Africa is the first region into which Islam is carried by army merchants rather than natural migration. It spreads down the well-established trade routes of the east coast, in which the coastal towns of the Red Sea drive powerful Islamdomic and other forces inside the Blackman’s continent.
As in many of Islamdom’s outlying areas in West Africa, emergent groups of indigenous educated-observant Muslims were finding Islam to be increasingly inspired from numerous scholars from different places. By the 11th century, when Islam makes its greatest advances in Africa, several settlements down the Sahara have completed understanding as it were presented to them then. Islam spreads gradually south in the oases of the Sahara trade routes and many of the merchants at the southern end of the trade routes are Muslims, the rulers begin to be converted in a gradual process. Nevertheless the influence of Islam on this part of Africa is profound. From the Sudan to the Atlantic, the entire region north of the equatorial forests remains to this day largely Muslim. Since most of expeditions have been in the nature of raids, threat of conquest, influence of central political power, domination, land grabbing, and forceful takeover of territory. Till this moment, the pedestrian advancement of the remains of colonialists have started in Nigeria under the political agency of the prince of Daura, Mohammed Buhari, a retired General, grand patron of Miyetti Allah and the monarchial democratic president of Nigeria.
Seventy-one years after the physical departure of colonial powers, Nigeria still embody the trappings of colonialism. Modern day realities and unfolding cleavages in Aso Rock policies and politics signpost in the name of cattle colony, ranching and the latest ‘Ruga’ is pointer and a feat through initial friendly disposition that graduated to the use of force, killings, abduction and kidnap of men and women, rape and domination over natural and human resources. The brazen audacity of coming up with a project in Fulani word is the crudest assault on exclusivity in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. Ruga is a Fulani term that means cow-hut settlement. The in-your-face attitude in coming up with this concept is a summation of all that is wrong with Nigeria being elevated and the consequences are not farfetched. From the grand-standing on display by various groups – MACBAN, AFENIFERE, AREWA CONSULTATIVE FORUM, OHANEZE etc – one would get the impression that everybody, who has anything to say on this matter, has ruled out negotiation. RUGA was hatched in secret; few people except close associates and supporters knew about it. There was deliberate exclusion of other stakeholders which was bound to create the backlash it got. The embarrassment the President has suffered was self-inflicted and any effort to revive it through the back door will be resisted. How can a ministry (Ministry of Agriculture) without a serving minister dust up such a project? Time will do justice to that question. Even as no one can hazard the chief reason why the nomenclature was dumped the last minute for National Livestock Transformation Plan, the mystery behind the suspension remains a puzzle yet to be solved. Rather than tender an unreserved apology for mooting such a stimulant to disunity, Buhari Islamic forces behind the scheme threatened xenophobia via the Arewa Youths on the opposition to the project.
The coming together of ethnic forces may have little sense otherwise but has often been invoked by Nigerians as the foundation of the rancorous relationship between the two regions of Nigeria. Northern Nigeria, now broken into several states and three geopolitical blocs, is largely Muslim. It was the center of a pre-colonial Islamic empire called the Sokoto Caliphate, and its Muslim populations, especially those whose ancestors had been part of the caliphate, generally look to the East and the wider Muslim areas for solidarity and sociopolitical practice. The South, an ethnically diverse region containing many states and three geopolitical units, is largely Christian. The major sociopolitical influences there are Western and traditional African.
Colonialism did not cause the primordial conditions and identities that have generated tensions and conflicts between Christians and Muslims, but it made them worse. The British colonial policy of Indirect Rule, a divide-and-rule system that required sharp ethno-religious differentiation among Nigerians, made religion and ethnicity the preeminent markers of identity and pushed exclusionary identity politics into the political arena. As a result, in Northern Nigeria, minority ethnic groups, mostly Christians, defined and still define themselves against the Muslim Hausa-Fulani majority, under the political rubric of Middle Belt, which is usually a stand-in for “non-Muslim.” Traditionally Muslims, the Fulani, in 1804, led by Othman Dan Fodio, successfully launched the Jihad, a political cum military campaign aimed at a rule based on the principles of Islam. Within 30 years, the Hausa kingdoms had fallen to them, marking the genesis of the Sokoto Caliphate and the Fulani Emirates now found in most of the Muslim North; they reached Yorubaland in today’s South-west and contributed principally to the collapse of the Yoruba’s Oyo Empire. One of the effects of the Fulani political and military expansion was to clear a way for the southward movement of the pastoralists as they sought to exploit the vastly grassy sub-humid Middle Belt during the dry season.
Another effect which persists up to the present date is that Nigeria’s other ethnic groups remain fearful and suspicious of an alleged Fulani domination and expansionist ambition. This effect is even more so in the Middle Belt, placed geo-politically in the North as a group of minorities. The Fulani pastoral expansion culminated in the sedentarisation of many of them in the Middle Belt and the nomadic exploration of the zone by others. The sedentarisation thus led to indigene-settler dichotomy and consequent conflicts over land and access to political powers at the state and local levels.
