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Understanding the Ruga Settlement Program and its Rash Acceptance by the Nasarawa State Governor

By Reuben Rine

It is no longer news that several states in Nigeria, especially the north-central, have for the past four years come under intense, continuous, coordinated and unabated attacks allegedly by the Fulani herdsmen. Most of these unprovoked attacks often leave an unaccountable number of persons, especially women and children dead, communities ransacked and burnt down, and farmlands destroyed. Within these years, such states witness soaring cases of mass burials as a result of the atrocities by the killer herdsmen. These acts of terrorism against the people fared without any arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.

In some quarters, the perpetrators were identified and even paid huge sums to pacify them from killing. This was the case in Kaduna State, where Governor El-Rufai revealed that the Fulani militias attacking southern Kaduna communities came from neighboring Niger, Cameroon, Chad, and even far away Mali and Senegal, and so where traced to their countries and paid to stop the killings of Southern Kaduna natives and the destruction of their communities.

Most recently, there were reports that the Federal Government had offered the Fulani group, Miyetti Allah the sum of N100 billion to curtail crimes (mainly killings and kidnappings) allegedly being carried out by its members. Although the presidency denied the report, Mr. Saleh Alhassan the National Secretary of Miyetti Allah has said his group indeed demanded from the Federal Government the payment of N100bn to herders but for the construction of ranches and not for amnesty as reported on social media.

We are in grave danger when in a country, the perpetrators of high-level crimes and atrocities are known but then treated with kid gloves and even rewarded with huge sums instead of arrest and prosecution. In the same country also, some individuals are made to face the full wrath of the law at the slightest act of violence or agitation.

Shortly before the expiration of President Buhari’s first term, the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture Chief Audu Ogbeh disclosed the approval of the Ruga settlement program by the federal government for herders to help bring an end to farmers/herders clashes. In his words, “We are going to build settlements where herders will live, grow their cattle and produce milk. The milk will be bought by a Milking palour thus preventing their wives from moving around with milk. This is especially to avert any conflict between the herders and the farmers.”

Corroborating with the minister’s disclosure, Alh. Mohammadu Umar, the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, on Tuesday, June 25th, said, “Under the new plan (Ruga settlement), cattle herders are expected to be registered and recognized with cooperatives for the purpose of the ranching scheme. These cooperatives will then be able to get rental agreements for land from state governments and also benefit from ranch resources on several terms including loans, grants, and subsidies.’’

After the loud outcries and agitations by different pressure groups and socio-cultural organizations, the wildly broadcasted cattle colony project initiated and championed by the Buhari administration in favor of the Fulani herdsmen died a natural death, even when some APC governors voluntarily gave out lands for the scheme.

Through months of quiet scheming, the Buhari administration has refurbished and rebranded the previously rejected cattle colony project and has given it a new name to implement the same objectives of the massively rejected program.

Cattle colony project and the Ruga settlement program have the same goal; the furtherance and empowerment one ethnic group using state resources. To start with, cattle rearing is a personal business, and so, I wonder how every move by the central government is skewed towards favoring the Fulani cattle business and not a holistic approach encompassing the entity of the citizenry, most especially those heavily affected by the attacks by the alleged Fulani militias.

I wonder how the central government will also reward the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and maybe the dreaded Boko Haram groups for harmonious and peaceful coexistence.

During a visit to President Buhari by Nasarawa State delegation led by Governor Abdullahi Sule, the Governor was asked by a reporter; “………how are you tackling the issue of security in your state?”

The Governor responded: “In Nasarawa state, we have taken the issue of security very very seriously. Recently, because we know Mr. President is after the security of this country, so we looked at tackling security through agriculture. So we decided to use the fund that is going to come……… you know, first and foremost there is what they called Ruga Project by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, so Nasarawa State is one of the few States that are going to start that project, where we are going to employ a lot of people and we are going to separate the herders from the farmers so that they can be in separate areas you know for that purpose.”

He continued, “Then there are so many intervention funds mainly for agriculture to employ the youth and promote agriculture. So, and we are embracing each one of them. But also, we are coming up with a bill where we are involving our traditional rulers; you know……… to be part and parcel of the security of their various domains, and that is one of the areas that we are approaching agriculture.”

Since the intensified attacks by the Fulani militias, the powers that be repeatedly insisted that such attacks are perpetrated by foreign Fulani militias with no proof for their claim. Various communities in Nasarawa State were attacked repeatedly by these alleged Fulani herdsmen, with the recent occurrence in Akwanga Local Government Area, doubling as the Governor’s LGA.

If these heinous crimes are perpetrated by the known Fulani herdsmen, one will be forced to ask why they have not been arrested and prosecuted over the years? And if we all agree (as we’ve been meant to believe) that these attacks are by foreign Fulani militias, then the problem is far from getting solved.

The hurried acceptance of the implementation of the Ruga settlement program by the Nasarawa State Governor raises serious questions that need urgent and sincere answers.

Is the Ruga settlement program adopted by Nasarawa State government now a reward for the killers of our people?

Are we ceding our land to foreign militias?
Are we giving our lands to unknown, unidentified and faceless persons? Or better still to ghosts?

Will pacifying our killers the panacea for peaceful co-existence?

What happens to our people that cannot access their farmlands due to fear of attacks?

How can our injured people be pacified and rewarded?

What happens to the weapons stock by the Fulani militias?

We were unprovokely attacked repeatedly and killed in cold blood. Our killers were not arrested nor brought to book. Finally, we are now to give out our ancestral land, our only inheritance to our killers.

It is erroneous for the government to believe that the Ruga settlement program is mainly to curb the ‘farmers/herders clashes.’

It is rather unfortunate for the government to continuously downplay the brazen and highly coordinated attacks on our people by Fulani militias using assorted, sophisticated and expensive weapons, including those of mass destruction as mere farmers/herders clashes.

Truth be told, these are clear instances of annihilation and not merely farmers/herders clashes as the government always make the world to believe.

All the southeast governors, governors of Benue and Taraba States, and some governors from the southwest have openly rejected the Ruga settlement program. Most of them vow never to allow such program in their states. Furthermore, socio-cultural groups, including the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere and other cultural organizations in Benue State have faulted the plan by the Federal Government to establish Ruga settlements for herdsmen in states across the country.

The sudden eagerness and hurried willingness to promptly accept the Ruga settlement by the Nasarawa State government leaves one with cold feet. The intervention funds that the governor disclosed should be massively used on beneficial projects and for the betterment of the citizenry. Nasarawa State still lags in infrastrural development, education, health care and many more.

Every Nigerian comes from a particular State. The Fulani herdsmen have their States of origin; as such, it will be more practical for them to return to their home States and fully benefit from the funds appropriated for intervention programs. If their State governments prefer the Ruga settlement program, such states can then proceed with such intervention program. It is simple and straight forward!

This major decision hurryingly taken by Governor Abdullahi Sule is in bad fate. It is not in the interest of the citizenry. Intervention funds for Nasarawa State should be spent on its citizens. The killers of our people should not be pampered and treated as princes while our people are kept in camps as internally displaced persons.

Well-meaning indigenes of Nasarawa State should massively reject decisions that will not profit our people. Whatever and whoever script the sitting government is acting that is not in tandem with the safety, comfort and well-being of our people should be contended and rejected with civility.

Contact Reuben Rine: [email protected]

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Reuben Rine and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."