The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, and Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, have called on Nigerians across state demarcations to defend the sanctity of their ancestral lands against usage for Ruga cattle settlements.
The call was contained in a communiqué issued on Sunday to document highlights of last Thursday’s meeting between the monarch and Soyinka at the latter’s home in Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, Ogun State. The meeting focused on the state of the nation.
Oba Ogunwusi and Soyinka made the call just as the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum raised the alarm that the Federal Government was plotting to repeal the Land Use Act, which conferred the power to control lands in states on governors.
The Ooni of Ife and the Nobel laureate, in the communiqué on Sunday, said their call on Nigerians to defend themselves became necessary as the Coalition of Northern Groups gave a 30-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to implement the Ruga project for Fulani herders despite its suspension after a public outcry against it.
The communiqué stated, “In this regard, the recent ultimatum delivered by a sectarian order to the President of this nation to set up the so-called Ruga cattle settlements across the entire nation within a stipulated time, despite the national outcry, should be acknowledged as an entitlement under the bounty of freedom of expression.
“In return, we exercise ours, and call upon Nigerian nationals across state demarcations to defend the sanctity of their ancestral lands. This birthright has never been annulled, not even under colonial occupation.”
The Ooni and Soyinka, who is the Akogun of Isara and Akinlatun of Egba, noted in the communique that the colonial contraption known as Nigeria could not survive another upheaval in the nature of the civil war of the Biafran secession.
They advised that all efforts must, therefore, be made to anticipate and douse socio-political flare-ups advancing the chances of a recurrence of such a conflict, no matter how reduced in scale, its devastating effects on the Nigerian humanity.
The traditional ruler and the Nobel laureate added, “Among such issues of urgent import are the ongoing insurrectional movements that derive from religious fanaticism and intolerance, exemplified by Boko Haram and allied tendencies, as well as aspects of commercial enterprise, in which some groups consider themselves especially privileged, singular, and above the laws and entitlements that are binding on other sectors of commercial and industrial undertaking. We have in mind destructive forms of social transactions that characterise groups such as nomadic cattle herdsmen, and their umbrella groupings in the nature of Myetti Allah.
“We confess ourselves increasingly distressed and appalled, that the hitherto harmonious cohabitation, even routine collaboration, among the productive arms of society that Nigerians have taken for granted even from pre-colonial times, have deteriorated to unprecedented levels of barbarity, contempt for human lives and a defiant trampling on the civic entitlements of other productive sectors such as farmers, the providers of both food and cash crops. This abhorrent, yet consistent pattern of sectarian, and homicidal arrogance is obviously not merely counter-productive but inhuman, criminal and divisive.”
Besides, they re-affirmed their commitment to the rights of every individual, community, collectivity of human beings as primary and pre-eminent above other parameters of human development or formal associations.
They further called on Nigerians to recognise that the internal colonisation project was ever recurrent and that there were backward, primitive, undeveloped minds that failed, and continued to fail to overcome delusions in the antiquated belief in sectarian domination as the key to social existence.
They charged the Nigerian people, both at state and community levels, to convoke a series of frank encounters, across various interests and concerns to debate and determine in full freedom the future structure of the nation.
Both of them said, “We consider it a primary imperative of nation existence that the constitutive parts of the nation take steps to preserve and enhance their distinct cultural identities, including tested and relevant pre-colonial values, their spiritual apprehension of phenomena and worship, all without detriment to the principles and ideals of mutual co-existence.
“To this end, we undertake to create state-of-the-art ethnic museums for our people both at home and in the Diaspora, where present and future generations can access their histories and cultures vividly, as living expressions of their very humanity, not simply as relics of eras vanished for ever or irrelevant to the present.”
FG planning to repeal Land Use Act, SMBLF raises alarm
However, the SMBLF said there was a surreptitious plan by the Federal Government to repeal the Land Use Act and take over the control of lands from state governors.
This, it said, was to enable the government to subsequently implement the suspended Ruga project.
The forum said it gathered that the Federal Government suspended the Ruga settlement programme due to the Act which restricted its access to land, adding that the government might move to repeal the law in order to facilitate the implementation of the Ruga grazing scheme.
The SMBLF, therefore, cautioned the southern lawmakers in the National Assembly to be vigilant and to guard against the introduction of any bill intended to repeal or amend the Land Use Act.
The forum said this in a statement in Abuja on Sunday by its co-spokespersons, Yinka Odumakin (South-West), Prof. Chigozie Ogbu (South-East), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-South), Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle-Belt).
The group stated that it was not any way impressed by the suspension of the Ruga settlement project, which it declared as an expansionist agenda on behalf of the Fulani nomads.
The statement partly read, “It is being alleged that there will be moves to repeal the Land Use Act in the (Ruga) suspension period so the Federal Government can have authority over land which is currently under the states.
“We therefore call on all our members in the National Assembly to be vigilant about any surreptitious bill that may be introduced to tamper with control of land and thwart such without any waste of time. The 2014 National Conference debated this issue at length and resolved to retain the Land Use Act in the constitution.”
The forum further warned the lawmakers against passing the ‘Bill to establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria,’ sponsored by the executive, noting that it was meant to give the Federal Government the sole authority and control over the nation’s rivers and underground water.
The group added, “When this obnoxious Water Bill is taken alongside the Ruga programme and the speculated assault on Land Use Act, the internal colonialism agenda is complete.
“It is pertinent to ask why the Federal Government is not going ahead with Ruga in some northern states that have accepted the policy if the whole idea was not about land-grabbing in the South and Middle Belt states.”
