By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
When the Federal Government last month announced plans to implement the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlement programme, it certainly never envisaged the tumultuous reactions the proposal generated from Nigerians across all works of life.
Coming at a time when rumors about plans to Islamize the country were beginning to gain traction, the Ruga programme seemed a perfect confirmation of clandestine plan.
Like other times when unpopular and controversial policies were foisted on the people, government adopted a watch-and-see attitude after announcing the Ruga programme, hoping that Nigerians in their characteristic nature would bark without the needed bite. The government approach had worked in the past.
During the infamous fuel pump price increase, Nigerians took to the streets in protest. After weeks of outrage and rallies across major city centres, they eventually beat a retreat and government partially had its way. The scenario also repeated itself in several other protests against insensitive and impractical policies.
By attempting to force Ruga on Nigerians, one thing the current administration failed to understand, is that Nigerians are no longer docile. They are now wiser. Nigerians have been pushed to the wall by successive bad leadership and policy. They only option left for them is to fight any suspicious policy. For many, Ruga is not just about another bad government policy, it is about their survival in the entity called Nigeria. As the rage over the now suspended programme continuous, Saturday Vanguard sought the views of Nigerians on the issue.
RUGA another conduit for corruption-– Saidu, Chairman JAGGI
In his response, Lawal Saidu, Chairman, Journalist for Good Governance and Accountability Initiative, JAGGi, said: “ Ruga is a misplaced priority. It is another conduit pipe to siphon government and public funds. Is RUGA the only option to address the herders/farmers clash? Will they provide grazing without water, education and health? Water and grazing areas has been the genesis of the crises between farmers and herders.
“Nomadic education has collapsed. Government should have strengthened it because Fulanis need education more than this RUGA settlement. Government should also focus on recovering cattle routes. Before making the plan public, government ought to have sought opinion of the public before coming up with the idea to avoid misconception just as we have now.”
The language is offensive – Jabi, Sec, Campaign for Democracy
Secretary General, Campaign for Democracy, Comrade Abdullahi Mohammed Jabi is of the opinion that the term Ruga is offensive to other ethnic nationalities in the country. He said: “The timing is very wrong and the language is offensive to other nationalities. Herdsmen contribute to national development, so they should be allowed to practice their trade but a situation where they are carrying arms, that is absolute against the law. They should be restricted to the North where they already have the land advantage. Good enough, Niger state which has the largest land mass in the country has offered to give them land for grazing, so they should take advantage of the offer instead of encroaching into other states where they are not welcome.
RUGA is a cover up –Akanga, Chairman PANDEF
Former military administrator of Akwa Ibom state and National Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga in his reaction, questioned why such huge amount of money should be set aside for the establishment of Ruga was not used to improve important sectors of the economy that are suffering due to poor funding. He said, “Anybody that has been following the trend of things knows that Ruga settlement project is not a priority in this country. It is not the cattle rearing that matters now. It is not the cattle rearing issue that is the problem. It is the land that is the issue. We should look beyond the cattle rearing thing.
“They should come out to tell Nigerians what they actually want, why they want to buy lands in the 36 states, instead of using this cattle rearing thing to cover up. And look at the huge amount of money that they want to use for the project. Why can’t it be put in education or health? As a matter of fact, cattle -rearing is a private business. They cannot enforce it on states. All the states don’t have to rear cows. This is completely a misplaced priority.
RUGA is outright nepotism, should be totally scrapped – Taraba residents
Some residents in Taraba state who spoke to Saturday Vanguard attributed the FG’s RUGA policy as nepotistic in nature, which they claimed was tilted to benefit only herders, when the country is still wallowing in the dearth of infrastructure in education, health, road network among others.
According to Wole Ayodele, “it is very obvious that by using the word suspension, the federal government could still implement the RUGA scheme using another nomenclature.
“While the government has failed in providing infrastructure and social amenities including schools, water and electricity for the generality of Nigerians, it however planned to provide such at the RUGA Settlements which are to be inhabited by herdsmen. This is the height of nepotism and clannishness.”
Another respondent, Justin Tyopusu queried why is Buhari’s administration against ranching if there is no hidden agenda behind the RUGA settlement. What we need now is for federal government to fix our roads and get our infrastructure working.
“There is hunger in the land, IDPs are wallowing in pains and agony in various camps across the country especially in north east and north central and most of those IDPs in the middle belt were displaced by herdsmen.”
