Mr Ihechukwu Dallas Chima, a private sector practitioner is the chief conference coordinator for the proposed Ruga conference coming up in Abuja in September. In this interview with AGI ONDA and KEHINDE OSASONA, he says the initiative would be operated based on rules of engagement.
Why the Ruga conference?
The proposed Ruga conference is an initiative that was put together by Food Work Africa Limited and African Market Event top to bring together stakeholders to discuss and dialogue the challenges being faced by our country men with regards to herdsmen/farmer crisis. Now, if we cast our minds back to the 80s and 90s, the Fulani herdsmen were not so much concerned with having a location to settle. During my school days in a border town between Bauchi and Plateau states, we see some of these Fulani coming to make settlements and before you know it, under one month, they have moved out their camels, donkeys and cattle from that settlement. These Fulani men then never had the knowledge of what it meant to live among people because they only cared about getting grasses to feed their cattle. So, this challenge of Fulani men not having location to stay was a problem which could have been solved back then. Even if Fulani men then were not willing to adopt a place as their location, the government of that period would have created this same Ruga Settlement with a charge to stay in one location and tend their cattle there. If this problem was solved 20 or 25 years ago by successive administrations, we won’t be having the crisis that we are having today.
How do you want to convince Nigerians to buy into your plan, given the orgy of killings, raping and kidnapping across Nigeria?
First and foremost, it should be known that Ruga did not start today; it has been there since time immemorial. Now, the cattle that are consumed in the South-west and South-east move and as they do, they graze along. The question to ask at this point is how would they get where to stay? It’s called Ruga. Ruga is a Fulani word for settlement where Fulani people stay. So, if anyone says he does not want Ruga now, it is just like saying that you don’t want the land they are living. It is like giving me a land, and you say you don’t want that land again. Ruga if you must know, has always been part of the country long before now. Go to Lagos, Ibadan, Umuahia and even Enugu, you would find Ruga settlement there. So, it has been existing before now. What is happening right now is just a mere coincidence that the person that is trying to realise it is President Muhammadu Buhari and he happened to be a Fulani man. I also think that with the Ruga initiative, the president is just trying to solve the problem that past leaders did not solve. So, it is not as if he is trying to create a Fulani colony as being erroneously said by many.
Are you aware that President Buhari has suspended the Ruga idea, if so, why are you still going ahead with your plans?
Yes, the federal government suspended it. Now, why they did that was that the way the Ruga idea came created suspicion simply because the president is a Fulani man. The president went ahead to suspend it because it was already creating unnecessary tension. I just told you that if this programme was promoted by previous administration, there won’t be this controversy that the thing is already generating. So, if the federal government has suspended the idea, it means the private sector who are the drivers of the economy would be affected. Ruga settlement as it were, is very key in our economic advancement.
We understand that about N12 billion naira was earmarked for the project in 12 pilot states. How would you as initiator of this Ruga project convince Nigerians that this arrangement would not backfire?
For every initiative, there is supposed to be rule of engagement. Now, this is the essence of this conference. The Ruga conference is going to make Nigerians and the Fulani to know that this is the rule of engagement because there would certainly be a rule of engagement. We would make them realise that they are not going there to create a cultural settlement as being peddled but rather for economic reason. They would be made to understand that they are going there to raise their cattle and live their lives as there would be no room to meddling into other things.
You sound economical, right?
Yes, because we are talking about N12 billion naira here; which for me, is even too small for the project. If you recall during the former president Obasanjo’s administration, he stopped the importation of poultry into the country when he saw the billion-dollar money involved in doing that and its effect on the economy. Look at it this way, we import fish and even poultry in this country with so much money involved; what are we saying? Are we supposed to import beef again? For instance, if the Fulani herders never passionately promoted their heritage which is cattle rearing, you would imagine how much we would be spending in importing beef into the country. Again, Fulani people have always been cattle rearers and we should understand that it is their ways of life. So, if you consider all these, you would agree with me that the Ruga settlement is a neccesity in Nigeria.
Considering the fact that many state governors are yet to give their nod, what are you doing to convince those states?
As a matter of fact, apart from getting sponsorship, we have equally reached out to some state governors to seek their partnerships. Not only that, all the states of the federations are going to be part of the conference. The traditional institution, Miyetti Allah, government, farmers’ association and other stakeholders would be part of it.
If we may ask, how much were you paid to organise this conference?
That is a good question. We have gotten financial support from some international organisations who shared our vision and are willing to see that things are resolved amicably in the country.
If this campaign of yours eventually succeeds, how would you sensitise the herdsmen against wreaking havoc on farms and communities?
What we intend to do is to come up with a communiqué where the rule of engagement for the Ruga settlement would be clearly spelt out. There would be a management that will be saddled with the responsibility of managing this across the country in conjunction with states governments. We also hope to have an outfit that would manage their excesses. My message to all Nigerians at this juncture is that we should give this Ruga initiative a chance. It is not a cultural, religious or tribal issue. It is not set to Islamise the country either and it should be accepted.