Following strong opposition from several quarters, President Muhammadu Buhari has suspended implementation of the controversial Ruga settlements project across the country.
President Buhari, yesterday, asked the National Economic Council, NEC, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to suspend implementation of the project under the National Livestock Transformation Plan.
The suspension was disclosed by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, who is chairman of the National Food Security/Herders/Farmers Conflict Committee.
The closed-door meeting by representatives of governors from the six geo-political zones was held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The suspension came on a day Arewa youths, under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, gave southern leaders 30 days to accept the Ruga Project in peace, and a 30-day ultimatum to President Buhari to implement the programme.
The coalition, which accused the President of "deceitfully wobbling" over the security situation in the North, also chastised some northern leaders for fraudulently promoting agitations for power shift to the South in 2023.
It said unless the Fulani were allowed to rear their cattle in peace in the South, they will not allow southerners to enjoy peace in the North.
The development elicited response from Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which insisted on no land for Ruga in the South-East; Afenifere, which described the ultimatum as insulting and provocative; the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, which said the development has exposed the Arewa youths as enemies of the country; and Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, FEHN, Chief Allen Onyema, who urged caution on the part of all stakeholders to avert anarchy.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State viewed the suspension of the proposed Ruga settlement plan for herdsmen by the Federal Government as victory for all peace-loving Nigerians.
Why Ruga implementation was suspended - Umahi, Bagudu
Briefing State House Correspondents after the meeting, Governor Umahi said: "We the NEC committee on farmers/herders crisis, under the chairmanship of the Vice President, met today (yesterday) to deliberate on the approved programme of National Economic Council, NEC, and Federal Government, tagged, 'the National Livestock Transformation Programme.'
"We are aware that today, Mr. President has suspended the implementation of Ruga programme, initiated and being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, because it is not consistent with NEC and Federal Government's approved National Livestock Transformation plan which has programmes of rehabilitation of displaced IDPs, resulting from the crisis and also development of ranches in any willing state of the federation. The word is 'willing state of the federation.'
"The beauty of The National Livestock Transformation plan is that what NEC and FG approved is a voluntary programme in all the 36 states who may like to participate. So, it is not compulsory, it is for any state that is willing to key into the programme.
"Any state governor that is interested in this programme is required to bring up a development plan that is keyed towards the implementation in line with our own programme here that is unique to his state based on the challenges that he has in respect of the crisis. That's the decision of this committee."
Also, speaking in Hausa language, Kebbi State Governor and Chairman of the All Progressives Congress Governors Forum, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, said President Buhari asked them to suspend the programme, considering the controversies its introduction has caused.
However, he said the suspension of the programme is to enable the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, state governments and other stakeholders review it, taking into consideration the concerns of Nigerians.
It was gathered that the meeting, presided over by the Vice-President, was convened due to the controversy generated by the implementation of the Ruga programme in some states of the federation.
The Presidency through the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu had recently said that the Ruga settlements across the 36 states of the federation was aimed at bringing lasting solutions to the farmers/herders clashes and also to create jobs.
It was alleged that the office of the Vice President was directly supervising the project, but Professor Osinbajo had, through his spokesman, Laolu Akande, denied having any knowledge of the project.
Debunking the insinuation that the Vice President was the brain behind the Ruga settlements, Akande said: "The National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) 2019-2028 is a programme to be implemented in seven pilot states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara (as decided by NEC in January), being states in the frontline of the Farmer-Herder crises. Afterward, six other states have indicated readiness to also implement the plan. They are Katsina, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, and Edo states.
"The plan has six pillars through which it aims to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market oriented value chain while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice.
"The six key pillars include: economic investment, conflict resolution, justice and peace, humanitarian relief and early recovery, human capital development and cross-cutting issues such as gender, youth, research and information and strategic communication."
Those at the meeting are governors of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi; Plateau, Simon Lalong, and Kebbi, Atiku Bagudu and the Deputy Governor of Adamawa State, Martins Nasir.
The NEC had on January 17, 2019, approved the plan based on the recommendations of a Technical Committee of the Council chaired by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State.
