By Obi Nwakanma
Ruga – even the word itself sounds a little too pert and suspicious. Still, it might bring guffaws or consternation, depending on one’s mood, to some speakers of some dialect of the Igbo language, who hear a close echo to the phrase, “roo ugha” – to fashion untruth. Igbo is a particularly imagistic language. It conjures abstractions and turns them into concrete possibilities, and thus the elegant dynamism of that language whom the Igbo themselves say is the first tongue of the gods.
The image of one transposing a great fib into a great cause is, were the matter not serious, amusing. It is trickery; the kind the legendary “Mbe Nwa Aniga,” the Tortoise, could dream up. Ruga is as false as the Greek gift. Whoever thought of “Ruga settlements” probably did not do his or her homework properly. They did not anticipate the kind of uproar that would follow it. What they did not factor in is the nature of ancestral lands and settlements to most Nigerian cultures. There is a spiritual bond between people and their ancestral land. That is what makes Nigeria so complex and difficult to fabricate beyond the ethnos.
What has also truly happened is a terrible revelation of the depth of distrust that a vast population of Nigerians, particularly from the South and the Midriff of Nigeria feel towards the Federal government under the presidency of Mr. Muhammadu Buhari. No Nigerian president has been so distrusted. Not even the gap-toothed General who came to power once with a bag of tricks and whom Nigerians knew was a born-trickster, and affably called him “Maradona” after the Argentine mesmerizer. Nigerians could not trust him, but at least, he was their lovable rogue, warts and all. With Buhari, even with the fierce ascetic visage of the sanctimonious Mullah, it is not the same. His tricks are the equivalents of the flat joke. Nobody laughs. It is rooted in what Nigerians now recognize as Buhari’s practice of the Taqquiya – the doctrinal appropriations of the rights of the Muslim, under Islamic practice, to dissimulate or lie, or deceive, in order to preserve himself or his intentions, or advance the cause of his faith.
It is that kind of trickery which Buhari himself has claimed, long before he became elected president, as the basis of his politics. Buhari is first and above all, a Fulani and an adherent of the laws of the Sharia before he is president of Nigeria. And Nigerians now know what this means: the president is batting for wickets totally on the opposite side of what it means to be Nigerian. It is not unusual for a president of Nigeria to emerge from an ethnic cocoon unto the national stage. But once on that national stage, Nigerians expect such an individual to rise above their ethnic roots, and see Nigeria broadly as a single constituency, and thus be able to deal with the rest on a fair basis in order to earn the trust necessary to administer such complex a nation as Nigeria. This has been the standard expectation of every Nigerian president, however flawed. With president Buhari things quickly changed. It took him only six months in office, and he rapidly lost the goodwill and trust that followed his election on which many Nigerians had pinned so much hope for a new purposeful country offered new, purposeful leadership.
The coalition that brought Buhari to power had talked up his incorruptibility; his discipline; his frugality, and his faith. He is a “born again democrat!” the playwright, Wole Soyinka, who had held Nigeria’s moral compass even declared in one of the weirdest and most unnecessary acts of turn-coating against one’s better conscience ever recorded in history! Soyinka’s endorsement of Buhari was like pinching one’s nose and eating one’s poop. But it was all the kind of sacrifice made, all with deep concern for nation, to give it hope once more. Everyone ignored the warning signs, many of them evident from Buhari’s past actions, and past declarations and utterances. Buhari who at a meeting of the Fulani that he addressed in Central Africa Republic in 2000 openly called for a union of the Fulani peoples in West Africa to secure their ways of life. Buhari who had once openly admonished Muslims never to vote for Christian infidels but only Muslims to protect their interests.
Buhari who had claimed that he was above everything else a Muslim and an adherent of the Sharia, above the Nigerian constitution; and even called for the total imposition of the Sharia in Nigeria as reported by the Guardian and the Associated Press. “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria,” Buhari was quoted in the press in August 2001. “It is a legal responsibility which God has given us, within the context of one Nigeria, to continue to uphold the practice of Sharia wholeheartedly … and to educate non-Muslims that they have nothing to fear…What remains for Muslims in Nigeria is for them to redouble their efforts, educate Muslims on the need to promote the full implementation of Sharia law,” Buhari was quoted in the Associated Press. Nigerians now see the Fulani militia, also known as the “Herdsmen” as the advance guard of violent actors that would have unleashed bloodtide on Nigeria had Jonathan not conceded the presidency. These armed Guerrillas already fanned out waiting, but their time was not yet because Buhari got the presidency.
But rather than heal Nigeria, he began a brazen project of Fulanization, starting with his strategic appointments, and restructuring of the entire Nigerian security leadership. And then, the Fulani guerillas, already restless began their plan B operations: kidnapping, raping, and sacking communities. But from a strategic position, this is just the guise for keeping the campaign active, and mastering the forest terrains from Central to Southern Nigeria, and establishing critical logistical networks, and staying at the ready for a long guerrilla war when the time calls. They are ready, hiding in the forests of the middle belt and Southern Nigeria, waiting for their signal. Too many Nigerians already believe this, and think that a great war is in the offing. And the president’s actions have not helped to defuse this scenario.
Buhari in fact played his hands too quickly, and too openly to disguise his intentions. And two very critical voices in this matter, Obasanjo and Danjuma, both of whom should know, have openly accused Buhari of this plot to “Islamize and Fulanize” Nigeria. Nigerians thus no longer see president Buhari as an arbiter of their complex nationalist aspirations, but as an intensely partisan ethnic nationalist and religious fundamentalist intent on the conquest of the rest of Nigeria on behalf of his Fulani people.
Mr. Buhari has thus lost the kind of support that undergirded the broad-based coalition that brought him to power in 2015. A vast number of Nigerians have lost faith in him as a president of Nigeria, period. A majority of Nigerians actively believe that President Buhari has an agenda other than a Nigerian nationalist agenda. It is an agenda to open the Northern borders of Nigeria, and surreptitiously let in the wandering and unsettled Fulani of West Africa, and resettle them permanently in a new Nigerian homeland through a strategic displacement of indigenous communities long settled in what is now Nigeria.
Global warming is in part responsible for this movement of the Fulani, but so also is the promise of loot. A changing environment makes the pastoral life increasingly unsustainable, and the pressure is very clearly on the Fulani. Now, let me make this rather clear: the Fulani citizens of Nigeria have every right to settle wherever they wish in Nigeria. The constitution of Nigeria that grants that citizens right assures them of this protection. No Nigerian has anymore rights to settle anywhere they want in Nigeria, and that should never be denied the Fulani. This is clear to many Nigerians. What is not clear to Nigerians, and why a growing resistance is brewing everywhere in Nigeria against the Fulani is the forced appropriation of ancestral lands by the Fulani, through a project whose end has been described as the “Fulanization” and “Islamization,” of Nigeria. History betrays the Fulani, because the fate of the Hausa vassals of the Fulani, and Afonja in Ilorin is the red flag many Nigerians see. RUGA to them is therefore conquest by other means.