The dishonest lopsided attitude of Northern political community in Aso-rock has already undermined our national stage. Since independence, religious and ethnic rhetoric has leveraged claims to political representation and opportunities. This is bad enough and often degenerates into fierce zero-sum conflicts. Corruption and incompetent leadership have added another wrinkle, preventing the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities and making the politics of religious and ethnic exclusivity more appealing. Excuse Mr. Buhari, what is RUGA at this polarized period in our nation’s history? Why was RUGA’s priority not explained from the conception to a divided nation? The more we try to disinfect our bad breaths in the polity, the more your government and cyborgs or wailers put in deliberate and deliberate mess in our fouled mouths! What is the intention behind this decision at this period? Whatever the good intention that brought this policy at this period, it may be a big problem to appease the absence of peace in a country you have deeply tribalized. Your government needs to explain the long-term benefits of RUGA settlement to the country in form of education and mobilization if it is reasonable. Most Nigerians believe that this federation under the clueless administration of Aso rock helmsman, Mr. Buhari. Ethnic lords in Christian dominated southern Nigeria and elsewhere believe that Ruga policy is well hatched to settle his wondering Fulani kinsmen from all over the world in ancestral land belonging to Christian dominated areas in Nigeria in the guise of Ruga, An elder statesman and former President Olusegun Obasanjo has done more in the content of an open letter to President Buhari on the fallout of RUGA policy and poor service delivery. Nigeria is a carefully packaged colonial experiment in exploitative nation-building that has failed spectacularly and the world is finally waking up to the inevitability of its eventual demise. Moreover, according to the Presidency, we are made to believe that the RUGA Settlement will bring a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers; thereby fostering peace amongst them but I beg to differ from such mischievous approach as such, if considered will be to the detriment of all other sane cum patriotic Nigerians who are engaging in business of sort legitimately though not given such undue advantage. Such approach will rather promote divisiveness and encourage violence because other business men and women will see violence as a panacea to procuring an undue advantage from the Government just as the herders are on course of achieving. If citizens of a state have reservations about the future cattle colonies to be placed in their localities, such reservation is valid and should not be suppressed. The fact is that Ruga or whatever name it is called is a private business but Nigerians have continue to wonder the speed and interest of Buhari-led government in implementing this force occupation policy especially in Christian dominated areas. Why didn’t the Federal government extend the same gesture to Fishermen in Ijaw and all geopolitical zones in the country to disavow this mutual ethnic suspicion and internecine battle?
The suspension of Ruga and its replacement with the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) is even funnier considering the fact it has generated controversy. Nigeria for now does not need modernized archaic animal husbandry practice. The irrational fear of so-called domination and takeover of land by Fulani across Nigeria is seen as the driving force. With a population of nearly 200 million people, you have to scratch your head and scratch it, again and again, to see the sense and possibility of that happening now or in the future. There is nothing enlightening about the cacophony of noise on Ruga settlement. From the start the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Abdul Kadir Muazu, who first announced this initiative explained that it was a pilot scheme in some states that showed interest. Moreover, what Ruga propose and NLTP is proposing has ethnic bias. That is, the initiative is not meant for only Fulani’s; which means anyone if interested can own and operate a ranch under Ruga or NLTP. Cow meat is mostly consumed in the South, an opportunity Southern state government and entrepreneurs can harness to setup ranches owned and managed by Southerners and not Fulani’s. As a matter of fact, open grazing is still going on unchecked. In the streets and farmlands across Nigeria even in the south, you find herdsmen roaming around, causing in their wake destruction of farmlands. Violence and insecurity go unreported and thus uninvestigated between farmers and herders yet what we see today is an orchestrated attempt to blackmail and intimidate Nigerians with this un-laudable programme. No one should try to bring Ruga through the back door in the name of registration of illegal migrants in this country.
Come to think of it, the total land mass of ten states in the south (Lagos, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Abia, Ekiti, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Osun and Bayelsa) is far less than that of Niger State which alone sits on a land mass of 76,363 square kilometers. So, the question then arises as to why anybody would suggest using officialdom to acquire lands from unwilling states for ‘Ruga Settlements’. There is sambisa forest where such settlement policy will enjoy a field day.
A study conducted by two professors at the University of Oxford on the causes of wars that occurred between 1816 and the early 21st century revealed that majority of them were principally about land. According to John Bruce and Karol Boudreaux, in their contribution for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), land “is the object of competition in a number of potentially overlapping ways: as an economic asset, as a connection with identity and social legitimacy, and as political territory.” Across Nigeria today, there is hardly any section where there are no intermittent skirmishes and killings over land. That is why the idea of ‘Ruga Settlements’ with official imprimatur is a tricky issue.
In Buhari’s three previous bids for presidency until he finally won in 2015, the main grouse that most people, especially in the southern part of the country, held against Buhari was that he would not be fair in managing Nigerian diversity. After four years in office, the nation is now so divided along ethno-religious lines and that has made it difficult to build consensus around important things so-to-say that matter for our socio-economic progress. President Buhari must accept responsibility for that state of affairs, even when there may be other forces at play.
While we must address the problems associated with animal husbandry, nomadism, ecology and social integration in our country, the authorities must also understand that implementing a ‘Ruga Settlements’ scheme under an atmosphere of ethno-religious suspicion is a recipe for disaster. In this perilous circumstance, President Buhari’s clear and urgent leadership challenge is to rise to a higher statesmanship by acting above kinship and sect in the service of the nation.
Irrespective of what we do now, the problem will outlast anybody alive today. We can only start the process of finding a national solution acceptable to all stakeholders; and this we must do before this issue tears Nigeria apart. That is a collateral fact we must accept.