Ruga, politics: Lessons for the North – By Abdulyassar Abdulhamid


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Now President Buhari has succumbed to the pressure; the Federal Government has suspended its Rural Grazing Area (Ruga) Settlement policy. As the phrase will go on the surface, “no victor, nor vanquished”; but in reality, it is not. There is much to it than meet the eyes.

On Wednesday President Buhari-led Federal Government suspended the implementation of over N12 billion Ruga Settlements Project due to be established in the 36 states of the federation amidst scathing criticisms by southern governors(including some middle belt governors), media houses and opinion moulders.

According to President Buhari’s media aid, Bashir Ahmad, the Federal Government suspended the project after consultations with stakeholders. 

Quite alright! The president has once again been cowed by that simple blackmail ‘Islamisation’ or/and ‘Fulanization’. What a poor coinage! 

Even though I have spent all my life in the core North where I was born and raised, I cannot handle a cow nor do I speak even a sparse of Fulfulde yet.

I have seen, neighboured and chatted with throngs of southerners some of whom are clocking 30-40 years in Kano yet they go to church or shrine, dress in their native attire and speak their language. Will it not be wise enough for the Islamization/Fulanization agenda to start from here?

The truth is that underneath these tricky words Islamization and Fulanization lies an idea: a xenophobic ad maniacal obsession with selves as against “others”. 

Despite the fact that the proposed Ruga settlements have the potentialities to employ thousands of veterinary doctors, menial labours, pharmacists, create thousands of jobs since abattoirs, dairies, markets, quarantine officers, suppliers, among others, are needed, on Monday July 1, 2019, in its response to Ruga settlement proposal, the South-East Governors’ Forum declared that the geo-political zone has no land for the establishment of Ruga settlements. 

What the region can do, at most, is to exchange grass for meat. ‘Give out some cows, take our grass and go back to the North for ranching’. Period! The chairman of the forum, the governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, was not only blunt in his statement but also resolute. 

Of all the anti-Ruga settlement opinion pieces I have read, I think, nothing is as glaringly misleading as Mr. Sufuyan Ojeifo’s “Between ‘Ruga Settlements’ and Franchise of Evil” published in Leadership Newspaper of July 4, 2019. 

To this author, even the mention of the word ‘Ruga’ pulls the country apart and unless a ‘holistic review of the policy’ is put in place to tame its establishment ‘the country may have sat on a tinderbox with a potential to explode’. What surprises me the most is the writer’s search for ‘agreement of the minds’ on the policy before it takes off. 

The suspicion, according to him, is that Ruga settlement has a hidden agenda of creating Fulani Emirates in the affected areas since the settlements must be in need of some leaders to oversee their activities. Wonders! Do the Igbos, for example, not have traditional rulers in the north where they have settled for decades? Have they ever succeeded in converting their hosts to Christianity or in forcing them to become Igbos?         

Politically speaking, the North is, nonetheless, left with a bare bone of real politics. The last time I checked Taraba and Benue state governors, Samuel Ortom and Darius Ishaku, were busy fighting open grazing tooth and nail. The two governors were the first to rush to their states’ assemblies seeking for the abolishment of ‘open grazing’.

After continued kicks against the initiative, Ortom has now described the suspension of Ruga settlement by the Federal Government as “victory for all peace loving Nigerians”. 

Taraba and Buneu state governments have a law that restricts movement of cattle, abolishes open grazing and now they are working against the Federal Government-sponsored Ruga settlements. It is obvious that what the duo really need is to force out Fulani ethnic stock from their states by all means.    

I partly agree with the observation Governor El-Rufa’i made during a Northern Summit organized by the Northern Hibiscus. It is not news that the spirit of the North is fast asleep.

Although glossed over, almost all what the governor observed can be said of the North. The region has the highest number of poverty-stricken people and a large number of out-of-school children. 

Until of recent, the north was topping the chart of drugs abuse. Banditry, kidnapping, high rate of divorce and family breakdown and virtually terrorism characterize the region. But I wonder how the governor skillfully circumvented the causes – isn’t personal aggrandizement of its leaders part of the problems? 

At least El-Rufa’i is heart-to-heart. Hitherto I have been waiting for a hypocritical section of “truth tellers” in the North to comment on the matter. I think it is unwise enough of them to hang back when the future of an ethnic group is being discussed. Alas, double-standard is not something new.

On Thursday the Northern Governors’ Forum called for calm through a statement issued by the chairman of the forum, Governor Simon Dalung of Plateau State in Abuja.

Following the suspension, the forum found it fit and proper to clarify its position on the matter, somewhat to calm nerves. According to the statement, it is part of the beauty of democracy which allows citizens to participate in shaping and moderating the functions of the government with regards to any matter of public interest. 

“Meanwhile, we urge all stakeholders and all shades of interested parties,” the statement read, “especially from the north to remain calm and air their views democratically and decently while allowing the government a chance to handle the matter.” 

However, for some reason I totally disagree with the Coalition of Northern Groups, if it does exist, over its threat to expel southerners resident in the North. South East Governors’ Forum, or better southerners since the governors were representing a popular opinion, was never meant to hurt the North; but to teach life lessons. 

An ordinary northerner is afflicted with double-tragedy. Outside his region he is a persona non-grata. In his region there lay in wait for him some selfish leaders. Like a punching bag he is being rammed here and there endlessly. 

For years, the North has been producing graduates more than it can offer employment opportunities. In almost every block in the North today there are armies of unemployed graduates. Any announcement of vacancy is greeted with sheaves of applications.

At last, it is evident that Northern governors cannot solve the unemployment crises facing the teeming youth and economic strains are threatening the whole region. The region must exploit other means, namely private sector no matter what, to cater for the economic needs of its region.

The truth is that not only Ruga settlements, but also even Fulani ethnic stock, with all the challenges associated with it, is North’s phenomenon and should be handled by the North. What the South’s intervention signifies is that no piece of land or employment opportunity is taken for granted. And settlements should be on quid pro quo (take as you give). In sum, when this is achieved, the future of this nation will surely rest on agreeable terms of give and take between the two regions.

Abdulhamid wrote via [email protected]


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