By Paul Odili
The dog whistle against the Fulani tribe is getting dangerously out of control. The Ruga controversy exemplifies this assertion. The anti-Ruga hysteria is a deliberate attempt to isolate and demonise the Fulani people. In the past, to stoke fear and polarization the press reports about an incipient Hausa/Fulani oligarchic domination, now it is fulanisation and Fulani domination. Isolating the Fulani for this diatribe propaganda; it undermines national cohesion and targets PMB, who is a Fulani.
The suspension of Ruga and its replacement with the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) is more semantic wordplay. Either is designed to solve the same problem. Modernise archaic animal husbandry practice in Nigeria, end herders/farmers clash, improve value chain and create employment. And so why should this be a problem? The irrational fear of so-called domination and takeover of land by Fulani across Nigeria is the driving force. With a population of nearly 200 million people, you have to scratch your head and scratch it, again and again, to see the sense and possibility of that happening now or in the future. Overblown by the press and orchestrated mostly in the South and parts of the middle belt, the merit of the Rugainitiative was lost to alter of religion and ethnic fear.
If you call what went on a debate, I disagree. It is not by definition a debate. There is nothing enlightening about the cacophony of noise on Ruga settlement. From the start the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Abdul Kadir Muazu, who first announced this initiative explained that it was a pilot scheme in some states that showed interest. That should be it but it is not and has not been. So what is happening? Politics of the poisonous type, divisive, incapacitating and unproductive—those propagating it means ill for Nigeria.
There are individuals and groups who have profited by exploiting the fault lines of Nigeria. They thrive on fear-mongering and scapegoating. You have the religious zealots who define every government policy on the basis of its religious interpretation, the ethnic warlords who create an artificial barrier and sees every policy from an ethnic perspective. Then the opposition political parties especially the main opposition party, PDP who more often than do not draw a line between partisan interest and national interest.
What makes the opposition to Ruga settlement such a silly one is that here we are, faced with an interminable crisis between farmers and herders that have led to persistent bloodshed with no end in sight—now a solution, an experimental one, it has to be said is being proposed and purely on voluntary basis for states that wants to be part of it. Yet what is apparent is that states with no interest to participate are the most virulently opposed to Ruga over an imagined Fulani colonization agenda.
Now let’s drill this down a bit. Nigeria is a free country and every citizen is free to settle in any part of the country without let or hindrance. So businesses owned by Nigerians can be established anywhere under existing rules including ranching. Now what is even befuddling is the assumption and mischaracterization that cattle rearing is only for the Fulanis. Yes predominately so but cattle business has many non-fulanis investors too. Moreover, what Ruga propose and NLTP is proposing has no ethnic bias. That is, the initiative is not meant for only Fulanis; which means anyone if interested can own and operate a ranch under Ruga or NLTP. Cow meat is mostly consumed in the South, an opportunity Southern state governments and entrepreneurs can harness to setup ranches owned and managed by Southerners and not Fulanis and through that retain the profits in the south instead of allowing those profits flow to the North.
Despite the howling against Ruga, open grazing is still going on unchecked. In the streets and farmlands across Nigeria even in the south, you find herdsmen roaming around, causing in their wake destruction of farmlands. Violence and insecurity go unreported and thus uninvestigated between farmers and herders yet what we see today is an orchestrated attempt to blackmail and intimidate government from going ahead with a laudable programme.
At the very least those opposed to Ruga should have presented a counterproposal for scrutiny as well, but alas that appears to be a bridge too far. You don’t want Ruga, what do you want a replacement? Since the status quo is no longer an option. If we want to debate an issue that is the way to go—not to howl, issue threats and haul insults. So my point is for those threatening and howling, stop unless you have a better solution. Nigeria belongs to all and as a federal system, we are free to live our lives differently.
The fear-mongering that the Fulanis have a colonialist agenda is a serious one but can we see evidence of that today. Mischief aside, in every nook and cranny of Nigeria today, there are settlements of Hausa/Fulani communities who by craft are migrants. They settle, trade, breed and integrate. Some have lived long in their host communities taking chieftaincy titles; have off springs that speak the local language of communities they now live in. And yet there appears a certain phobia about Fulani. It doesn’t make sense. So if the fear is about so-called Fulani domination, can we give a timeline when this might happen? 10 years, 20 or 100 years from now.
By the same token, the same argument can be made about Igbos and Yorubas. Many live outside their ethnic regions and have done so for decades, raising families and conducting their businesses without any harassment or molestation. I say this because should it arise tomorrow that anyone in any part of Nigeria is profiled, threatened or harassed, I would be among those to object and oppose such divisiveness. Nigeria belongs to all. This impulse for separatism is unhelpful and is doing Nigeria great harm.
Then one other thing—the press in Nigeria is sad to say has not served the country well in this regard. The press in Nigeria appears to be in some connivance with persons and groups I can describe as wolves in sheep clothing. Unable to unmask their real intention, they report them verbatim and uncritically without slightest effort to interrogate their perspectives. The press stands accused of being a major enabler of division and confusion in Nigeria over this issue today. It is sad but true the press is feeding off the fissure in Nigeria. More than any other institution the Press ought to know that to put Nigeria on a tailspin of crisis invoke religion or ethnicity, rational thinking takes flight. Yet the Press is neck deep feeding this ogre. Making Nigerians hate each other and deepening national division.