Other state governors on the committee and Working Group of NEC are those from Adamawa, Kaduna, Benue, Taraba, Edo, Plateau, Oyo and Zamfara.
Arewa youths give Buhari, Southern leaders 30-day ultimatum
Giving the 30-day ultimatum on implementation and acceptance of Ruga, the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, said the conspiracy to weaken the North had been perpetrated with the active connivance of some leaders from the region, accommodated by the cowardice of those that present themselves as northern political leaders today and feed on the negligence and insincerity of the federal authorities.
"Throughout the last four years, the administration of President Buhari had twisted and wobbled deceitfully around the visibly stewing security situation in Northern Nigeria, especially the herders and farmers' conflict. The administration had proposed several conflicting and ill-designed approaches to the issue, which were apparently only meant to buy time and never to be implemented.
"We find it odd that some northern political merchants, who could not rise to condemn what is happening to their kith and kin and do not deserve to be taken seriously, were busy going round in a bid to sell the conscience of the northerners to Bola Tinubu by shamelessly waging a campaign for a fraudulent shift of power to the South-West in 2019," they stated.
The CNG, which had two years ago in Kaduna given an ultimatum to Igbo residing in the North to vacate the region, lamented that since the Federal Government announced the Ruga Settlement Scheme as a way out of the recurring farmers-herders clashes, southern leaders have been threatening fire and brimstone.
The coalition said the Fulani are today singled out for profiling and denied access to "ordinary grazing lands and the right to thoroughfare in the South and are being hunted, expelled or slaughtered while southerners are comfortably hosted in northern cities and towns."
At a news conference Wednesday in Abuja, spokesman of the coalition, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman recalled that upon return from treatment abroad, President Buhari had in a reaction to the coalition's Kaduna declaration proclaimed that every Nigerian had the right to live and flourish in any part of the country without hindrance.
"But President Buhari and the other compromised northern leaders, who were vocal against the Kaduna Declaration could not find their voices when today the Fulani are being maltreated and vilified in the South.
"Expectedly, instead of treating our submission as a warning from history which repeats itself once as a farce, and twice as a tragedy, a bankrupt section of the northern elite comprising some unscrupulous traditional rulers, professional political lobbyists, indecent businessmen, senile retired security personnel and some accidental state governors deliberately misrepresented that noble mission of ours. This uncultured section of northern elites went to great pains to downplay that decent expression of patriotism and love of our country and fellow citizens.
"Accordingly, we remind the nation that so long as the Fulani would not be allowed to enjoy their citizens' right of living and flourishing in any part of this country including the South, no one should also expect us to allow any southerner to enjoy the same in northern Nigeria," it added.
The CNG said: "While we warn all state governors that stand against the implementation of the Ruga initiative to desist and give peace a chance, we place President Buhari and the federal government on notice that they must act to halt and completely stop this raging madness within 30 days beginning from today, Wednesday July 3, 2019.
"The Nigerian security agencies are also placed on notice to check and bring under control the current unbridled inflammatory remarks by the southern leaders in the same manner they swiftly coined a tag of 'hate speech' around the Kaduna Declaration.
"We warn the elders, political and religious leaders of southern Nigeria to urgently halt the inciting remarks that provoke hate against the North, keeping in mind that no single person or group has the monopoly of unguarded remarks that instigate hatred.
"For the avoidance of doubt, we advise the federal authorities and the southern leaders to heed the 30-day notice failing which we would most definitely be left with no option than to consider resorting to our decisive line of action.
"In conclusion, we urge all chapters of CNG, our affiliates and ordinary peace loving northerners to remain calm and resolute as we gauge the level of government's readiness to act within the 30-day ultimatum."
They accused the President and northern leaders of being silent when the entire Fulani race is endangered, regardless of the distinction that most Fulani are not cattle herders and that although most cattle herders in Nigeria are Fulani, there are others that are not.
"Because some herdsmen commit crimes, this must not make all cattle herders criminals."
