By Emmanuel Uffot
Amidst the wanton killings and destruction of properties linked to the rampaging Fulani herdsmen in some parts of the country without any noticeable action from the Presidency to stem the tide, the decision by the Federal Government to cede lands across the country as settlement for the herdsmen has drawn the anger of many Nigerians and state governors.
The latest controversy over the burning issue which has been lingering for over year when the former Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh hinted of federal Government plan to establish cattle colonies in states across the country was fuelled by a report credited to the federal government that a law has been gazette for the establishment of herdsmen settlement across the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, had over the weekend confirmed that the federal government had gazette land in all the states of the federation for Fulani herdsmen settlement but noted that government would not impose the settlement tagged Ruga settlement on any state.
Prominent among the state governors kicking against the herdsmen settlement is the governor of Benue State Samuel Ortom. Ortom who had earlier passed a law banning open grazing in the state while reacting to the proposed settlement through his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, on Monday, challenged the Federal Government to show any proof of gazetted land in the state.
He said, “We wish to make it clear that no land in Benue State has been gazetted for grazing routes, grazing reserves, cattle colonies and Ruga settlements, contrary to the Presidency’s claim.
“We expect the Federal Government to publicly tender documents of the claimed gazetted land in Benue State to put the matter to rest.
“The Federal Government should show titles to the land it claims to have in Benue State, the evidence of compensation it paid to owners of such land, as well as the purpose for which the land was acquired.
“The Benue State Government has already made known its stand on the Ruga settlements matter that the state will not be part of the project.
“This was why the government and people of the state rejected the attempt to impose the Ruga settlement projects on them without the consent and approval of the governor who controls and administers the land in the state in trust for the people.”
Similarly the governor of Ekiti State Kayode Fayemi said nobody could come from outside to take the land of the Ekiti people.
Fayemi, who paid a condolence visit to the Orin Ekiti community on Monday over the killing of a hunter, Emmanuel Ilori, assured the people that nobody coming from outside the state would be allowed to take over the land from its people.
He said that traditional hunters and security agencies would henceforth work together to ensure adequate security for the people of the state as he assured that people of the state would henceforth witness deployment of more soldiers, armed policemen and other security agencies so that they could sleep with their two eyes closed.
“Nobody is coming to take our land in Ekiti. The Governor of Ekiti State has power over the land of Ekiti and it is the person that the governor gives land in Ekiti that can use the land of Ekiti.
“If there are negative comments being peddled around that some people are coming to take over Ekiti land, they are mere hearsay. It cannot happen in Ekiti, except I am no longer the Governor of Ekiti State and there is nobody that can be governor in Ekiti that will cede Ekiti land to outsiders because our land is not even enough for us.
“Adequate security of our people is what concerns me most in Ekiti and Nigeria and I want our people to ignore the lies and falsehood some individuals are spreading around. There is nobody that will be governor in Ekiti that will allow outsiders to take over our communities from the people here or say that people coming.
It could be recalled that his predecessor Ayodele Fayose had outlawed open grazing in Ekiti during his tenure.
Also the South -East Governors’ Forum said that Federal Government had no gazetted land in the zone for Ruga settlements, cattle colonies or any nomenclature it was given by the central government.
The Chairman of the forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, who spoke through his media aide, Emma Uzo, said that Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Abia and Imo states had not given the Federal Government any land for Ruga settlements and that thee was no land in Igboland for that.
“There is no gazzetted land for Ruga in Ebonyi State or any other state in the South -East zone. There is no gazetted land for any establishment of cattle ranch or colony. There is no part of Ebonyi or Igbo land that is designated for such a purpose by the Federal Government,” the governor said.
Meanwhile, Ruga settlement project attracted more reactions as the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in Benue State opposed the settlement, saying it was meant to promote a Fulani agenda.
The state Chairman of CAN, Dr Augustine Akpen-Leva, at a press conference in Makurdi, stated that the Ruga settlement was of no relevance to the people of the state.
Also Taraba State youths and the state leadership of CAN rejected the Ruga settlement scheme.
While the youth group led by the state President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, Udi Adamu, staged a peaceful protest against the scheme in Jalingo, the state capital, the state CAN Chairman, Dr Innocent Solomon, in a statement, said the scheme was unacceptable.
On its part, the Ijaw Youth Council described the Ruga settlements for herdsmen in some parts of the country as a recipe for crisis, insisting that the Ijaw people would resist them.
IYC President, Eric Omare, said it was wrong for one ethnic group to impose its wish on the entire country, warning that the Ijaw people were ready for war should there be any attempt to take their land for the purpose of Ruga settlements.
