The President, Christian Association of Nigeria, Dr Supo Ayokunle, as well as top members of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and other Christian bodies, including the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, on Saturday asked President Muhammadu Buhari to “completely scrap” the suspended Rural Grazing Area scheme, popularly known as Ruga.
This was disclosed at the Church leaders stakeholders’ summit, themed, ‘RUGA: The church’s response in the 21st century,’ which held at the ShepherdHill Baptist Church, in Lagos on Saturday.
Other church leaders present at the summit included the President of the Christian Council of Nigeria, Most Rev Benebo Fubara-Manuel; President of the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, Dr Napo Emuchey; Vice-President of CAN, Rev Caleb Ahima, and the acting General Secretary, CAN, Mr Joseph Daramola.
However, the President, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Rev Felix Omobude; the Presiding Bishop, Living Faith Church Worldwide, Dr David Oyedepo; and the President, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, were billed to attend the summit, according to the programme of the event, but they were absent.
But the spokesperson for CAN, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, said all the blocs of the Christian body were represented at the meeting.
Reacting to observations that Omobude was not in attendance, Oladeji said the cleric was out of the country.
He added, “Though he could not make it to the meeting because he is out of the country, he sent a representative. All the blocs making up CAN were fully represented at the meeting and they all endorsed the decisions and resolutions.”
Speaking at the summit, which centred on insecurity in the country, the CAN president said the association’s involvement in the debate was needed as CAN, which is the umbrella body for all Christians in the country, could not fold its arms when the church was “hurting very badly at the hands of Fulani herdsmen.”
A one-minute silence was observed at the event in honour of Rev Fr David Tank, who was ambushed and brutally killed by bandits at Kufai Amadu in Takum Local Government Area of Taraba State on August 29.
The slain cleric, who was set ablaze in his vehicle, was said to be on his way to Takum for a peace meeting with his fellow clergymen on how to resolve the lingering Tiv/Jukun crisis.
Many Nigerians have been killed as a result of clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the past months and years.
In its report for 2018, Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation, said communal conflict between nomadic herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt intensified in 2018 and that at least 1,600 persons were killed while about 300,000 persons were displaced.
The Federal Government, in finding a solution to the clashes, designed the Ruga scheme to settle the Fulani and their cattle on acquired land across states of the federation.
The scheme however attracted severe criticism, forcing the Federal Government to “suspend” the scheme on July 3, 2019, even though some states in the North, like Zamfara and Kano, decided to continue with its implementation.
Presidential aide on New Media, Bashir Ahmad, had tweeted, “The Federal Government after consultations with stakeholders has suspended the RUGA Settlement Project, for now, Kebbi State Governor disclosed that after a meeting with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.”
But speaking at the stakeholders’ summit on Saturday, Ayokunle while commending the President for suspending the Ruga scheme, said, “We believe Ruga was just an unnecessary impediment in the wheel of the nation’s progress. We urge President Muhammadu Buhari that he must summon courage to go further by scrapping it completely.”
In his earlier special address on the theme, Ayokunle said the association took painstaking approach to set up a committee to dig deep into the issue of Ruga before coming up with recommendations.
He added, “Anything that smacks of mutual suspicion should be avoided in the interest of national unity. The Federal Government should immediately disarm and prosecute the Fulani herdsmen terrorists that have been recorded as one of the deadliest terrorists groups in the world.
“The group of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association which openly supported the activities of the murderous Fulani herdsmen be identified and banned immediately.
“President Buhari should suspend his membership and patronage of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association until he leaves office to reduce tension.”
Ayokunle, who also spoke with journalists shortly after the meeting, stated that insecurity in the country had become an embarrassment.
He said, “Enough is enough about insecurity in the country. It is totally embarrassing and people are having sleepless nights over it. There is no free movement anymore. Even military officers can no longer travel without heavy military escort; it is as bad as that. It is happening on a daily basis, it is no longer propaganda, neither is it political opposition talks.
“Our relatives are constantly being kidnapped and we are being compelled to look for money to pay ransoms. There are no other persons we can call upon than the government because that is why they are there. They should be able to mop up the guns which these criminals are using to threaten others and also arrest them.”
Ayokunle said it was clear that there were facts about Ruga which the government had not cleared or refuted.
For instance, he pointed out, “Large expanse of land will be delineated and taken from indigenous people in all the 774 local government areas for use by Fulani herdsmen. The Federal Government will deep its hand into the commonwealth of the nation to develop this programme for the interest of just one out of the 250 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria contrary to the provisions of the constitution.
“As perceived, these settlements will over time metamorphose into politico-religious entities within host communities, thereby reconfiguring the political, religious and cultural status of the environment. This is capable of becoming a landmine for future crisis that will be to the advantage of the settlers. The situations in Plateau and Southern Kaduna are very instructive.
“The Ruga programme is a contradiction to the modern-day livestock production system that centres on ranching and feedlots.”
The CAN president also said investigations had shown that there was no nexus between Ruga and the National Livestock Transformation Programme that was being pursued by the Federal Government.
“What we see is a surreptitious insertion and speedy implementation of selfishly concocted programme into a robust and holistically articulated national livestock transformation programme approved by the National Economic Council,” he added.
Ayokunle said CAN would present its recommendations and advice to the Federal Government for consideration.
He added, “We are going to send our position to the Federal Government in black and white because we know that we are part and parcel of this nation and it is our own duty also to help government as the few of them in government cannot know everything. So, they should be prepared to listen.
“We have consulted experts, so government should be very brave in listening and meditating over recommendations coming from us because we are closer to the market people more than them and we are the ones that their policies have direct impact on. So, when they (government) think they are helping us and we are feeling pains through this help, anyone in government should be wise enough to think twice before continuing with such a policy.
“We are convinced that Nigeria can operate a rancour-free agro-allied business where all stakeholders can contribute to the transformation of agriculture for the needed food sustenance of the nation and job creation, rather than the present situation where agriculture has become an avenue for cheap death for Nigerian citizens.”
Adeboye speaks on Ruga
Meanwhile, Adeboye, who urged the stakeholders to listen with anointed ears to his rather proverbial address at the event. He said he would relay an encounter he had with a close, mathematician friend of his, whom he said advised Christians to reduce or stop the consumption of beef.
He said, “Please, do not quote me, quote my friend. Listen with anointed ears. I have a friend who is a mathematician and he is very funny. My mathematician friend told me a story that a cattlerearer kills your brother and your brother’s blood spilled on the grass and the cow eats from the grass, directly or indirectly, you are also participating in the killing of that your brother.
“Someone cannot be killing your brother and you are eating his cow meat. My friend said if you begin to allow them to rear cow at your backyard, very soon, they will send you out of your house. My friend also said that even the scientists have said that red meat is not good for our health and we are buying cow meat, why can’t we eat fish which has been confirmed to be the best for us. My friend said if we stop eating cow meat for a while, the man who sells it will come and renegotiate the terms.”
When contacted on the call for the scrapping of Ruga by CAN and other church leaders, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, re-directed one of our correspondents to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
“We now have a Minister of Information. Please, can you speak to him?” he said.
Meanwhile, efforts to get the response of the minister were not successful as he did not answer his calls neither did he reply the text message sent to his phone as of press time.
Meanwhile, a top source at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has told one of our correspondents in Abuja on Friday that the Ruga settlement initiative was now being managed by the presidency and is no longer under the full control of the ministry.