The vitriolic public outrage over Federal Government’s desperate moves to settle nomadic pastoralists, across the country, is a reflection of the Nigeria’s fragility and volatility. Despite the suspension of Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements, purportedly to end recurring conflicts between herders and farmers, tension, among various ethnic nationalities, remains high, for economic, historical and security reasons.
Similarly, the National Livestock Transformation Plan(NLTP) is also controversial and suspicious, due to public contentions over its funding and execution. Critics query Federal Government for earmarking N179 billion to the 10-year initiative, considering the nation’s parlous economic parameters.
Certainly, government’s frenzy to hurriedly acquire land for animal husbandry, which is essentially private business, is overheating the polity.
Agitations over government’s neutrality and sincerity are worsened by its refusal to enunciate a national policy on ranching, thus tacitly supporting herders, whose primitive grazing system and militancy undermine lives and economies of agrarian communities. Failure of security operatives to disarm pastoralists, have exacerbated the crises in the last five years, causing incalculable human, material losses and food deficiencies. Today many agriculturalists have abandoned their farms, while some live in camps because of atrocities, murder, kidnappings, rape and other barbaric acts associated with these bandits.
The 2018 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), said last year, ‘Fulani herders killed, nearly 1700 people, estimatedly, six times more than those killed by terrorist group, Boko Haram.’ ‘Land scarcity, the over use of resources, and climate change have dried up fertile land in Northern Nigeria which the Fulani have historically used for grazing, driving many further south,’ GTI revealed. Sadly government’s bent is not only viewed as reckless and discriminatory but also provocative, because it violates the principle of self-existence and economic enterprise for land owners.
Therefore the current approach is neither a viable template for peace nor security of lives and properties. This agenda is generally criticised, as another recipe for widespread destructions. President Muhammadu Buhari being a Fulani, is believed to be sympathetic to the herders, hence his administration has not shown enough political will to stop the mayhem, particularly in states such as Taraba, Enugu, Ekiti and Benue the epicenter of the crises.
There is need for caution with escalating threats from various ethnic and religious groups.
Several Northern leaders and groups, obviously miffed by the suspension of RUGA are scheming for its re-introduction, instead of routing for ranching, as the international best practice for animal husbandry.
Alhaji Tanko Yakassai said, ‘RUGA settlement is only suspended, but not abandoned. It will come at a later date very soon. It would be in the interest of Nigerians for the Fulani herders to be settled in a place.’ The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) gave the Federal Government a 30-day ultimatum to rescind its suspension order and implement RUGA, warning that there would be no peace in the country, if cattle breeders were not allowed to move freely.
Several socio-cultural organizations in South and Middle Belt regions, including Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere and Pan Niger Delta Forum responded vehemently, urging people to defend their territories and resist any surreptitious move to cede their land for grazing. Fulani herdsmen, like other business owners, must seek ways to modernise and capitalise their operations, through loans and co-operatives, they argue.
Meanwhile South-East governors have banned movement of cattle into the geo-political zone, through bush paths. A statement from the Director General, South-East Governors Forum, Prof. Simon Ortuanya, said: ‘Henceforth, movement of cows into the zone should be done through the roads by using trucks in conveying the animals and offloading them to their specific cow markets. We will no longer allow foreign herdsmen to bring their cattle into our geopolitical zone through the bush paths by foot because this is what always cause conflict between our people and the herders.’ ‘We have not and do not intend to donate lands for the creation of RUGA settlements or implementation of the National Livestick Transformation Plan (NLTP) in the region.’ They however pledged support to states, where the initiatives will be established.
Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Gani Adams, warned that ‘any attempt to foist RUGA scheme on the South-West would be resisted. ‘It is unwarranted, needless and a dangerous policy, that can break this nation. It is overheating the polity. The plan is an attempt to revisit an alleged jihadist agenda that was started in 1804.’
‘We didn’t see the policy as a way to settle the crisis of herdsmen. We saw it as a dangerous trend that was coming to the South-West, as a way of imposing on us those who had been threatening our lives and properties. We didn’t want the RUGA settlement policy.’
Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi and Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka, in a communiqué, called on citizens to defend themselves following the 30-day ultimatum over the botched Ruga project. ‘The ultimatum delivered by a sectarian order to the President to set up the so-called RUGA cattle settlements across the entire nation within a stipulated time, despite the national outcry, should be acknowledged as an entitlement under the bounty of freedom of expression.’
‘In return, we exercise ours and call upon Nigerian nationals to defend the sanctity of their ancestral lands. This birthright has never been annulled, not even under colonial occupation. Among such issues of urgent import are the ongoing insurrectional movements that derive from religious fanaticism and intolerance, exemplified by Boko Haram, as well as aspects of commercial enterprise. Some groups consider themselves privileged and above the laws. We have in mind destructive forms of social transactions that characterise groups such as nomadic cattle herdsmen, and their umbrella groupings in the nature of Myetti Allah.’
‘We confess ourselves increasingly distressed and appalled, that the hitherto harmonious cohabitation, among the productive arms of society, have deteriorated to unprecedented levels of barbarity, contempt for human lives and a defiant trampling on the civic entitlements of other productive sectors such as farmers. Certainly deploying scarce national resources to fund private or ethnic enterprises epitomises corruption.
Ojukwu a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow and journalist writes from Lagos via [email protected]