In my most recent book ‘’Hunger For Power’’, I described power as a fire; one that ‘can keep you warm and it can burn you. It can cook you a meal or raze your house. It can purify gold or calcify a human being. Ensconced deep within its core are elements of good and evil. It all depends on the choices you make when you handle it.’’
Also as an avid student of history, one thing that has stood out over the centuries is the fact that unjust laws, policies and governments were changed by the collective will of people. Apathy of the people has never led to the rise of a booming society. With this said, I will begin this week’s article with a Latin quote used often by St Thomas Aquinas. It is a standard legal maxim that says ‘Lex iniusta non est lex’ which when translated in English means ‘An unjust law is no law at all’. It is duty of every citizen to therefore oppose and refuse an unjust law.
On the 3rd of July, the President of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari suspended the implementation of the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) colony initiative that was briefly introduced perhaps under an executive order to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development but met with great dissent by Nigerians. Without mincing words, it is clear that RUGA was a blatant attempt at executive land grab for nefarious purposes. The badly thought out programme was devoid of adequate compensatory elements and sustainability. It was a tone-deaf reaction to all oppositions to a scheme that was discussed in various shades prior to the recent elections. It ignored all cultural practices and ancestral ownership of land by indigenous peoples of Nigeria. It was meant to confiscate peoples’ lands under the threat of presidential might for distribution to other vested interests that are purely and strictly private. When people in power appropriate other peoples’ property under any guise,that is corruption and abuse of power. And for a government that has made the fight against corruption its creed, that ‘executive order’ belies that position.
The suspension which came as a respite, is actually is a Greek gift. By all accounts, it appears that the President and his Administration do not seem to know what programme has been authorized for implementation and by whom. The President reportedly stated that the RUGA settlements are not what he approved for implementation. The Vice-President, who was mandated by the President to pursue a probable solution to the deadly Fulani herdsmen/Indigenous farmer’s clashes all over the country, claims that what his committee developed and got approved by the National Executive Council, was the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). The VP claims RUGA and NLTP are different. The President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said on National Television that there is no difference between NLTP and RUGA. A band of northern youths, had reportedly given the President a 30 day ultimatum to restore RUGA to all 36 states of the Federation. And what has the President said? Nothing, absolute silence.
This is not the first time the President will remain silent or non-committal to issues of national importance. Experience has thought us that his silence means acquiescence and endorsement for shady acts, deals, and programmes. We are not, and shall not be deceived. All Nigerians, and the National Assembly particularly must note that neither the NLTP nor RUGA has the force of law. They are both unconstitutional.
Nigeria became aware of the southward migration of the Sahara, and the problems it posed to land management, agricultural production, and human settlements as far back as the 1930s, well before independence in 1960. From that time to the present, several agencies have been created to deal with these imminent problems. Among these agencies are; Border Emirate Council, Shelter Belt Commission, National Committee on Arid Zone Afforestation, and the Great Green Wall Technical Committee, to mention just a few. Each of these agencies had in turn launched, initiated, or advocated several programmes and interventions that were meant to provide viable solutions to the loss of arable lands and human settlements to the advancing Sahara.
Yet, in spite of tens of billions of dollars spent on these programmes, have not stopped or slowed the southward drift of the Sahara and the attendant migration of the people who have lost their lands to the desert dunes. The programmes failed because the monies allocated to them were not well spent, there were very little supervision and follow ups, and the programmes were not well designed to be truly people oriented.
Many great Nigerians have continuously called the attention of the Federal Government to the destabilizing potentials of desertification.
In my third book, “Bridging the Sahara Desert: A different Perspective”, which was distributed to most governments in Africa and was personally taken to the presidency over 15 years ago, I showed how we could build a Tran Saharan Highway, complete with train services, tree corridors, community settlements and farming communities stretching across the Sahara. The Nigerian embassy in Berlin Germany accompanied me to present the book to the UNCCD (United Nation Convention To Convert Desertification). A similar presentation was made to the then Vice President of South Africa President Zuma, also to the Mayor of Rabat Morocco accompanied by our Nigerian Ambassador to Morocco.
The book which was well received at the time posited that water for such a Pan-African project would come from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The resultant effect of such a project would not only restore lost fertile lands but would green the Sahara. My proffered solution was based on years of visits and research into how other countries were able to tame their deserts and turn it into cities like the Nevada and Gobi desert. This is coupled with my personal experiences driving through the Sahara four times. So, we already know how to solve the problems of desertification.
Yet, here we are in the 21st Century, being told by our leaders that the way to solve the encroachment of the Fulani herdsmen into the South is by establishing RUGA colonies in the South! That is official endorsement of impunity, land grab at the highest levels. Nigerians must speak out. We cannot all be so weak-minded. How can a solution to loss of farmlands be the appropriation of another person’s land? The FGN is acting as if the South has no land problems. Have they addressed the erosion in the South-East, the hydrocarbon pollution of the lands in the South-South, and the over-logging in the South-West? Bad farming practices and deforestation have both depleted the rain forests in the South. The presence of the Fulani herdsmen and their cattle are already causing over-grazing, and as usual, there are no replenishment programmes for these grazing lands that they are invading. Grazing, and taking until the land is bare, building nothing, and moving on to the next green field. So, ask yourselves, what happens when there is nothing to graze anymore in Nigeria; will they wade across the ocean to Brazil?
We refuse to be unmindful. Mr. President, please restore the farmlands and grazing fields in the North by providing water and frontline trees. And while you are at it, please find out what happened to the River Basin Authorities and their mandates.