By Dele Sobowale
“If you can keep your head when all about you/ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it….you’ll be a man..”—Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936.
The title of the long poem from which those lines were extracted was “IF”; and it was introduced to us in Form Three, in 1960, at Igbobi College, Yaba, by our Literature teacher. I fell in love with all the challenges placed before a young person by Kipling before he could become a Man and spent the next three months memorising it with the hope of trying to achieve those tough goals. I have never succeeded – until now – and with the first line. Never in my adult life have I felt that the entire country is wrong on an important matter which could be a great opportunity or a major disaster as, depending on how we manage it as RUGA.
“To every man and nation comes the moment to decide; in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side.” James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891.
It is quite possible that there has never been a serious public policy issue which has evoked the amount of falsehood by supporters and critics of the Federal Government as this one. Probably, none had called forth so much emotion and so little reason as Cattle Settlements – which is a synonym for RUGA. People who one had respected a great deal, on both sides of this farcical debate, had been heating up the polity instead of shedding light on how we can get out of a mess whose origins predated the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern parts of what became Nigeria in 1914.
Certainly, the FG had mismanaged the entire matter. But, that does not remove the fact that herdsmen have roamed all over this country long before Buhari was born. The factors which created the stage for the drama playing itself out started long before even the oldest Nigerian was born. They have just reached a climax during Buhari’s tenure and the FG is handling them very badly. That we are now trying to solve a problem at least two hundred years old is the first fact we must all get into our heads.
Furthermore, irrespective of what we do now, the problem will outlast anybody alive today. We can only start the process of finding a national solution acceptable to all stakeholders; and this we must do before this issue tears Nigeria apart. That is a collateral fact we must accept.
“If you don’t intend having a compromise, you don’t negotiate at all.”
From the grand-standing on display by various groups – MACBAN, AFENIFERE, AREWA CONSULTATIVE FORUM, OHANEZE etc – one would get the impression that everybody, who has anything to say on this matter, has ruled out negotiation. Every group appears to be issuing an ultimatum – accept our stand or there will be trouble. Nothing can be more unpatriotic. That is the shortest route to anarchy on a national level. Nobody will win this one; all will be losers. In fact, if ever there is a matter calling for negotiation by well-meaning Nigerians, objective and devoid of partisan emotions, RUGA is it. We must negotiate our way out of this mess. Anybody who thinks otherwise lives in a Fools’ Republic and not the Federal Republic of Nigeria – as I hope to demonstrate presently.
However, before we can have meaningful and fruitful parley leading to a peaceful solution, we need to get rid of the factors which are impeding us and which consequently have resulted in all Nigerians almost losing their heads.
Two individuals represent the major obstacles confronting us in this endeavour. One speaks for the FG; the other stands proxy for the divergent opposition groups. Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President, is (I hope so) my friend even when we now stand on opposite sides of various policies and activities of the FG. Yinka Odumakin is an acquaintance. We agree more on most things these days. But, he scares the hell out of me. Several groups stand behind these two men whose utterances these days, unless checked, can lead to national calamity. Just in case anybody asks: how can two men set a country ablaze? Let me remind the person that the assassination of an obscure Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife by two Serbian terrorists started World War I, in 1914. Over 30 million souls worldwide went to their graves and whole towns and cities were razed to the ground. The lesson is simple: never underestimate the damage a few people can do when a nation is as tense as we are now. Permit me to briefly sketch the two individuals.
Garba and Yinka have arrived at their current destinations from two different directions. I must also partially disclose that I have found myself in the same political camp with both of them in the past, even if for short periods.
