Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Indications have emerged that despite the decision of the Federal Government to suspend the contentious Ruga initiative, the people of Southern Kaduna seem to have resolved to maintain vigilance and sustain their opposition to further attempts to take more of their ancestral farmlands for the purpose of creating additional exclusive areas for Fulani herdsmen, to graze their cattle.
The disposition of Southern Kaduna people has been driven by the controversy caused by Fifth Columnists within the federal government establishment who were alleged to have twisted the National Livestock Transformation Project (NLTP), approved by the National Economic Council, with intent to focus it on establishing exclusive Fulani settlements in the 36 states across the country. Expectedly this stirred up a firestorm of opposition as it was seen as barefaced Fulani hegemony.
The stiff, stout and unyielding opposition of most Nigerians to the ruga initiative was informed by the painful experience of southern Kaduna people where the government donated a relatively small place in Laduga to Fulani herdsmen in the 80s for grazing their cattle. Before long, the herdsmen began to expand the place. This led to incessant clashes between them and the people. The expansion process continued until a huge expanse of land covering about 140,000 hectares came under their full and firm control.
Declaring the position of his people on the governments plan to create more exclusive settlements for Fulani herdsmen, National President, Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), Solomon Musa told Sunday Sun: “There is no land in our communities to give out for Ruga, and there should be no imposition on communities that do not desire Ruga because grazing of cattle is a private business. It would amount to robbing Peter to pay Paul, by trying to take our land and giving it to herdsmen. Our lands are not idle, they are ancestral land that belong to farmers our communities. Can we pig farmers go to Kano and acquire land establish piggery there? So it is mere wickedness to deny my people who want to do piggery. If we cannot rear pigs in Kano, why then do you want to take our land for Ruga for cattle rearing? If government must have Ruga in Kaduna, there is one already called Laduga in Southern Kaduna. The government started it in the late 80s. It was started with 33,000 hectares of land, it grew to 70,000 hectares few years later. Today, I believe it has been expanded to 140,000 hectares. This is enough for Ruga. The government should not take our ancestral land and give the same to cattle owners.”
Continuing, Musa said: “Alternatively, government should convert Sambisa Forest in Borno State to Ruga. It is large enough to accommodate all Fulani herdsmen in the country to do their business. And again I want to remind the federal government that the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, said sometime ago that there is enough land in Kano to accommodate all Fulani herdsmen in the country. Why not go for these opportunities and erect Ruga, instead of coming to take up our ancestral land?
“Which land will be left for us if tomorrow Igbo and Yoruba say they too want land to do their businesses. Government should relieve us of this confusion and controversy.”
Chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Abdulrahman Mohammed said: “I have read that lands have already been acquired for the plan and to be paid for in the 2019 Budget. The government must be advised to quickly pay compensation to all the communities for such lands acquired. Ranching is a private business and government has no business meddling into such, that is my strong advice.
“Already I have seen the vision of war drums in the communities as such as Afenifere and IPOB will fight back. Nigeria is no more like it used to be, all regions and communities are going through the practical form of upscale political education and each one protecting its own in the spirit of the amalgamation of 1914 and the regional/ethnic boundaries in Nigeria. We must all exercise political caution at this time. The Fulani Ruga Project can only survive in the core northern states.”
Also, a senior lawyer and former Chairman, Labour Party (LP), Kaduna State Chapter, Mohammed Magaji, chipped on the burning issue: “The intention seems good but some things make the whole thing suspicious. Firstly, the name ‘ruga’ is of Hausa Fulani extraction, which connotes exclusivity to herdsmen and or Fulani as against its English equivalent of ranching. Secondly, the fact that the scheme is for herdsmen or Fulani suggests danger as the Fulani or herdsmen are viewed with deep suspicion considering the mayhem they have caused to certain communities in the name of reprisals.”
Commenting on the issue, Chairman, Arewa Online Publishers Association, Mordecai Ibrahim noted that the government ought to have encouraged adoption of globally accepted best practices in animal husbandry.
He said: “All over the world it is ranching that is practised. Ruga settlement is another subtle way of taking over land. If the government wants to help the Fulani people, let the government give them loans to buy land.”
Offering his contrary view, Kaduna-based media consultant and content provider, Mohammed Garba said: “The only way people will realise the importance of Ruga settlement across the country is from the perspective of the Federal Capital Territory. The territory was not a virgin land, it was a land owned by people, and those people were forced to relinquish their land to give way for the establishment of the FCT and today every Nigerian is benefiting from the capital territory either as a civil servant of businessman. So what is wrong in giving land to Fulani who are also Nigerians, who add economic value to the development of the country? The bulk of the meat we take in our food come from the Fulani cattle. So isn’t it stupid to reject Ruga in your locality? It means you don’t need meat. That is from the economic angle. People acquired land and put up supermarkets. What is the difference between that and Ruga? Nobody is paying for land in Nigeria, we are only given Certificate of Occupancy. You are given a land to practise your profession. So if you are a Fulani man and you have cattle, why won’t you be given a bush and land to do your business?”
A concerned Fulani youth leader, Mallam Hussein Abdullahi Laduga, added: “The opposition trailing the proposed Ruga settlement is uncalled for and misleading. Ruga is a Hausa word, which been in use for a long time in Nigeria. I think the federal government took the right step, to curtail herdsmen/farmers clashes. Ruga is not a new thing because there is no part of the country where you don’t see settlement of Fulani herdsmen settlement. They live peacefully with the people. Ruga means Fulani settlement in Hausa. We, the Fulani, call it wuro or sare in Fulfude language. Fulani settlements are all over the sub-African region. So it is misinformation for people to say that the federal government is introducing Ruga. The Ruga settlement will definitely curtail movement of the cattle, thereby minimising the frequent clashes between farmers and the herdsmen. Nobody owns the land; let everybody take control of his legitimate business anywhere in the country.”