The political pressure group stated that the Federal Government’s support for local government autonomy was hinged on the Ruga scheme to allow aliens to take over allotted land under the programme.
It vowed not to relax its opposition to the project, stressing that only outright cancellation of the initiative was acceptable to the forum.
“The whole policy has equally opened our eyes to the reason why the President has been harping on local government autonomy now and then,” the group stressed.
Be vigilant, CAN advises southerners
On its part, the Christian Association of Nigeria in southern Nigeria warned the people of the area to remain vigilant, adding that the Ruga project was not over.
In a statement on Sunday, the Secretary of CAN in the 17 southern states, Dr Joseph Ajujungwa, said despite its suspension, government was still working on the project.
Southern CAN called on every southerner “to be watchful,” stressing that “even as we pray, we don’t need to keep quiet.”
The statement partly read, “We do not have any land to give to anybody as a grazing field or a colony and we call on the South-East governors to maintain their stand that they do not have such a place. Do you know what it means to give 10 hectares of land to herdsmen? We say no to that.”
“As CAN, we will preach it from our pulpits, every Imam should peach from the mosque and the traditionalists should stand against it. Nobody should relent. No land should be given. Any traditional ruler that does that should be dethroned.
“In the North, they have largest hectares of land. Very vast land that nobody is occupying. Why are they not building the ranches or Ruga there? They can come here, take grass and go, and we buy cows in exchange, just like the governors said.”
‘Ruga not dead’
Also, the Akwa Ibom State chapter of CAN said the suspension of the Ruga project by the Federal Government was not a guarantee that the programme had been cancelled.
It said the overwhelming rejection that greeted the policy across the country was enough reason for government to completely cancel it and not to announce its suspension.
The state chairman of the association, Rev. Dr Ndueso Ekwere, in a statement on Sunday, said the Federal Government could revisit the programme.
According to the statement, Ekwere stated this when he led other members of the association on a visit to the OkuIbom Ibiobio, Solomon Etuk.
Ekwere said, “The recent suspension of Ruga settlements by President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government is not a guarantee that Ruga is dead or is done away with. The policy can still be resurrected with a full force anytime.
“We are, therefore, calling on the OkuIbom and his council to lend voices to the aspiration of Christians in the state and other parts of Nigeria to persuade the Presidency to withdraw Ruga permanently.’”
He said farmers in Akwa Ibom State would not surrender any part of their lands for Ruga.
He also called on the OkuIbom to advise traditional rulers and their subjects in the state to stop selling lands to strangers in their communities.
Coalition’s ultimatum to govs senseless – IYC
Meanwhile, the President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Eric Omare, said the ultimatum issued by the northern coalition was senseless.
Omare said, “With respect to the ultimatum given to the governors, I think it is a senseless ultimatum. In the first place, they are a faceless group that has not demonstrated any capacity to do anything.
“They (northern coalition) should be completely disregarded. The ultimatum is a voice from an inconsequential element.”
On the assurance given by the group that it would resolve the crisis between the herdsmen and farmers, the IYC president said, “A problem that cannot be resolved by the Federal Government cannot be resolved by an inconsequential group from the remote part of the North.”
However, the Coalition of Niger Delta militants called on southerners in the northern part of the country to consider returning home or be ready to defend themselves.
The coalition of militant groups in the Niger Delta in a statement on Sunday described the threat by the northern group as ill-advised.
It said, “We are earnestly waiting for the northern youths to start the fight and see what would happen. Any killing would be responded to. We are not afraid of your threat.
“Our land is not for Fulani herdsmen. We therefore advise all the southerners in the North to return home or be ready to defend themselves. We also advise all northerners in the South to either leave or be ready for any eventuality.”
The statement was signed by General John Duku, the Leader of the Niger Delta Watchdog and Convener of the Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators and 12 others.
Threat, not a solution to Ruga crisis, says ACF secretary
But the Secretary-General of the pan-northern socio-political organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum, Mr Anthony Sani, said the threat was not the solution to the crisis over the Ruga settlements programme.
Sani, added that the suspension of the Ruga programme was not the solution to the crisis.
The ACF secretary appealed to the northern youths to withdraw their ultimatum. He also berated those that were opposed to the programme on the grounds that it was entirely a private enterprise.
Sani said, “They (those opposed to Ruga) should not feign ignorance of government’s involvement in many private ventures like former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Almajiri’s schools which the administration had hoped would solve the problems of banditry as well as herdsmen and farmers’ clashes.
“We know governments have been involved in the establishment of river basins and dams in support of private agricultural ventures. Government has subsidised tractors and fertilisers.
“While I can understand the basis of the group’s’ anger that those who oppose open grazing by nomads are the ones that are opposed to government’s involvement in establishment of ranches, I do not think the ultimatum is the solution to the crisis. Therefore, I appeal to the youths to withdraw their ultimatum in favour of due process of overcoming such challenges.”
Abiodun urged to compensate victims of herdsmen’s incursion
Meanwhile, in Ogun State, a social development advocate, Gbenga Akinwande, has urged Governor Dapo Abiodun to begin the process of compensation of farmers who lost their crops to the incursion of herdsmen in the Ogun West Senatorial District.
Akinwande also appealed to Abiodun to establish farmers’ resuscitating fund as a way of compensating farmers who lost their farm produce to herdsmen.
Akinwade, who made the call in an interview with journalists in Abeokuta on Sunday, claimed that farmers in Yewaland were mostly affected by the activities of the herdsmen, hence the need for the government to establish the fund.