Yinka was with the Buhari Campaign Organisation in 2010 when I was also there; he left soon after my arrival. What struck me then was his extremism. His press releases about former President Jonathan would convey the impression that the man had no redeeming qualities. By contrast, Buhari was the epitome of all good characteristics a leader should possess. I lacked his absolute faith in Buhari. Then, something strange occurred. When Jonathan decided to appoint a Constitutional Review Committee, Yinka and his wife Dr Okei-Odumakin were the only couple among the participants. Perhaps it was a coincidence; but, Jonathan acquired some human characteristics thereafter. Yinka, incidentally, was not the only former critic of Jonathan who discovered his virtues after he got closer to the former President. Reuben Abati and Femi Fani-Kayode made the same discovery. But, that need not delay us here. The point is his (Yinka) tendency to perceive issues and individuals in terms of absolute black and white. Unfortunately, in a multi-ethnic, multi-religion, multi-party and multi-interest country like Nigeria, a matter like ranching or grazing cannot be decided on such simplistic and dangerous grounds. As they say in the US, “no matter how thin you slice the bread, there are always at least two sides to it.” More unfortunate still, he has millions of followers who believe that merely saying “No RUGA” “No grazing” will solve the problem. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, anybody saying that is telling a bloody lie.
Garba Shehu, after leaving the newsroom, had served Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, GCON, for several years. We stood shoulder to shoulder during the struggle to defeat Obasanjo’s Third Term ambition. Atiku has always been in the eye of the storm since he fell out with OBJ. But, Garba had always defended his principal in language that was so refined even his opponents on the other side would gladly shake hands with him – while the disagreement is still on. His appointment as Buhari’s top aide was, for me, one of the best things the President did. And, in the beginning, Garba maintained his composure – perhaps because there was a honeymoon period when critics took the “wait and see” attitude. I was one of them. But, when it became clear that the economy was heading for a recession and Buhari had not even appointed Ministers, some of us could no longer wait. We had seen enough. The recession of 2016, which might have been avoided, was the final point of departure. By then, more Nigerians were also aware that the economy was going to the dogs. The critics multiplied. Then, something happened. The Garba we used to know, who entered Aso Rock accompanied by malaikas, apparently got swallowed by the demons and wizards which Reuben Abati blamed for his own transformation while serving Jonathan.
Almost all Nigerians were caught by surprise when, two weeks ago, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture announced that RUGA implementation would start in twelve states and gradually move to other states. Benue was mentioned among the twelve. It was even reported that Ministry officials were in the state to deliver the ultimatum to the Governor who was hearing about RUGA for the first time. His Excellency erupted like a volcano. He was not alone. Several governors, including APC governors, as well as social and political associations in several states, also said “No to RUGA”.
Garba stepped in. For a former President of the Guild of Editors, who knows that “facts are sacred”, he made statements which the Garba we once knew would not. First, he pronounced that the governors opposing RUGA were doing it because they cannot pay staff salaries. Second, he specifically accused Governor Ortom of using the opposition to RUGA to hide his failures. It was astonishing. As can be proved beyond reasonable doubt, among governors supporting RUGA are those who owe four, five months staff salaries and arrears of entitlements and pension. Comparing Ortom with former Governor Yari, who supports RUGA, would reveal how the second statement is. Yari controversially spent a good part of four years governing Zamfara from Abuja and Mecca. In the process, he abdicated and handed the state to bandits and kidnappers. Katsina State is the kidnapping capital of Nigeria today. The Governor supports RUGA. But, those inanities are minor faults. Garba then took a combative stand which amounted to saying the RUGA will go on whether the states like it or not because there was a gazette to that effect. That brought the roof down on the Buhari administration. Suddenly, even those who had kept quiet were ready to defend their lands with their lives – if necessary.
As of the time of writing this piece, Buhari had ordered the suspension of RAGU. The uproar was too much to be ignored. The President has acted wisely; but, he has only one person to blame for heating up the polity to boiling point – Garba Shehu, who thought insults and maledictions will sell a good idea whose benefits are only now generally misunderstood. President Buhari himself should accept part of the blame. RUGA was hatched in secret; few people except close associates and supporters knew about it. That was deliberate exclusion of other stakeholders which was bound to create the backlash it did. The embarrassment the President has suffered was self-inflicted. He should distance himself from those who advised him on this matter. He should also ask Garba Shehu to stay off comments on RUGA henceforth. My friend has become a bad messenger for a basically good idea – which if well-packaged, will receive the blessing of most Nigerians. Garba is making Yinka very popular and that is not good for the daunting task of finding an acceptable solution which can be endorsed by most stakeholders.