Obalonye, Abuja, Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja and Tony Osauzo, Benin
Shock, anger and Outrage have greeted the revelation that the Federal Government made a provision for the implementation of the Ruga settlements programme in the 2019 budget, in spite of its suspension.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate) Matters, Senator Ita Enang, disclosed that a N2.258 billion has already been earmarked.
Chairman of the National Food Security/Herders/Farmers Conflict, Dave Umahi, had in March announced the suspension of the programme owing to what he called lack of consistency with the National Economic Council (NEC) and Federal Government approved national livestock transformation plan, which has programme of rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) resulting from the crisis and development of ranching in any willing state.
Enang, who spoke when he hosted students of Law School, Abuja, fat the weekend rom Akwa Ibom State, said the word Ruga is not derived from Hausa or Fulani, but an acronym for Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiated in 1956 during the colonial era and is not intended to islamise, Fulanise or colonize anybody.
Supporting his claims, Enang cited the 2019 federal budget, volume 1 under the ministry of agricultural and rural development item number ERGP 5208 where the sum of N2.258 billion was provided and budgeted for the grazing programme.
Enang stressed that the National Assembly members were not against the Ruga programme because they were aware of it and had been approving funds for its implementation.
Notwithstanding his explanation, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has vowed to resist it just as National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze, Uche Achi-Okpaga, a lawyer, told Daily Sun that no part of South East would be given up for Ruga as the region does not have enough land for its use let alone having the one for some ther people..
MASSOB leader, Uchenna Islamic said the programme will be a futile adventure because the exercise will speedily and finally bring the doom of the geographical expression called Nigeria.
“The implementation of Ruga settlements will never see daylight in Igboland,” he stated.
The Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie asked the Federal Government to immediately withdraw the N2.2 billion Ruga implementation amount captured in the 2019 budget.
He said since Ruga had been suspended, there was no way the amount should appear in the budget in the first place.
Alhaji Tanko Yakasai argued that there was never a time the Federal Government declared that it was abandoning the controversial Ruga project.
Alhaji Tanko, who was not surprised at the retention of the fund in the budget, held that the word “suspended” has no semantic relationship with “discontinuing” the RUGA project.
He further stated that appropriating an amount is different from the actual spending the fund while noting that the disbursement of the fund on Ruga might accommodate whatever changes that have affected the policy.
“If they (government) should do away with the RUGA project, what would they do with the Fulani and their cattle? Send them away? he wondered.
“The Fulani are Nigerians like the rest of us and deserve the support of the government like all of us.You cannot discriminate against the Fulani simply because they are Fulani” he added .
Reacting, in a telephone chat, spokesperson of the Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said he could not understand why government should go ahead with the policy it claimed it has suspended.
“It is shocking that the Federal Government could budget such fund for a private Fulani business enterprise. It is not only unfortunate but also terrible that government is funding a business that will benefit only a segment of Nigerians,” he said.
Former minister of Housing and Urban Development, Nduese Essien, and leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State, said the already budgeted money should be re-channeled into another programme of the Federal Government.
He wondered why the Federal Government will opt for Ruga settlements and abandon exploration of oil in the Niger Delta which he said is the mainstay of the economy.
The International Society for Civil Rule and Rule of Law (Intersociety) also accused the government of insincerity in handling the issue of Ruga programme.
Executive Director, Emeka Umeagbalasi said the government was bent on foisting Ruga on even the southern states at all cost as part of the alleged Fulanisation and Islamisation of the whole country.
While Dauda Birmah, is not opposed to Ruga, he said if the scheme must be adopted in the south, it should only be practised by natives and not Fulani as being proposed by the Federal Government.
But former Publicity Secretary of the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Godwin Erhahon, expressed surprise that the budget went through the National Assembly without any lawmaker challenging the proposal.
“I am surprised that such proposal passed through the National Assembly without anybody challenging it, it’s a pity.
Spokesman of the Edo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Chris Nehikhare, also expressed surprise that a programme that was suspended by the Federal Government was budgeted for.
But members of the House of Representatives, yesterday, denied knowledge of the appropriation of N2.2 billion for RUGA settlements across the country.
Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Wole Oke, in a WhatsApp message to our correspondent on the issue, said “I have no information about this.”