Ruga Settlements: Our Hope, Our Fear, By Gidado Yushau Shuaib

Incontrovertibly, the recently suspended Ruga Settlement project was an initiative of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. The rationale behind such project was to help eliminate the age-long practice of open grazing of cattle by Fulani pastoralists, which has been the cannon fodder for farmer/herder clashes.

Shortly after the announcement of the program, different shades of opinion sprout into the open, with some believing that it was a deliberate effort by Mr. President to favour his Fulani ethnic group. Just as others saw the move as leeway for the president to compensate the rampaging bandits or more commonly tagged as ‘Fulani herdsmen’, because he shares the same ethnic lineage with them.

These Fulani herdsmen are so criminalised to such an extent that the recent killing of Mrs. Olufunke Olakunrin, the daughter of Reuben Fasoranti, the leader of the Yoruba socio-political group was linked to them. Such development generated a lot of controversies across Nigerians with different persuasions. Colossal of these allegations was the one shared by the brother to the late Olafunke for claiming to have been reliably informed that attackers who shot his sister were Fulani herdsmen.

However, the police commissioner, on the other hand, had said that the attack was carried out by bandits who came to the road and fired sporadically at motorists. From the foregoing, Fulani ethnic group seems to have become an endangered species. Aside from the fact that most security challenges have been blamed on Fulanis, anytime a herd of cattle is sighted roaming the streets of our towns, the submission by many people, especially on social media, is that these people do what they do because their brother is the one at the helms of affairs.

What a blatant misrepresentation! As far as I am concerned, the people don’t give a hoot who the president is. They only are concerned about where to locate a greener pasture. If we must tell ourselves the truth, in as much as these people remain, wanderers, no amount of misrepresentation or stereotyping can change the lot of these Fulanis.

Truth be told, the Ruga settlement project is impressive but the mode of delivery and the time of the project was wrong. I mean, why should the government introduce such an impressive policy when the atmosphere is well charged with mutual suspicion, Fulaninisation and Islamisation agenda claims?

Similarly, failure on the part of the government to provide a holistic document to explain the Ruga policy and its benefit received a backlash. The denial by Professor Yemi Osinbajo, saying his office has absolutely nothing to do with the project, and is not under the supervision of his office, was also unwholesome. 

The Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Umar, had attempted to shed more light on the debacle, but it seems that these words have been falling on deaf ears. Mr Umar was quoted as saying: “It is one project that will help to take them away from our streets and stop them from wandering in the bush. And in the next five to ten years, you will never see a nomad moving about, wandering or kidnapping. And this will help to address some security challenges we are contending with now.”

The perm sec’s verbiage never dropped down before various socio-cultural groups started coming out to express their displeasure with the programme. They described the establishment of cattle-rearing settlements for herdsmen as a move to colonize the country.

Another reason why the Ruga kite did not fly is that the nation is now fragmented along ethno-religious lines, a situation which will make it difficult to build consensus around important things that matter for our socio-economic progress. Also, the realisation that the Ruga settlements will cater for the livelihood of herders, while neglecting farmers, who many believe are the main victims of the conflict between both groups, has also elicited scathing condemnations from the majority who unabashedly opposed the idea.

I think the call for the suspension of Ruga project stemmed from the age-long rivalry with farmers. While herders are feeling relieved from troubles of farmers, farmers are however feeling cheated by the program because they own the lands. As expected, Governors Samuel Ortom of Benue and Arc. Darius Dickson Ishaku of Taraba state were the first to reject the move for setting up Ruga settlement in their states. This stemmed from the fact that the indigenes of this states are predominantly farmers, who could not stand the sight of settler-herders in their states. 

By and large, I want to believe that it is only an incurable optimist would have concluded that debates on the project will not assume a regional, religious and ethnic dimension, right from the outset. In the meantime, it behoves on the Federal Government to go back to the drawing board, re-strategize, brainstorm and redesign the sacred objectives they seek for the programme. They should be clear-cut visions, not ones that will be greeted again with an unmitigated uproar. Otherwise, the project will be dead on arrival whenever it is relaunched in the sooner or later future.

Gidado Yushau Shuaib, the editor of  The News Digest, can be reached on [email protected]. 

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