Beyond merely denouncing the controversial RUGA herdsmen settlement proposed by the Federal Government, some communities in the southeast have begun closing land sale gaps that may let in the policy through the backdoor. The sudden restrictions will be seen as a disturbing low point in the polarisation of the country blamed on alleged misgovernance and policy missteps by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
The development came on the heels of the recent call by the Northern Elders Forum urging herdsmen to abandon the south over alleged threats to their safety by governors and other stakeholders in the region. Buhari yesterday, however, urged the pastoralists to ignore the advice. “All citizens of Nigeria are free to move and live within any part of the country they please, whether or not they are originally from there.
“In line with our country’s constitution, the government of Nigeria and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will protect citizens of Nigeria wherever they find themselves. “No one has the right to ask anyone or group to depart from any part of the country, whether north, south, east or west,” the president said in a statement by his spokesman, Garba Shehu.
“They have no one’s authority to make such pronouncements. The polarising role of the Northern Elders Forum and all those other groups dabbling in issues of security to score cheap political points has for long been a sore point in Nigeria’s body polity. They should not be allowed to mislead anyone, least of all the Fulani herders,” he added.
Apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, had earlier warned traditional rulers, town union presidents, communities and individuals in the region to be wary of lures, overtures and mouthwatering offers designed to coax them into parting with lands for so-called ‘industrial ventures’.
It warned of consequences against “any government, community or individual that falls in the trap and sells or allows any portion of land in the zone for the RUGA initiative.” It further expressed readiness to muster the Igbo in collective resistance against the settlement scheme.
An investigation by The Guardian across the zone revealed a sustained effort to discourage the initiative through an outright ban on the sale of lands by individuals and communities, or mandatory receipt of approvals from state governments before transactions are made.
“Indiscriminate sale of land is no longer tolerated. The people are being careful and want to ascertain whom to sell to before entering into such,” a source formerly with the Ebonyi State government said.
Local leaders and security outfits in Anambra State are also reportedly tracking developments on the sale of land. According to one community head, “the whole idea is to ensure that we deal with genuine investors and not people who want to take away the little we have.”
In Abia, the state government restricted the size of land that may be sold “over the counter” to five hectares, as additional lots must now be approved by relevant government agencies.
Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice Uche Ihediwa told reporters that the measure seeks to prevent landowners from selling large swathes of land that may be used for “unauthorized projects including cattle settlements by herdsmen.”
Ihediwa, who is the immediate past commissioner for land, also debunked insinuations that a Federal Government request for a proposed trailer park at Osisioma was meant for the RUGA program. No land has been allocated for RUGA in the state and no land has been approved and allocated for the trailer park with respect to the application filed by the Federal Ministry of Works in 2014, he clarified.
Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area (LGA) of Enugu State also made an effort to curb the indiscriminate sale and lease of its lands. The local government, which experienced a bloody attack allegedly by Fulani herdsmen three years ago, took the precaution following rumors that a traditional ruler had sold large parcels of lands for RUGA settlements.
The state government consequently held a meeting with LGA Chairman Fidelis Ani, traditional rulers and other stakeholders on Tuesday with a view to resolving the matter. In a statement issued at the end of the meeting by Ani and 14 traditional rulers, the stakeholders called on those who facilitated the unauthorized sale of land to return the proceeds to the buyers. Also, “those who purportedly purchased the land should lawfully seek recovery of their money or other considerations.”
They advised the public to be guided by the extant laws, customs and traditions regulating the allocation of land, and “refrain from dealing with unauthorized persons who go about selling what they do not have.”
Meanwhile, the Southern Nigeria Assembly (SNA), a coalition of all the indigenous youth organizations in the southwest, south-south and southeast, yesterday urged Buhari to arrest and prosecute the current leaders of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association(MACBAN).
In a joint statement after its meeting in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, the SNA said it would no longer tolerate alleged threats and killings by herdsmen in the regions.
The statement was signed by Oladotun Hassan (President, Yoruba Council of Youths), Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro (President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council) and Pereotubo Oweilaemi (President, Ijaw Youth Council).
“The SNA urgently calls on President Buhari to arrest and prosecute the current leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) and other allies over their recent seditious and inciteful hate speeches, with reference to their malicious call for the arrest of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo following his advice in an open letter to President Buhari to stop the impending war via a call for an urgent national conference,” the statement reads in part.