BY AZUKA ONWUKA
Injustice is defined as treating equals unequally or treating unequals equally. This is what President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to display on issues concerning the Fulani since he assumed office on May 29, 2015. This injustice has immensely helped to stoke the fire of insecurity and instability in Nigeria.
The President’s latest action is the establishment of so-called Ruga Settlements for Fulani herdsmen in some states of the federation, despite opposition from state governors and socio-political organisations.
According to the Benue State Government, some weeks ago, a director in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture informed officials of the state Ministry of Agriculture that he had received directives from the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja to establish Ruga, which means ‘Fulani settlement,’ in Otukpo, Tarka and Ukum Local Government Areas of the state.
In spite of learning that the proposed action was illegal and unconstitutional, a few weeks later, the director went ahead and brought in contractors to begin the process of establishing the settlements in the selected LGAs.
Over the weekend, it was reported that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had awarded contracts for the construction of Ruga infrastructure complete with sanitary facilities in 12 states meant to serve as pilots for the project. The states in this first phase include Taraba, Benue, Adamawa, Plateau, Zamfara, Kano and Kaduna.
In May, there was a rumour that the Federal Government had approved the sum of N100bn naira as compensation for Fulani herdsmen. At first, it sounded absurd, but the spokesman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, disclosed that the said N100bn was what erstwhile president of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, promised them for the establishment of ranches.
Similarly, on a number of occasions, members of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria had made comments, which suggested that the killings carried out in different parts of the country were reprisals over their cattle or people that were killed in such communities.
One would have expected a government that swore to protect the people to arrest such people for taking the law into their own hands. But nothing happened to any of those who made such statements.
The issue of Buhari’s undue favouritism to Fulani and other northerners in the area of appointments has been over-stretched. His recent appointments since his second term commenced have shown that he has no plans of changing that trend. Given that he will not be President forever, the issue of appointments may be glossed over as something that has a terminal date.
However, the most knotty of all issues is that there is a plan to establish cattle colonies, now rechristened Ruga Settlements, in the 36 states of the federation. These planned settlements, no doubt, will be permanent and they will create problems between the indigenes and the settlers now and in future.
The unanswered question has been: Why should the Federal Government take too much interest in the private commercial venture of the Fulani?
The weak argument from those who support this is that in different parts of the nation the Federal Government and state governments build airports, markets, housing estates, railway lines and stations, garages, stadiums, and the like, even though private businesses are conducted in some of these places. But the weakness of this argument is that all of them are for the general public. None is for any ethnic group. So there is no discrimination against any ethnic group.
The animal husbandry of the Fulani is a private business just like fishing, cocoa-farming, poultry, motor spare parts business, electronics business and the rest. The cows are owned by individuals who sell them to whoever is interested in buying. They don’t pay the proceeds into the federation account, as it is done for petroleum.
Because fishing is a private business, those who engage in it either go to rivers to fish or construct fishing private ponds. They either use their own land or buy/rent land for such a venture. Those who sell computers or mobile phones or motor spare parts invest in such businesses with their money. If they need shops or offices, they rent or buy them. When they make profit, they pocket such and only pay taxes to the different levels of government. Government does not take unusual interest in their business. Government does not provide them settlements across the country where they will live with their families and do their personal business.
What the administration of Buhari is doing is creating present and future centres of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. Even if the Federal Government uses its might to collect the land of the people for use as Ruga Settlements for herders, those who have been dispossessed of their land will not be happy. As time goes on, there will be perennial conflict between them and the Fulani inhabitants of the settlements.
Except for the period of the Nigerian Civil War, Nigeria has never witnessed the depth and height of insecurity that is prevailing in the country today. The sad thing is that the Muhammadu Buhari administration appears to have resigned itself to the situation. As a result, many Nigerians cannot help but feel that the perpetrators of violence are above the law. Having seen the levity with which those who kill others are treated, more people are encouraged to engage in more criminal acts, such as banditry, kidnapping and killings.
Buhari’s latest action seems to have confirmed the fear, as expressed by many, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, that current government has a grand “Fulanisation” agenda. In Plateau State, for example, where there was ethnic violence for many years, the reason was that some people who settled in Plateau State some 100 years ago eventually saw themselves as owners of the land and began a contest with the indigenes. This led to years of killings that turned a once peaceful Jos into an unsafe place.
The fear of the people is that by creating settlements for the Fulani in all states of Nigeria, the Buhari administration has a long-term plan of creating a Fulani population across the nation that will eventually rise in power against the indigenous population. Interestingly, many of the Fulani that will be housed in these Ruga Settlements are not even Nigerians, but citizens of neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad, etc, who freely cross into Nigeria through the porous borders.
Buhari is not the first Nigerian President of Fulani extraction. Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua were also of Fulani extraction. They governed Nigeria with a relative even hand. There was no brazen favouritism for their kith and kin. During their tenure, the word “Fulani” was not on the front burner in national discourse. But under Buhari, it has been a major issue of national discussion every week.
Nobody wishes the Fulani evil. The Fulani, like other Nigerian ethnic groups, have a right to survive. But no ethnic group should survive at the expense of another. Open grazing of cattle is anachronistic. It has no place in any modern society because cows are large in size and can gore people to death, in addition to eating up people’s crops and soiling the streets. They need to be sheltered and taken care of. But it is unjust to forcefully take people’s land to house them within other people’s homelands. The Fulani are indigenous to some northern states. Such settlements should be created within their own states. And this should be left for states, local government areas and individuals to do. For example, the Kano State Government has repeatedly said that it has enough land to house all the cows in Nigeria. It is curious why Kano’s invitation has been ignored.
President Buhari should face the critical job of providing governance for Nigeria and stop acting as if he is the President of the Fulani Republic. Under his watch, Nigeria has become more divided than ever experienced, violence and bloodshed have gone far beyond acceptable levels and poverty has galloped out of control. These are the issues he should pay extraordinary attention to and provide solutions for.