings are going on across the country, does it means then that he endorses the killings in the Wukari, Takum and Donga? And this is not the first time. The other time, it was on the Mambilla plateau where over a thousand persons were killed. The governor didn’t even utter a word. Now it is in his home zone and he is still keeping quiet about it. When it happened in Lau and Karim, he said nothing. So how do you convince me that this man has the interest of the state at heart?
Last week, the governorship candidate of the UDP in the last election visited the governor to formally congratulate him and pledged to support him. What is your take on this development?
You see my brother; politics is really a very funny game. The level of desperation we see from some persons in their desperate bid to cling to power is just appalling. Senator Alhassan is on record to be an ardent critic of the Governor Darius Ishaku’s administration in the state. Has the governor suddenly repented that she is going to congratulate and throw her support behind him? Or is she now endorsing the evils that Governor Darius Ishaku represents just to further her political desperation? This is just to tell you that they are just birds of the same feather. Their only concern is their personal interests and not the overall good of the people of the state.
Nigeria has signed the regional free trade pact. How is this going to help the Nigerian project?
This is very important for Nigeria and indeed the entire African continent because it brings about market liberalisation and gives us the strength to compete favourably with other continents across the globe. Out of the 54 African countries, it is only one country that has not signed the pact. The rest agreed that this is good for the continent. This will help boost the economy, and open up healthy competition among member nations. It will also make transfer of technology and skills easier among member nations. All these are geared towards better trade within the continent and ultimately, we would be bequeathing something really worthwhile to the younger generation. Of course the aim is to create mutual understanding and enhance free market flow, thereby fueling development across the continent.
The former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, recently accused President Buhari of attempt to Fulanise and Islamise the country. What is your take?
You see, fulanisation started with former President Obasanjo. It is unfortunate that he is the one saying it when he started it. All these comments are coming up because of the RUGA debate but let us look at it. The Obudu cattle ranch for instance, was it established by the Buhari administration? Let me remind you that it was during Obasanjo time that Nigeria joined OIC. Was it not during his time as the president that some states such as Zamfara and others started implementing Sharia laws in this country? So if he is talking about Islamisation and Fulanisation, then he is the founding father. The truth is that, Obasanjo will forever remain an elder statesman who has ruled this country longer than anyone else and has earned global respect and recognition. As such, one would expect him to be careful with his utterances. The polity is clearly over heated and one would expect the former president to be among those that would be championing moves to calm the troubled waters rather fanning the embers of apprehension and discord. Some of the statements credited to Obasanjo and other leaders in Nigeria, just to further their parochial interests, are really very sad. If Obasanjo has issues, I think he is in a good position to reach out to the president rather than going to the press to heat up the polity. If we throw this country into chaos, what will he benefit? I don’t expect former leaders to be acting this way, even when they are no longer in power. If someone like Obasanjo who put on Khaki to go and fight for the unity of this country will be the same person fanning the flames of discord now, then something is definitely wrong. We cannot continue to allow people to just go to the press and make divisive statements and just walk away freely. No! People should be held accountable for their utterances. Nobody is above the law.