RUGA an invitation for anarchy- Morris, Niger Delta Environmentalist
Renowned Niger Delta Environmentalist, Comrade Alagoa Morris is of the opinion that RUGA is not just a bad idea but an invitation to self help and anarchy. He said: “It is most unfortunate that Nigeria has become a bad example even on how the issues of herders and related violence are being handled by the authorities; especially the Presidency.
The Federal Government should start addressing the critical issues bothering on reviving the seriously ailing economy and decaying society. The issue of corruption is not getting better either. Education, health, electricity, water, security, infrastructure, and the enabling environment for businesses to thrive are all begging for attention.
It would be viewed as nepotistic disposition of the Federal government, if the issue of Ruga or herdsmen takes priority of place because Mr. President is not only a Fulani, he also rears cattle. There is need for the Federal Government to organize a national stakeholder’s conference on security and the way forward because many Nigerians are apprehensive of the current situation and if the situation continues; self-help would be the only option left for all.
RUGA is a Fulani agenda- Clarkson, Rights Activist
Rights Activist and Legal Practitioner, Amaebi Clarkson said: “Ruga project is a deliberate well thought out plan by President Buhari to promote the interest of the Fulani ethnic group over and above other groups. Animal husbandry including the rearing of cattle is a private business and the cattle owner should know how to source for grass to feed his cow. RUGA is a decoy to perfect the imposition of the Fulani domination on the rest of the country. The vigor and desperation of the government over the project is a clear point to that fact. This is even more evident in the threats issued not only by the so-called youths but from supposedly senior citizen and opinion leaders.
If the government does not have ulterior motive, why hasn’t it employed same vigor and interest to tackle the myriad of problems facing the country like epileptic power supply, bad roads, ailing educational sector, near comatose healthcare system among others. Nigerians, particularly those from the southern part should not be carried away by the celebrated suspension of the project. They should be vigilant as it seemingly looks like a decoy to re-launch it from another front.
Buhari is insensitive to plight of Nigerians – Onuesoke, Ex- Delta Gov Aspirant
Former Governorship aspirant in Delta State, Mr. Sunny Onueske said: “The fact that the President Buhari led presidency is hell bent on pleasing the herdsmen shows that there are lot of questions begging for answers. From nowhere, RUGA became the major policy thrust of this administration, without consideration and consultation with critical stakeholders. The rejection and outright backlash that greeted the proposed implementation of RUGA only goes to show that the initiative is alien to the people. Its implementation does not in any way address the critical issues bedeviling Nigerian today.
“Unfortunately the Buhari led-government has drifted because they have lost the confidence of the people who massively rejected them at the last presidential election, but forced themselves on the people through the back door of a rigged election in connivance with INEC and security operatives.
“Hence you see the lack of concerns for Nigerians. They have decided to pursue certain agenda that is inimical to the peace and prosperity of the Nigerian people. When countries in the world are thinking of the next level of technology like electric cars, artificial intelligence, adjustable bridge and road to space, our government is busy with RUGA implementation that might result in another Arab spring and send us back to the agrarian ages”.
FG has turned blind eyes on Nigerians-Mudiaga-Odje, Constitutional Lawyer
Human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Dr Akpo Mudiaga-Odje said; “the Ruga settlement policy of the federal government is fraught with ominous equivocation and ambiguity. Firstly, lands are vested in State Governors by virtue of the Land Use Act, and as such, the federal government does not have the constitutional prowess to sequestrate State lands for that purpose.
“Secondly, why can’t the federal government do ranching for these herders? Ranching is in line with best practices in the international community. Indeed the movement of their cows to the south and ethnic minority territories in the North will create fratricidal conflicts and reciprocating chaos.
“The federal government has turned a blind eye to the endemic rot in the educational sector and pandemic decay in the health sector. The budget for this year falls short of allocating 26 percent of the total budget to education as adumbrated by UNESCO.”
RUGA cannot solve herdsmen security issue- Ozuzu, US based Attorney
Mr. Stanley Ozuzu, a United States of America based attorney, wondered why the Federal Government saw the establishment of the RUGA settlements as a top priority. He said: “The feelers I get from home are not funny at all, very scaring. Reports of varying serious crimes rent the social media on a daily basis and government appears helpless about it.
“The security agencies will not get a different result from repeatedly maintaining the same type of strategies against crime and criminals in the country. Suspension of the actualization of the RUGA Settlement cannot be the same as cancellation or abandonment of the project.”