Oby Ezekwesili has described the backlash against President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspended Ruga settlement initiative as definitive proof that he governs over a very divided nation.
The Ruga settlements were supposed to be set up in many states to accommodate animal farmers, not just cattle herders, and provide necessary and adequate basic amenities.
For years, nomadic herders have clashed with local farming communities over the access and control of lands. The wave of killings associated with this conflict skyrocketed last year with around 2,000 deaths recorded.
A majority of the attacks were blamed on the roaming herders, tagged invaders, who are usually, but not exclusively, of the Fulani extraction.
The Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Umar, announced in June 2019 that the settlements would put an end to the conflict.
However, it led to widespread public outrage with several allegations, chiefly that that there were sinister ethnic motives behind the settlements especially because President Buhari is Fulani.
The outrage later led to the suspension of the plan by the president early in July.
While speaking at the 11th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series which held in Lagos on Saturday, July 13, 2019, Ezekwesili, a former minister, said Buhari has a very important lesson to learn from the Ruga episode.
The event, themed ‘Rethinking credible elections, accountable democracy and good governance in Nigeria’, was in commemoration of the 85th birthday of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.
While delivering her keynote speech, Ezekwesili said the reaction to the plan proves that there are very strong divisions in the country.
She said, “Recently, a vexing issue of Ruga took the country by storm and you could see the level of tardiness with which a government thought of a matter so polarising.
“If the president didn’t learn anything from Ruga, then we should let him know that Ruga pointed to him that he is president of a highly divided country.
“I’ve never seen this country this divided. Trenchant division, very strong division in the country.”
Ezekwesili, whose name was on the ballot for the February 23 presidential election that Buhari won for a second term, said the divisions might mean that Nigerians do not believe that the 2019 elections rose to the standard where they could accept the outcome in terms of the necessary rebuilding of the society for the social capital.
“President Buhari must know that it is now time to invite all parts of this country to a conversation that is deep introspection, retrospection, and radical rethink of how our democracy is constituted for the future,” she said.
During her speech, Ezekwesili stressed that a nation must effectively be able to adhere to the principles of credible elections, accountable democracy and good governance for it to thrive, things she noted Nigeria has lacked for ages.
She appealed to Nigerians that democracy is worth fighting for as it’s been observed that, if practiced faithfully, it has a strong correlation with economic growth, development and improvement in the quality of life of citizens.