The decision of the federal government to “suspend” the implementation of its proposed “RUGA settlements” is a welcome, albeit belated and disappointing, one.
This article discusses the federal government, though I will be occasionally shortening it to just “government.” I note this because I suspect this is the first article I have written in which the federal and state governments are so at odds that I have to be careful not to tie them all together as “the government.” Good show, though.
When I say disappointing, I mean that by choosing to use the word “suspend”, the Buhari administration is refusing to give up on the idea despite all the outcry and objections to it. Once again, the federal government appears to be simply conducting a strategic retreat in order to fight another day, as evidenced by its refusal to admit that the opposition to this plan is much too great to make it a workable solution. But all that does is breed further mistrust in Mr. Buhari and his government, as we can clearly see when reading that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has advised the former general not to attempt to re-cloak the RUGA idea as a potential future solution.
Reading the conflicting views from various quarters, like this particularly exquisite one from Prof. Wole Soyinka and the Ooni of Ife, it becomes clear that President Buhari, whether wilfully or otherwise, has placed the various peoples of this country on a war footing. Virtually every identifiable group, from religious to ethnic to ideological, is up in arms over this matter, both literally and figuratively. The various factions are beginning to resemble Middle East politics, from “coalitions” you had never heard of before popping out of the woodworks to threaten fire and brimstone, and governors having to run around denying any involvement in the federal government’s plan, to rumours spreading that the Office of the Vice President had a different plan that was somehow swapped with this new one. The confusion is the stuff of novels while the more discerning minds try to protect the group they identify with while calling for calm, possibly fearing that, like it happened with Franz Ferdinand all those years ago, one bullet could set off a conflict of unimaginable tragedy and sorrow.
I Want to Believe You But…
And you can’t really blame anyone for thinking that way, not when the government has decided, on its own volition, to wash itself free of all credibility by insisting on this plan as the only possible solution to the issue of mass murders, ignoring all other voices and remaining fixated (for reasons left to the citizens’ imagination) on settlement of nomadic herders to the detriment of all other possible solutions.
With a situational awareness that seems to be sporting a bias-coloured blindfold, the federal government has been spending more time putting out fires than employing solutions. Meanwhile, every week seems to bring more senseless violent deaths. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that finding ways to limit roaming herds of cows escorted by AK-47 toting young men is part of the solution. Certainly, reducing potential flashpoints allows security forces to be more effective at policing altercations and community leaders to more closely monitor interactions to ensure they’re peaceful. But it’s hardly the snake oil that it’s marketed as and it’s certainly not The Final Solution (or is it?). This forces one to wonder about the government’s true motives because there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to implement a holistic solution. It’s also why the cynical argue that the entire plan is based around providing certain groups with garrisons all around the country linked by bush paths similar to the Ho Chi Minh trail of the American-Vietnam war and connected by a dedicated communications channel camouflaged as a radio station.
Indeed, the noises coming from the federal government have been a cause for concern for some time now. From the start, the Buhari administration never looked like it was in touch with realities on the ground, culminating in woefully underwhelming attempts at curbing the killings. The government kept jumping from denial to blame, sprinkled in between with semantic arguments like whether perpetrators should be called Fulani herdsmen, herdsmen militia or whatever. Even when the Vice President admitted that herdsmen had overrun entire villages and were currently occupying them, all the displaced residents had were verbal promises to return them home…eventually. And when you consider that a state governor of Fulani extraction could trace a group of mass murderers all the way to another country and negotiate a settlement with their leaders or elders then it stands to reason that the equally Fulani Mr. Buhari, if he really wanted to, could trace the routes used by others as well as their leaders. But I have heard nothing to indicate this is being done.