A coalition of human rights activists, under the aegis of Greater Restoration Initiative, also faulted the Ruga settlement scheme, describing it as “land grab initiative.”
The organisation urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “rebuild destroyed and displaced communities of farmers and not Ruga settlements” for his kinsmen.
While condemning the scheme, the GRI, in a statement by its President, Dr. James Mozeh, in Abuja on Monday, said a disclaimer by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on the Ruga initiative, was not enough to explain the personality behind its supervision and the reason behind it.
In Edo State, the Peoples Democratic Party, Edo State chapter, vowed to drag Governor Godwin Obaseki to court, if he did not renege on his alleged plan to cede parts of the state for Ruga settlement.
The state Chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, in Benin on Monday, said more worrisome was the silence from the governor of the state when his colleagues had come out to vehemently oppose the scheme.
He said, “It is not something that is political. It is something about the Edo people. We heard reports of people being killed, people being chased out of their houses. This is quite disturbing.
“You will agree with me that it is not in our culture to bring in animals to destroy farms that we laboured to cultivate.
“This issue of Ruga settlement can be likened to the situation where you will carry pigs from the south, to a complete Muslim community and you say you want to create a space for people who have engaged in piggery to do their farms in a Muslim community. That is the same way it is for us in Edo State, and you know very well it is not part of our culture.
“So, if the Governor decides to go ahead in spite of the opposition by the good people of Edo State, we feel heavily heart-broken. You can rest assured that we will take all available steps to protect the interest of our people.
“You cannot rule out our position as to take a legal action if he decides to go ahead,” he stressed.
Also lending his voice to the vexed issue, the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Gani Adams, said that the United States was worried by the tension which the Federal Government’s introduction of Ruga settlements for herdsmen had created in some states.
According to a statement by the media office of Gani Adams, the US Embassy officials in Lagos who visited him in his Lagos residence expressed worry about the planned policy.
The statement stated that the US Political Officer, Shashank Iyer, and Political Specialist, Arnold Abulime, expressed their concern about the issue when they visited Adams to seek his views on the security situation in Nigeria.
Some of those present at the meeting were former Minister of Defence, Dupe Adelaja; Dr Akin Sonaiya; former Political Adviser to the President, Akin Osuntokun; Publicity Secretary of the Oodua Peoples Congress, Yinka Oguntimehin.
The statement quoted the US envoys as saying that they knew Nigerians had the capacity to pull through hard times but stated that ethnic issues could put them asunder.
The statement read, “The US was concerned about the tension in the country, especially now with the introduction of Ruga. The concern of the US is how all ethnic groups in the country can live peacefully.
“It is tricky getting all to live together, so that is why there is the need to meet and share perspectives. We need to be able to move the needle forward together in Nigeria, deal with ethnic issues capable of destabilising the country.
“Nigerians will always find a way around economic issues, but ethnic issues have a way of destabilising the country.”
Adams in his response said the solution to all the crises bedevilling the country was in restructuring.
He said the problems would have been resolved within four years if there had been restructuring.
He said, “It is not in the world’s interest for Nigeria to go to war. The world will be affected. With a population of over 200 million, every part of the world will feel the disintegration of Nigeria.
“So what we are seeking for is for your government to prevail on Nigeria’s government to restructure. Most of our problems will be solved in four years once restructuring takes place.
“Our system is going to a state of collapse, especially with the Buhari Government in the last four years. And it can only get worse. If Buhari does not restructure, it will get worse.
“To save this country, the only way is to accept the report of the Constitutional Conference of 2014 or revert to the 1963 Constitution. As it is now, no zone is peaceful anymore.
“Even in Katsina, the President’s state, two traditional rulers were kidnapped without their traces till today.”
But the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, said that the state was fully in support of the controversial Ruga settlements.
Mohammed defended the scheme on the grounds that 60 to 70 per cent of Bauchi people were of the Fulani ethnic stock.
The governor, who spoke after he held a meeting with the President, noted that the Ruga scheme was voluntary; hence no state was compelled to be part of the implementation.
Mohammed, a former Senator and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, said, “Sixty or 70 per cent of the population in Bauchi are Fulani and therefore we must leverage this.”
Although there is no reported cases of Fulani herdsmen attacked on people in Akwa Ibom but public commentators have frowned against the Ruga settlement maintaining that hredsmen was a private venture which federal government should not venture in as no such gesture has been extended to fishermen and farmers across the country.
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