By Kalu Ndukwe
We live in an era in which there is growing general feeling that things should not continue to be done the wrong way. This has led many to rise up and embrace the spirit of the time, by asking questions, speaking out and also writing to demand that whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.
The level of mutual suspicion in Nigeria, growing day by day, is not helped, in any way, by how sensitive national issues are approached. Nigeria is a diverse society comprising of multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious groups. Painfully, our ethnic, religious and political affiliations have done so much, in recent times, to make us see more of our differences. This awful reality is partly due to the practice of enforcing programs or policies that significantly affect people’s lives without consulting them to make their opinions, and partly because whenever a critical policy is initiated, one sees a situation in which the scrutiny being made on the policy raised, is to discover the insincerity of the originators and how they seek to use the policy to their best advantage, at the detriment of other groups in the country.
This leads to serious want of an unbiased examination of the advantages and disadvantages of national policies in this country. These two cases are interrelated in that it is the persistent exploitative tendencies of the former that lead to the biases expressed in the latter. The result is lingering dissenting voices and disunity.
This is the case with the RUGA initiative, which although it’s praised as a strategic move “that seeks to settle migrant pastoral families (in) rural settlement in which animal farmers, not just cattle herders, will be settled in an organized place with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products”, it has generated more controversy than is expected of a ‘supposed good’ policy initiated to address the critical national issue of “herders/farmers clashes that have claimed many lives and property worth several millions destroyed.”
The reason for the controversy is not far-fetched. In view of high level of mutual suspicion and how fragile peace has become in Nigeria, introducing a controversial policy without in-house consensus and wide consultations with critical stakeholders was always going to be a problem. The suddenness and haste with which the RUGA was brought into national limelight, by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, (even though approval had earlier been given for the comparatively better National Life stock transformation Plan (NLTP), spearheaded by the office of the Vice President), and the deceitful manner in which its (Ruga’s) implementation was being handled made it difficult to accept the argument that it was all good; that there was no sinister agenda behind it.
It is difficult to understand why no attempt was made to properly sell the idea to the stakeholders before contracts were being awarded for the construction of ‘Ruga Settlements’ by those promoting the initiative. There is also no evidence that the money being spent was appropriated by the National Assembly. This is aside the fact that the implementation was coming at a time the president is running the country with neither a cabinet in place nor officially announced aides.
“That we are faced with economic challenges that require modernization of old modes of production is not in doubt. But how we approach problems associated with the changing security and social integration challenges in our country is at the root of the current crisis. At a period when an atmosphere of ethno-religious suspicion has replaced the previous harmonious coexistence, somebody ought to have anticipated that whatever its merits, implementing a ‘Ruga Settlements’ scheme demands more than merely awarding contracts.”
The suspension of RUGA was highly predictable. Unlike the NLTP which promises that only willing States may join the scheme, the presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu, speaking of RUGA, had said “the federal government had “gazetted land” in all the states of the federation“. This didn’t go down well with the rest of Nigerians, that such a serious project which will significantly alter how things are done in their respective states, is being implemented without necessarily consultation.
The lesson here is very simple, every section of Nigeria wants to be responsible for what happens to them; are no more willing to, just, accept that things be imposed on them without letting them make necessary cross-check and give their views; and will appreciate that relevant stakeholders be consulted, to address critical concerns before policies that will impact on the lives of Nigerians are implemented. That the threat and ultimatum by a Northern Group has been met with strong condemnation by other stakeholders and even vehemently dismissed as empty, goes further to stress the growing unwillingness of majority of Nigerians to accept any policy short of a general consensus. It then makes sense to emphasize that joint effort should focus on promoting national cohesion through consensus approach in driving national policies.