By Ikechukwu Amaechi
I am not a fan of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Here is a man who, despite his golden opportunity to reinvent Nigeria and put the country on an irreversible march to greatness, dealt its fledgeling democracy a blow. Considering the circumstances that led to his civilian presidency on May 29, 1999, even the most unrepentant agnostic, ever doubtful of the God-factor in the affairs of men, grudgingly acknowledged the invisible forces at work in his favour. He missed the opportunity. Most, if not all, of the crises bedevilling the country today, are consequences of his political bad faith.
But his recent alarm that President Muhammadu Buhari was executing an Islamisation-Fulanisation agenda got me worried. Because we are a people living in denial, pretending that refusal to accept the truth about what is happening is an act of patriotism, Obasanjo was called out in some quarters. But who can honestly deny that we are facing an existential crisis in Nigeria today?
President Buhari is doing nothing to calm frayed nerves and disabuse the minds of his accusers. His in-your-face leadership style is not only unusual and shocking in a democracy, but it also portrays him as someone who does not care what people think of him and his actions.
Some Nigerians may have forgotten that former President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, disclosed two years ago that Buhari, very early in his administration, requested that the bank concentrates its interventionist policies in Nigeria in his region.
Also read: I’ll never disappoint Nigerians – Buhari
“In my very first meeting with President Buhari said he specifically that he would like us to shift our focus to the northern regions of Nigeria and we’ve done that,” Kim said at a press briefing on the sidelines of the World Bank-IMF annual meetings in Washington D.C., on October 13, 2017.
Since then, the president has made deliberate, undisguised efforts to promote the interests of a section of the country over and above the interests of the over 300 other ethnic groups in Nigeria. The president feels more at home with his Fulani kith and kin in foreign countries than with fellow citizens of different ethnic origins.
In a recent interview, Prof Anya O. Anya put it this way: “Buhari’s first trip out of Nigeria after being installed President of Nigeria was to the Niger Republic and in Niger, he was presented with the gift of a white horse and a sword. My Fulani friend tells me that is the symbol of welcome for a returning successful and victorious warrior. So, as far as the people of Niger Republic were concerned, this was a great son who had now returned after conquering. Secondly, he plans to have Nigerian railways going through Katsina to Zinda in northern Niger. It is taken for granted that Nigeria will pay for it. Thirdly, he also plans to build a refinery in Katsina but the crude will be supplied not from the Niger Delta but from Niger.”
These actions are inexplicable and unbecoming. Buhari’s public policies seem to favour foreigners more than Nigerians without regards to the fact that public policies are made in the public and collective interest. Where they are contrived to advance sectional or vested interests, that goal is negated.
In no other area has this goal been so flagrantly and unabashedly violated than in the way the administration has handled the so-called herders-farmers conflict. The introduction of the controversial Rural Grazing Areas, RUGA, herdsmen settlement policy, is a new low.
Buhari claims that this latest gambit is the antidote to conflicts between pastoralists and farmers which has claimed thousands of lives and left millions destitute in IDP camps.
On May 11, only a week before his first term cabinet was dissolved, Buhari, as disclosed by Audu Ogbeh, immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, clandestinely approved the RUGA policy.
“Just 10 days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari approved a programme called the RUGA settlement,” Ogbeh said on May 21, 2019.
On Sunday, June 30, the presidency released a statement claiming that the implementation of RUGA settlements was to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders.
Before then, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Umar, had announced on Tuesday, June 25 that the settlements will house nomadic herdsmen.
“We felt that to do away with herders-farmers’ conflict, we need to settle our nomads and those who breed animals. We want to put them in a place that has been developed as a settlement, where we provide water for their animals, pasture, schools for their children, security, agro-rangers, etc.,” he said.
So, what is being proposed is an exclusive colony for Fulani herdsmen across the country with the state-of-art amenities and infrastructure such as hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing companies.
Femi Adesina, the president’s Special Adviser on Media, gave a hint of this plot on July 3, 2018, when he admonished those opposed to Abuja’s ranching and colony scheme for herdsmen to have a rethink because they were better off living with the ranches and colonies than dying protecting their ancestral lands.
“You can only have ancestral attachment when you are alive. If you are talking about ancestral attachment if you are dead, how does the attachment matter?” he said almost cringing on a live television programme.
The implication was that government had abdicated its primary responsibility of protecting the lives and property of citizens. The message could not have been more cold-bloodedly delivered. I still shudder each time I think about it.
Truth be told, the RUGA policy is nothing other than a land grab for Fulani herdsmen and government’s assurance that the administration has no plans to force settlements on any state flies in the face of its stealthy gazette of lands across the federation.
The hubris of government officials is insufferable. They feel they don’t owe Nigerians any explanation.
On Monday, presidential media aide, Garba Shehu, said opposition to the project was based on politics, blackmail and the promotion of ethnic hatred and government’s answer to that was to contemptuously ignore those who are asking questions. “My agreement with the officials that have given us information in the ministry of agriculture is that we would keep silent about it,” he said, even as he admitted that the government had approved funding for the project and work had already started. The money deployed is the people’s patrimony. Yet the presidency in a democracy does not owe them any explanation.
President Buhari is playing a very dangerous game. The battle of ethnic domination is one he cannot win. By doing what he is doing, he is pushing Nigeria to the brink.
To be clear, this project is not about the rehabilitation of the indigenous Fulani population in Nigeria.
It is scary and incomprehensible that a president of a country is seizing ancestral lands from citizens to resettle foreigners simply because they share the same ethnic heritage with him.
As the president and other top government and security officials had admitted in the past, the bandits who have been killing Nigerian farmers are foreigners. They kill without any compunction, driving farmers, who have been contributing to the food solutions in the country, away from their ancestral lands and homes. Rather than bringing them to book, Buhari is offering them citizenship on a platter of their clattering AK 47 guns and state-of-art settlements to boot. As Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka warned on Tuesday, the Federal Government’s handling of this crisis could spark an explosion in the country.
“I think that there is going to be trouble in this country if this Ruga thing is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as a priority. Any country where cattle take priority over human life is definitely at an elementary stage,” he said.
*This piece was written before the Federal Government announced the suspension of the Ruga programme.