Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka yesterday joined the raging cattle settlements dispute, describing the policy as a keg of gunpowder.
The planned Ruga (settlements) is the Federal Government’s antidote to the bloody herders/farmers clashes, which have taken many lives, setting Nigeria on edge.
Even before its execution, the policy has sparked a huge row, with some states, including those that are not earmarked for the project, rejecting it.
The Rivers State Government, the local chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Plateau State and the Berom community yesterday joined the rising rank of those rejecting the policy.
The Plateau Police Command warned against street protests in the Northcentral state.
Lending his voice to the growing opposition against the cattle settlements proposal, Prof Soyinka warned that the idea could cause Nigeria to explode.
Speaking in Lagos at the launch of the United Nations’ Solutions 17 SDG programme, Soyinka berated the federal government for promoting such a proposal.
He said: “Ruga is going to be an explosion, if not handled with care. But why do we not take our policies from good models? This is not the way people and countries deal with issues of cattle.
“I travel everywhere. It has to be handled in a way that is logical, comprehensible to the environment. When a cattle walks up to the window of my house in Abeokuta, a house which is located in a residential area, then there’s a problem.
“When cattle go to Ijebu-Ode and eat up their plant seedlings and so on, and you expect people to be quiet?”
In the Nobel laureate’s view, the handling of the herdsmen issue by President Muhammadu Buhari was enough to make him lose re-election.
The literary icon said: “President Buhari deserved to have lost the last election for the lackadaisical attitude he took to the issue of cattle rearing in the country.
“People have been killed in hundreds just because of the failure of leadership at a critical time. And the cattle herders have been given a sense of impunity. They kill without any compunction, they drive away the farmers who have been contributing to the food solutions in the country, the cattle eat their crops and then you come up with Ruga.
“I think that there is going to be trouble in this country if this Ruga thing is not handled imaginatively and with humanity as priority. Any country where cattle take priority over human life, is definitely at an elementary stage.”
Also in Benue, House of Assembly Speaker Titus Uba directed local government areas in the state to reject the establishment of Ruga settlements in their domains.
In a statement signed by the Permanent Secretary, Rivers Ministry of Information, Paulinus Nsirim, the government said the state had no land for the farm settlement.
It noted that in his second term, Governor Nyesom Wike has prioritised commercial agriculture, hence all arable land would be needed to create employment for youths.
The government emphasised that it has not given any approval for the siting of Ruga settlements anywhere, foreclosing such in the future.
The statement reiterated that Wike will continue to defend the interest of Rivers people, who have overwhelmingly rejected cattle colonies, Ruga settlements and any such policy.
“Rivers indigenes are hereby advised to join the State Government to protect all arable lands by reporting any form of encroachment under whatever guise,” the statement said.
The Plateau chapter of the PDP and the Berom community also rejected the proposed Ruga policy.
The two groups, in separate statements described the policy as “anti-people” and “source of anarchy”.
In its statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Pam Gyang, on behalf of the community, Berom Youth Moulders said: “The Berom does not have land to donate for the establishment of Ruga settlement in any part of Barkin-Ladi, Riyom and Jos South local government areas.
“We have received with rude shock the news for the establishment of ‘Ruga settlement’ in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom local government areas of Plateau State by the Federal Government.
“Credible information available to us revealed that Gashish Community in Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area, where over 188 persons, including women, children and the aged, were murdered in cold blood by suspected herdsmen in June 2018, has been earmarked for Ruga settlement project.
“We also have information on good authority that villages in Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State, where dozens of persons have perished as a result of herdsmen attacks, have also been pencilled down for the Ruga project.
“We are aware that this programme, which has commenced in some parts of Nigeria, including Plateau State, has generated serious contention and strife, particularly in the Southeast and Southsouth geo-political zones of the country.
“We have also read in newspapers the statement made by the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, where he said that states that are being used for the pilot scheme for the Ruga settlement applied to join.
“He emphasised that no state in the federation will be coerced to be part of the Ruga Settlement programme.
“It is on this premise that the Berom Youth Moulders wish to state that the Berom does not have land to donate for the establishment of RUGA settlement in any parts of Barkin-Ladi, Riyom and Jos South Local Government Areas of the state.
“Beroms are still mourning the colossal loss of lives and properties occasioned by the June 23, 2018, attack by herdsmen in Gashish District of Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area, which led to the loss of several persons and properties, including land.”
“That some people are illegally and forcefully occupying lands and communities belonging to the Beroms in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom local government areas, where the villagers were attacked and chased out.”
The group urged the Federal Government in the interest of peace and unity return the land to the original owners and establish a Police Mobile Force barracks in Gashish District of Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area as promised by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
The PDP said in its statement: “It is alleged that the APC government of Simon Bako Lalong has already conceded some lands to the Federal Government for the purpose of this anti- people’s programme.
“Governor Lalong must listen to the cries of Plateau people, listen to the cries of traumatised victims of herdsmen in the state.
“Plateau State PDP chapter, under the leadership of Chris Adukuchili Hassan, demands a clear statement from Governor Lalong on this matter that affects the people of Plateau directly.
“Governor Lalong must understand that our land is our heritage and inheritance, which cannot be shared. He must also realise that land is finite and cannot be used in exchange for his personal political bargain and favour.”