The coalition added that the President and northern leaders are not bothered that the "current purge in the South does not take into account that the vast majority of the Fulani, including those who are cattle herders - are peaceful everyday people with the same needs, anxieties and hopes as the rest of Nigerians is pathetic and a further confirmation that the northerner is an unprotected orphan in Nigeria.
"And for them to look a different way in the face of the current murderous act against the Fulani is a sealed confirmation of our prediction on the manifestation of gross inequity in a system that tends to solely protect a certain category of citizens and endanger others."
According to the CNG, the consciousness is eroding that for decades, different southern Nigerian tribes have been accommodated and tolerated in northern parts without discrimination, intimidation, harassment or endangering them, their families, their properties or their trades.
"Notwithstanding testimonies to the notoriety of these settlers in the perpetration, commission, spread and promotion of various crimes and antisocial behaviours that pollute their host communities, these people who refuse to allow northern herders a little grazing space in their bushes, enjoy a comfortable monopoly of the total available activity in our region including dominance in federal and state universities, business and trade environment, financial services and landed property."
1966 coup strategies
The coalition also drew a nexus between the first military coup in 1966 and the current opposition to the Ruga project, saying there is a "clear pattern drawn from the strategies employed to achieve the results that the coupists of the First Republic failed to realize, namely, claiming ascendancy over the North by downsizing its population through direct annihilation, political manipulation and economic incapacitation. For too long, enemies of the North, both foreign and local have worked strenuously to ensure that the region remains backward, divided, weak, confused and bewildered by myriads of challenges and problems so it cannot survive long in the event of a breakup."
The CNG equally berated Vice President Osinbajo on his recent comments on the Ruga project saying "apparently obsessed by curious ethnic tendencies, and in a haste to reassure his tribal lords," Osinbajo quickly retracted by dissociating himself from the Ruga resettlement initiative announced by a government he is part of.
CNG said opposition to the project is now encouraged by the persistent hate-filled utterances by various shades of southern leaders and fuelled by the equally venomous sermons by their priests.
"The cleansing operation also derives inspiration and support from the damning remarks of their state governors, who also emphatically denounce and reject every effort to share space with fellow Nigerian citizens of northern extraction.
"Yet neither Buhari's presidency nor our northern leaders could have the courage to see any element of hate in the war tunes constantly sounded and danced to by these warmongering southern elites the way they were quick to coin the phrase "hate speech" against us barely two years ago.
"Having come this far, we restate our emphatic repudiation of the vilification of one ethnic and religious group or the other for whatever reason or justification and deem the targeting of the entire Fulani race for vilification, systematic dehumanization, profiling, alienation or any action that will render them object of attack and persecution, not only immoral and illegal, but also abhorrent to our sensibilities and ordinary decency", the coalition submitted.
It's insulting, provocative and annoying - Afenifere
Describing the Arewa groups' ultimatum as very insulting, provocative and annoying, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization said the Northern body was taking it too far.
It also wondered why the group was coming up with the ultimatum on a day the President had suspended the project.
Reacting, Afenifere's National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin warned that the group was craving for war.
He said: "We have read the very insulting, provocative and annoying statement issued by the Coalition of Northern Groups. We ordinarily would have rebuffed them but for the fact that we know for sure that they are dancing to the tune of the drummer, there is a drummer under the river. They are insulting the sensibility of other Nigerians even when Nigerians have suffered in the hands of herdsmen in the last four years. The herdsmen have killed thousands of people, yet they (Coalition of Northern Groups) claim that it is the herdsmen that are being killed. Where are the dead bodies? Where are the burial grounds of those herdsmen that were killed?
"Their ultimatum shows that they are taking it too far. They have the audacity to abuse and insult us. At this stage, it shows that they are craving for war and we call on the international community and United Nations to organize a referendum for Nigeria so that all the component units in Nigeria can come up with a position on the future of Nigeria.
"If they have come to a conclusion that it is no longer possible to live together, let everybody go on their way in peace. But if it is possible to live together, it must be on the basis of true federalism. That is our stand."