Frankly, the utterances and actions (or inactions) of the federal government on this matter have ranged from the comical to the downright spine chilling. To begin with, the Buhari administration has shown itself to be uncaring for the lives of the very citizens it is supposed to be protecting. Some of the comments from top officials have pretty much implied that people have died because they did not get out of the way of a moving cow. Mr. Buhari and his top officials have also managed to find excuses for marauding killers even when comments by members of certain groups linked to the killers appear to not only claim responsibility but also threaten more such actions. Top government officials have also attempted to divert attention from the existence of an armed herdsmen militia by blaming such phantoms as “Libyan fighters.”
I Told You Once, I Told You Twice
It appears that someone in this government has a sick sense of humour. Either that or he enjoys mocking the people in not-so-subtle ways. It all began when the federal government rejected the proposal by some states to limit livestock (especially cattle) rearing to “ranches”, preferring instead to begin a proposal which they called “cattle colonies.” When the inevitable public outcry shot up, with many across the country accusing Mr Buhari of attempting to re-colonise Nigeria, this time for his tribal or religious group, it took a while but the federal government finally backtracked. Indeed, despite how tickled I was by the chosen term and its subsequent spectacular backfire, I must admit to have felt a tinge of pity for Mr. Buhari and his men. After all, at that time a part of me wanted to believe that they actually had a workable plan and meant well for all Nigerians. But by bringing back what is pretty much exactly the same plan, just with a different name and even less transparency, Mr. Buhari has got all my alarm bells ringing. Less transparency because you will recall that, when proposing cattle colonies, the federal government began by saying that 16 states (which were named) had signed up to the plan, dropping that number to 13 when people in some of the named states cried foul and their governors presumably had to cover their tracks and have their names de-publicised. In this case, however, the feds claim a number of states have signed up to the proposal, probably in a bid to show widespread acceptance, of which there is none, but have refused to name the states, which now draws more suspicion than ever. Such moves have only served to convince many that establishing these “bases” was the plan all along and that Mr. Buhari’s government means to follow it through no matter what. Thus, we now have men of the pen feeling forced to advocate unsheathing of swords.
But the thing that really takes the cake is that Mr. Buhari and his men have chosen to rename their “cattle colonies” to “RUGA settlements”, supposedly to avoid being lambasted over choosing a word that has such a historically negative connotation attached to it. Instead they settled for Rural Grazing Area, abbreviated to RUGA, and still somehow ended up shooting themselves in the one remaining good foot they had left. Curious about the name, I went on Duck Duck Go to search for “RUGA” and came across this Wikipedia article which describes the “Ruga-ruga” as “irregular troops in Eastern Africa, often deployed by western colonial forces.” The Ruga-ruga “often served as mercenaries” and “were mostly hired from tribal warriors during times of conflict.” Seriously, Mr. President, you’re yanking my chain, right? After all, once could be a mistake or a coincidence, but twice? No sir, that’s the beginning of a pattern.
And the claims that the settlements are for the benefit of all Nigerians, not just a subsection of them, rings hollow. Would Mr. Buhari, who was said by his own cabinet minister to be amused that a trader’s troubles were linked to him, truly be willing to put himself about for the benefit of business people? It seems incredible. And yet that’s exactly what his government is claiming. If there were no ulterior motives, perhaps they would have considered scenarios that will likely come up with their proposed plan and expose its unworkable nature. Because, if the government is truly sincere, then they would be willing to create the same conditions for Southern pig farmers to raise their pigs in, say, Kano and Sokoto states. This would be right and proper, seeing as they have written to apply for it and it would be nice to be proactive for once by providing the appeasement before a group feels slighted and goes on a murderous rampage. Yes, I’m sure the government might be quick to say of course they will, but my point is that it would just create another conflict because I can hardly see the more radical elements in those states sitting back and allowing that to happen. And if they attack my piggery, then I may retaliate against their village and we have another unending cycle of violence. It’s simply not worth it.
In conclusion, the whole thing reeks of suspicious motives because I doubt that it is possible for a federal government to be so grossly incompetent. Indeed, the state of affairs is so preposterous that I first suspected it was put out as a distraction while some other act is passed under the radar, but then I remembered that Mr. Buhari has never been accused of being too subtle.