The Ruga Conundrum, By Dele Agekameh
Without proper dialogue, institutional measures to address concerns and safeguards to the cultures and ways of life of host communities, people will continue to assume the worst and kick against any insinuation of government coordinated settlements for herders, be it through ruga or the NLTP.
There has been a deluge of issues and controversies in the Nigerian polity in the course of the past few years. Asides the very real and present danger that Boko Haram poses to the country everyday, equally grave security concerns have been at the head of many of the controversies. Particularly, the matter of exacerbating violence in the communal clashes between nomadic herdsmen and rural communities across the country has been a subject of perpetual concern and debates. It is creating resentment and other negative sentiments between ethnic groups in Nigeria.
Based on this background, it is worrisome to see the policy misdirection that characterised the now suspended ruga initiative of the federal government. The issues arising from the attempted implementation of the initiative are numerous. First is the poor communication. From the government’s gazetting of lands in all 36 states of the federation for the initiative, to the said approval of funds for same, the public seems to have been caught by surprise. Word only got out after contract award letters went public, at the same time that some state governors cried foul over the usurpation of their powers by the federal government. The confusion lingers, even after the suspension of the initiative.
Then there is the issue of the relationship between the ruga initiative dan the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). The NLTP, according to government sources, is a result of wide consultations and collaboration with communities, state governments and representatives of cattle herders since as far back as 2017, culminating in the National Economic Council (NEC)’s adoption of the plan in January 2019. The NEC comprises all state governors and is chaired by the vice president. The NEC-approved NLTP is a broad programme that involves conflict resolution, humanitarian relief for victims of communal clashing and elaborate schemes to transform the practices in the livestock industry to reduce friction and conflict. Part of that programme includes an option for ranching.
For reasons still unclear to the public, the Federal Executive Committee (FEC) is said to have approved funding for the ruga initiative, which supposedly involves the allocation of land for settlements for cattle herders and other animal farmers. The initiative is also said, by government sources, to include parallel programmes for education and other measures to increase productivity in the livestock industry. The initiative bears remarkable similarities with the part of the NLTP that deals with ranching. However, Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president and spearhead of the NLTP, has made a statement dissociating the ruga initiative from the NLTP. The FEC comprises of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet ministers, the vice president and the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), with the president himself as the chair.
Before we talk about the crux of the public dissatisfaction with the ruga initiative, it may be important to note the policy shortcomings of the move. As an initiative arising from the Presidency, it is remarkably suspect that a carbon copy of parts of a separate programme was launched, almost out of thin air. What’s more, the claims by the spokesmen of Miyetti Allah, the herdsmen association, that the initiative was being driven by the vice president (since debunked by VP Osinbajo), is testament to the fact that the group has knowledge of the NLTP and must have misconstrued, or been led to believe, that ruga is an implementation of that section of the NLTP. The question then is, was there a deliberate effort to misrepresent the ruga initiative? If so, who is responsible? And why?
No matter how sound the policy is, there are external or related issues that need to be addressed before such a move can be made. The architects of the ruga implementation must not have taken the public pulse about the donation or appropriation of land for ranching or settlements. If they did, they must have miscalculated or misunderstood the readings.
In the reckoning of most of the members of the public, especially from the southern parts of Nigeria, including many of the southern governors, the answers to these questions are clear. It supposedly falls in line with the alleged “Fulani/muslim agenda”. With notable public figures like Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate; former President Olusegun Obasanjo and others toeing the same line, the public has run with that narrative. When one marries the impact of a misapplied ruga policy with the already raging inferno of ethno-religious sentimentalism, the result is the wild speculation of an invasion in the South and ultimatums made by some representatives of Northern herders.
None of our elected or appointed officials needs a history lesson – none is young enough, by law or reality, to need one. With the knowledge or consciousness of history, no official would have been expected to embark on ruga, or relevant parts of the NLTP for that matter, in the manner that was done these past few weeks. No matter how sound the policy is, there are external or related issues that need to be addressed before such a move can be made. The architects of the ruga implementation must not have taken the public pulse about the donation or appropriation of land for ranching or settlements. If they did, they must have miscalculated or misunderstood the readings.
Also worrisome is the propensity of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to fall into obvious pitfalls around the issue of a “Fulani/muslim agenda”. Even if the allegations are total rubbish, it is enough that large sections of the public are concerned enough to be discussing it and/or acting against it. Poor management of public sentiments in this matter could later justify the fears of the public figures that have been advising caution.
In a country with a long memory, as far as ethnic/religious bias is concerned, valid fears are being raised about possible government-backed mass resettlement of herders from all over the country and beyond, in places where their numbers have been minimal. True, we are all Nigerians and free to reside where we choose in our country. But in the context of the very recent conflicts and violence between herders and host communities and the government admission of compromised entry points and infiltration of herders from beyond our borders, the fears are justified.
The government needs to be able to assume all the different views, no matter how outlandish, for any lasting solutions to be found to this issue. The first attempt at implementing ruga does not suggest that it does. May God save Nigeria!
There is also a fear, based on some historical precedents, that creating settlements that would most likely be dominated by the ethnic group comprising traditional herdsmen could lead to an eroding of local cultures in the host communities in the long run. The eventual emergence of emirates in parts of Kwara State is a ready example of this, with other examples and attempts of the same model in many other places. Such an occurence may be a natural, innocent, eventuality and not part of an elaborate plot to erode local cultures; but then again, it could be.
Without proper dialogue, institutional measures to address concerns and safeguards to the cultures and ways of life of host communities, people will continue to assume the worst and kick against any insinuation of government coordinated settlements for herders, be it through ruga or the NLTP. Issuing award letters for ruga contracts in Benue, for example, without carrying the governor along or consulting with the local people, can be likened to the government pouring fuel to the fire it is trying to put out.
Also, in a public administration point of view, the ruga/NLTP confusion exposes, yet again, the dysfunction in communication, motives and coordination within the Presidency. The vice president is a member of the FEC. Was he absent when a parallel policy to his NLTP was being approved and given the implementation green light? Even if so, why were the issues not ironed out when he was made aware? He must have become aware of ruga before the general public. These questions, yet unanswered, do not help to put to bed the more serious concerns that the public has about the ruga initiative, especially in the Middle Belt and in the south of Nigeria.
Whichever way one views the issue of ranching or settlements, as a policy direction or as a conspiracy, one is bound to identify problems with its reception in host communities in the context of the violence that triggered the idea in the first place. The government needs to be able to assume all the different views, no matter how outlandish, for any lasting solutions to be found to this issue. The first attempt at implementing ruga does not suggest that it does. May God save Nigeria!
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