After heating up the polity and sowing the seeds of further discord in an already polarized nation, the federal authorities have mercifully withdrawn their contentious Ruga Scheme. We must thank the almighty for small mercies. Despite all its modernist razzmatazz, the Ruga Scheme is not an example of thinking outside of the box. It is a lazy and uncreative rehash of the old Zango manual of graduated occupation.
Apart from its political awkwardness, the whole thing is also freighted with ethical waywardness. It is said that even President Buhari himself was so astounded by the outlandish quotations and the humungous allocations for constructing boreholes in the Ruga paradise that he threw the papers back at the officials in anger. As we have seen with the grass-cutter debacle, not even the immense suffering of the people could provoke compassion and rectitude in hardened bureaucratic buccaneers.
With ethnic nationalism and negative political consciousness on the rise in the nation, no one with an eye to national cohesion ought to have toyed with the idea at this critical juncture in the nation’s history. Had the federal authorities pressed ahead with the scheme, it would have stripped the government of its authority and legitimacy while rendering the two state parties hors de combat. This is an outcome to be viewed with trepidations by patriots.
State delinquency is not a rare phenomenon in post-colonial Africa. This is why the state itself, rather than shaping the destiny of the nation and nudging it to higher telos, is part of the problem. Nigeria has the legendary knack of flirting with suicide only to recoil once it has glimpsed what lies behind the abyss. The French have a word for people who take delight in setting up small fires just to see how they can put it out. Sometimes, the flames get out of hand and may consume everything on its path.
There are many out there who believe that it may be too early to start rejoicing over this Ruga matter. Out of the bag of mischief and state intrigues from whence this came from, there may be many more in the offing. The Ruga Scheme is a symptom of a more fundamental ailment. Removing the symptom does not cure the ailment. Ruga is a shorthand or subtext for a more foundationally threatening problem of what we prose as misfederation.
The real question is whether Nigeria as a single entity will accede to the imperative of political and economic modernity without some millennial violence and without a fundamental rupture of the nation as it is currently constituted. It is becoming more and more obvious by the day that without a visionary political class willing to let go of the feudal politics of entitlement and its historically superannuated mode of economic production, this is an impossible dream.
At some point, we will have to quantify what the Ruga debacle has cost the nation in terms of cohesion and the fashioning of a true national ethos of politics and economic development. But suffice it to note that the genie of rabid ethnicity and cultural polarization is already out of the bottle and it will take considerable efforts to push it back. This is not just a question of an economic impasse or a clash of contending civilizations but a miscarriage of politics in its fundamental sense as the authoritative allocation of values and resources.
But there is no action that does not generate a reaction. The greatest casualty of the Ruga fiasco is official trust. Getting Nigerians to trust the judgement and wisdom of their governments has always been a Herculean task. It may now be well-nigh impossible after the Ruga rumpus.
President Buhari’s more vehement critics and unrelenting traducers believe that the sudden recusal from the Ruga scheme is a strategic ruse aimed at mass deception. The ploy is to lure and lull the unwary to a false sense of security before coming back with greater force. But they must at least grant him the credit that as a retired general he must know when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against him. Elite hysteria can be very unforgiving indeed.
The Ruga Scheme, because it was not well thought out and because its patrons were not interested in an elite buy in that can only come from a sustained national debate and rational evaluation, has now become a cause celebre for ethnic jingoists and other disaffected malcontents who feed on national acrimony and rancour.
They may yet have their day at the altar of national disintegration. The incompetent attempt to ram the scheme down the throat of everybody has inflamed national passion beyond a tolerable decibel. This is not the way to go in a multi-ethnic cauldron seething with mutual hostilities and ancestral misgivings.
Those who wish this government well have a major task of reining it in in terms of a worrisome incivility and insensitivity to the dangerous fault lines that have hobbled the nation since independence and which have made authentic nationhood a forlorn quest. It is imperative once again to remind the retired general from Daura that Nigeria is not a feudal enclave and we are no longer in military rule.
The farmer-herder imbroglio is a pressing national emergency. No reasonable government will ignore its horrendous violence and the fratricidal bloodletting it has unleashed on hitherto peaceful communities. Nigeria is foaming in blood. Humankind is principally homo economicus and every human community will fight tooth and nail to ward off what it perceives wrongly or rightly as a threat to its economic and political survival under whatever nation-space arrangement.
The nation-state paradigm is not a sacrificial shrine which must vaporize the wellbeing of its people. It assumed its global ascendancy over all earlier modes of organizing territorial space simply because it came to be seen as the premium mode of maximizing the political and economic potentials and possibilities of its constituting units. Wherever this has proved impossible, the people cry out in terror and anguish. And sometimes they want out.
In any multi-ethnic nation, a solution to a crisis which fails to take into consideration the political realities of the constituting units and which does not appear to treat the survival of all with sensitivity and emotional intelligence is dead on arrival. The Ruga Scheme is so one-sided and partial that questions are raised about the patriotism of its partisans and their ability to think one Nigeria. What exactly were they thinking about?
What now remains is whether there are still possibilities of bringing back ethnic harmony to this fractious nation so that it can fulfil its manifest destiny as an African model of peaceful multi-ethnic coexistence and the Mecca for the Black Race. As we can see from the retreat into ethnic laagers, the omens are very dire indeed.
The Ruga debacle has precluded the possibility of a rigorous national debate on the increasing desertification of the northern fringes of the country which is pushing herdsmen further and further southward and into murderous conflict with sedentary farmers with countervailing cultural values and the economic implications of this for a nation already bled dry by corruption and an unsustainable political order.
