By Chukwuemeka Otuchikere
Rural Grazing Access (RUGA), a policy to appropriate land in 36 States of Nigeria exclusively for Fulani cattle herders has thrust up more questions than answers. The controversy surrounding the sudden emergence of the policy in public domain has raised the ethnic domination agenda index by many notches.
The elements of speed, stealth and surprise give the policy a colouration of the handiwork of a trained military tactician leading an invading army.
The RUGA may be likened to a Trojan horse smuggled into the Nigerian political space by powerful hawkish elements in President Muhammadu Buhari’s inner circle, men with strong predatory tendencies to give economic advantage to a particular ethnic nationality. The policy is suspect, more so, when the inner circle is dominated by people of Hausa-Fulani extraction. This thought is validated by the fact that Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo (VPYO) did not hesitate to dissociate the office of the Vice Presidency with exercising any form of oversight functions with the formulation of the policy.
The Presidency did not help matters as it went further to divulge that about 12 governors had earlier accented to the implementation of pilot schemes in their States, only for two of those States mentioned coming out to deny their involvement. These were Benue and Taraba States who have in place legislations that outlawed open Grazing within their states.
Meanwhile, the uproar raised by generality of the masses especially within the middle belt states and also in the southeastern states had forced the presidency to announce suspension of the policy in the interim.
Notwithstanding the decision of government to suspend this policy, many feel that the genie had been let out of the lamp. To the more than cursory observer, the RUGA is a classic tactical agenda with huge strategic advantage to the promoters. The policy was designed to give one ethnic nationality overwhelming leverage using government assisted positioning approach (GAPA) a proposal to build modern, fully-fitted estates and farm settlement for herders within government acquired lands.
The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) is budgeting to spend a whopping $39 billion to aid business’ owned and operated by a cartel of multi-millionaires, with influence across West and Central Africa. Many of these individuals are also currently seating in powerful positions in the current government.
The current narrative is that herders are finding it difficult to do their business. Very few people see beyond that nomadic herder moving across borders with cows in forest trails and bushes in search of pasture and water. This herder should be seen simply as a worker, not a business owner like many want us to believe.
The real picture draws parallel from scriptures: The story of Jacob and Laban. While Laban reclines in his posh residence, in the city (in this case Abuja, Lagos, Kano or Zaria etc.), Jacob was out in the field battling with the elements trying to earn his wages. My drift is that by RUGA, government is trying to further reward Laban while giving the impression that the ultimate beneficiary is Jacob who earns a few cows after many years of hard labour while the entire herd still belongs to Laban or in the Nigerian scenario MACBAN-the Meyetti Allah Cattle Breeder’s Association of Nigeria.
The MACBAN are the trade union of cow owners. They come on Television occasionally to sensitise the public on their activities especially with the spate of herders-farmers clash recorded in the recent past. Many of them do not look like men who trek long distances in our bushes, but they are urbanised business men who probably inherited these herds through many generations. Rewarding urbanised groups with assets (RUGA) in this case estates should be discouraged. Otherwise, Nigerians will assert that there is actually a Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda as alleged by former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ).
Otuchikere, a geologist and business man wrote in from Calabar.