He added: "Why is it that it is on the day that the Ruga project was suspended by the President that these people (Coalition of Northern Groups) are now coming up with this statement? So, their agenda is clear. They are playing games with us and with the future of Nigeria."
Buhari, beware of Arewa group if you're not part of the plot - PANDEF
South-South umbrella group, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, in reaction to the 30-day ultimatum by Arewa youths, said: "This is an indication that these are the real enemies of Nigeria. They are tired of the corporate existence of Nigeria, as an entity. President Buhari should watch out for them, if he is not part of these enemies of Nigeria."
National Secretary of the organization, Dr. Alfred Mulade, asserted: "This is highly provocative and an attempt to inflame the southern part of this country. However, PANDEF remains resolute in resisting any attempt to undermine our existence as a people.
"Ruga should thrive best in Sambisa Forest, and not any state in the South. We will not allow any southern state to contemplate for any Ruga settlement,"he added.
Regarding power shift, PANDEF said, "As for power shift to the South in 2023, it is sheer arrogance and a show of primitive recklessness for anyone to make statements that are capable of undermining equity, justice and fair play."
Don't give land for RUGA, Ohanaeze warns Ndigbo, states
However, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has warned Igbo individuals, groups or states in the South-East geo-political zone that there will be mass action on anybody that gives any part of Igboland for the Federal Government's proposed Ruga settlement project.
The apex Igbo body said it has noted that the attempt by Federal Government to foist Ruga settlements on the country has met stiff resistance from some states, alleging also that because of the backlash protagonists of the scheme are now using clandestine moves to surreptitiously bring it into dissenting states through the back door.
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo in a statement, Wednesday, stated that the Senior Special Assistant to the President Mohammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, was quoted to have said that because of misconceptions and opposition to the scheme, the Federal Government would no longer announce the states that enter into agreement for its establishment in their states, thereby suggesting that some states are secretly entering into an understanding with the Federal Government to establish the Ruga scheme in them.
"Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, once more restates its objection to the Ruga scheme in Igboland and urges the South-East state governments to stick to their earlier decision to reject the scheme.
"Ohanaeze Ndigbo also warns Traditional Rulers, Town Union Presidents, Communities and individuals in the South-East to be wary of lures, overtures and mouth-watering offers intended to induce them to part with their land ostensibly for industrial ventures but disguised approaches to obtain land for Ruga settlements.
"Ohanaeze further warns that Ndigbo will not forgive any government, community or individual that falls into this trap and will collectively resist any such move," the statement by Nwodo stated.
We must tread with caution - Onyema
Worriedly by the dangerous dimension the Ruga settlement issue is taking, Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, FEHN, Chief Allen Onyema, has urged caution on the part of all stakeholders to avert anarchy.
Onyema, whose FEHN played critical roles in ensuring peace in the oil-rich Niger-Delta region through the Amnesty Programme and brokering a peace deal with the Coalition of Northern Youths, CNY, that led to the withdrawal of October 1, 2017 ultimatum to the Igbo to leave the 19 northern states of the country, said "clearly, there is problem at hand. What is needed now is for all stakeholders to join hands and work out a solution."
Onyema, also Chairman of Air Peace Airline, said this is not the time for hate-speeches, blame games and hardline stances. There is still hope for the unity and progress of this country. We can harness our diversity and ensure a country that is fair to all," Onyema said.
Suspension of Ruga, victory for all Nigerians --Ortom
Meanwhile, Governor Ortom hailed the suspension of the proposed Ruga settlement plan, adding that the rejection of the Ruga settlement model by majority of Nigerians was not personal but rather a struggle by the people of the country against impunity and injustice.
Governor Ortom in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, CPS, Terver Akase, commended President Buhari for heeding the call of the people for the suspension of the plan.
"The decision to suspend the Ruga programme shows that President Buhari has heard the voices of majority of Nigerians on the matter. The truth has prevailed on the Ruga issue, just like the book of John 8: 32 which says "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."
"I urge the Federal Government to take a step further to encourage pastoralists and other livestock owners to embrace ranching as the best model of animal husbandry," he said.