How do we reclaim our land from the Sahara peril, or is this a divine and natural signal that the medieval practice of herdsmen roaming all over the place is no longer sustainable in a modern nation-state and is a veritable threat to economic modernization? Conquering desert for productive purposes is a modern scientific phenomenon which has been achieved in Israel, Chile, US, China and many other nations.
It is useful to note that countries such as Rwanda and Botswana where cattle ownership was an index of political and economic power have since modernized their cattle production and have become a shining model to behold. By the way, what is the economic use of useless, uninhabited forests that occupy a third of the total land mass of the nation?
But far more importantly, the Ruga debacle has precluded a debate into what can now be described as the Fulani Question in sub-Saharan Africa. In many African countries, notably Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, CAR and Nigeria, herders of predominantly Fulbe extraction are embroiled in a murderous conflict with African pastoral farmers that is often leveraged into an apocalyptic power struggle by their more politically sophisticated and de-nomadized clansmen.
It is this political dimension that has brought much fear and trembling to Southern and middle belt political elite in Nigeria. Hence the reflex hostility to and instinctive abhorrence of the Ruga ploy by southerners and middle belters. Contemporary African political memory and ancient remembrances are framed by instances of titanic political struggles and the Fulani will to power and domination.
In Yoruba land, political memory braces with the destruction of their old empire, the entrenchment of Fulani fiefdoms in their traditional enclave and the martyrdom of their political leaders at the altar of modern Nigeria. One must recall the Sekou Toure and Diallo Telli tragedy in Guinea and the Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya tussle in Cameroon which led to a memorably bloody coup attempt in 1984 as well as numerous uprisings against Fula hegemony in pre-colonial Africa.
These ancient feuds colour contemporary understanding of new political developments. For example, the Ruga project is seen as the proverbial gaining of a foothold before full political mayhem is unleashed. Yet despite the mutual suspicion, there are West African countries such as Buhari’s Nigeria, Macky Sall’s Senegal, post-Yahya Jahmeh’s and Adama Barrow’s current Gambia and Julius Mada Bio’s Sierra Leone in which Fulani people remain in pole positions.
Even in these countries, the entente among political elites can be very fragile indeed. In Senegal well before a Fulani Macky Sall, there was Leopold Senghor, the country’s founding leader and a Christian in a predominantly Muslim nation, who was allowed to rule for as long as he wished until he chose to retire.
The point is that in multi-ethnic nations with fragile cohesion and frail commonalities among the people once the bond of brotherhood forged in national institutions such as the military, politics, federal schools and prelacy snaps, a nation becomes an armed camp waiting for the next armistice. The poisoned well of mutual wellbeing in Nigeria is a very poor material for nation-building.
One man who would be chuckling to himself through all this is former president and retired general, Olusegun Obasanjo. Whether you appreciate his unrelenting meddlesomeness or not, there can be no doubt that the Owu-born former soldier often applies his native intelligence when it comes to apprehending Nigeria’s persistent difficulties.
In a recent outing, Obasanjo zeroed in on what he called the mismanagement of diversity as Nigeria’s greatest problem. No ascription could have been more acute. It can be legitimately argued that Obasanjo himself is a prime exemplar of that sociological dysfunction. When injured, Obasanjo can be a dangerous customer indeed.
Going to the church to preach the new doctrine of Fulanization and Islamization, whatever the merits of the argument, is not a shining example of how to manage diversity. But in Nigeria all is fair in war since state intrigue supersedes national cohesion. It is only after the Ruga debacle that Obasanjo’s gambit can be seen in its full destabilising import. But that does not detract from the perspicacious nature of his observation.
In terms of ethnic integration, Nigeria has become a classic example of a nation in itself that is incapable of becoming a nation for itself; a rogue entity whose components parts can never come together into a coherent whole.
Periodic infusions of divisive schemes such as the Ruga project merely accentuate the divisions and the mutual hostility. Whenever there is a prospect of a pan-Nigerian coming together such as we saw during the June 12 debacle, the political elite do their best to sabotage it and thwart the spirit of the nation.
Fifty nine years after independence the fruits of elite disharmony and deliberate nation-impairment are here with us. The Ruga Scheme shows how a nation can compromise its future through sheer accumulation of ethnic grievances.
Unfortunately for General Buhari, he has been caught too many times, in and out of office, with his hand in the till of the mismanagement of ethnic diversity. To the delight of his bitter enemies, Buhari often allows himself to be caught making special advocacy for his people and region when he should be making a passionate pitch for the rescue of a fallen country.
While many in the country, particularly in the South West, were still willing to give him a chance believing that his sterling qualities in other departments more than offset his ethnic infractions and infelicities, it is clear from the events of the last fortnight that there is a stiffening of resolve in the South West to do battle with his unpopular policies. With the east and the South South already firmly entrenched in opposition, if the South West were to follow, a major political commotion is obviously loading.
It is a pity that things have come to this pass so soon after President Buhari’s second electoral triumph. If it is not too late, the retired general from Daura needs help to nudge him away from destructive cultural fixations which can push the nation beyond the tipping point.
There can be no doubt that the Northern Nigerian Question requires special affection and empathy. But it must be a hardnosed empathy and affection that drag the north into economic and political modernity. If it must be done on its own terms, it cannot be at the expense of other units in the Nigerian Union.