With the suspension last week of the ‘Ruga Settlements’ scheme “because it is not consistent with the NEC and FG approved National Livestock Transformation plan…”, the controversy around it ought to have ended. Sadly, it has only further opened our national fault lines. It should worry President Muhammadu Buhari that those now pushing the ‘Ruga Settlements’ agenda are not government officials but rather Miyetti Allah, Northern Elders Forum and some old men who congregate under the guise of ‘Northern Youth’. By making enemies of people who are asking questions from a government that cannot come up with coherent policies, they are giving ‘Ruga Settlement’ a sectional slant.
In one of the ‘Arewa’ online platforms where the issue generated a serious conversation, a commentator argued that the opposition to ‘Ruga Settlement’ stems from bad politics fuelled largely by the enemies of President Buhari in the southern part of the country. “I lived in ‘Yoruba Quarters’, Jikwoyi, an outskirts settlement in Abuja FCT. We have more Yorubas than any other tribe living in that huge area and I take pride in its identity, if not for anything but, for easy address. We all understand the benefits derived from having it so named. You also find similar appellations like Anguwar Tivi, A/Nupawa, A/Kanawa as well as Tudun Wada, which incidentally does not grant Mallam Wada the first settler the prerogative to appropriate the land…”, he wrote.
The point missed here is that these are settlements which evolved as a result of human interactions over several decades as people moved around, not by a government policy. And you have those settlements in Shagamu, Agege and several places in the south too. The reasons why many seem apprehensive about the ‘Ruga Settlements’ policy are three. One, if there is anything the North has in abundance, it is land. In fact, the total land mass of ten states in the south (Lagos, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Abia, Ekiti, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Osun and Bayelsa) is far less than that of Niger State which alone sits on a land mass of 76,363 square kilometres. So, the question then arises as to why anybody would suggest using officialdom to acquire lands from unwilling states for ‘Ruga Settlements’.
Two, I watched the intervention by one analyst, Mr Katch Ononuju, on Channels Television’s ‘Sunrise’ programme on his encounter with herdsmen who could only speak French which suggested that they were from Mali and several other people have had such experiences. Besides, many of us are quite aware that majority of the security men who we glibly refer to as ‘northerners’ are actually from Niger Republic. Given how porous our borders are, those are the people we may end up building ‘Ruga Settlements’ for. Three, and this goes to the heart of the matter, in the light of recent history, the idea of ‘Ruga Settlements’ moderated by the federal government would be a recipe for future trouble. Nothing speaks to this than the landmark case finally decided by the Supreme Court on 10th June, 1991.
In that case, ‘Garuba Abioye and others (Plaintiffs) versus Sa’adu Yakubu and others (Defendants)’, the issues in determination were two: Whether customary land owners are entitled to a declaration of title against their customary tenants and Whether the Land Use Act 1978 had abolished the rights of customary owners vis-à-vis their customary tenants. Led by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Bello, other Supreme Court Justices on the panel were: Andrews Otutu Obaseki, Adolphus Godwin Karibi-Whyte, Saidu Kawu, Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore, Phillip Patrick Nnaemeka-Agu and Olajide Olanrewaju Olatawura.
The dispute arose from a Fulani settlement called ‘Gaa Oke’ in Basanyin village in Ifelodun local government area of Kwara State that had by then been in existence for about 60 years. One day, the Fulani inhabitants decided to erect on the land three huge signboards depicting a different name and suggesting that the settlement belonged to them. The aggrieved villagers approached the state high court, seeking declaratory orders that the land was still their own and that the Fulani residents were mere tenants for purposes of grazing and farming. They further sought an order that the ‘offensive’ signboards be removed and the defendants be perpetually refrained from erecting any such structures in future. In their counter-claim, the Fulani residents said the land customarily belonged to them and sought that their abode be known as ‘Gaa Irapa’.
At the end of trial, the state high court ruled in favour of the Fulani occupants. However, the villagers appealed and the Court of Appeal set the judgement aside. That was the judgement affirmed by the Supreme Court.
On the distinction between holder and occupier as defined by the Land Use Act, Karibi-Whyte explained: “The essential distinction which could be made between a ‘holder’ and an ‘occupier’ as defined, is that whereas the former is a person entitled in law to a right of occupancy, the latter is not a person so entitled. The legal effect of the distinction is that an ‘occupier’ is any person that is lawfully occupying land under customary law who would at the commencement of the Land Use Act be entitled to a customary right of occupancy. Hence, the fact that the ‘occupier’ is in possession, and the ‘holder’ is not, does not alter the true legal status of the parties”.
The most interesting aside to this case was the ethnic affiliations of those who delivered the judgement: Then CJN Bello as well as Belgore and Kawu were Fulani men in a panel of seven Supreme Court Justices. Two of them (Belgore and Kawu) were also Kwarans. Yet they were unanimous with others in ruling against their kinsmen in defence of the law. The issue now is, were the federal government to use a policy instrument to establish ‘Ruga Settlements’ in the states, it could confer on those communities a sort of legitimacy that may alter the law as it is in Nigeria today, especially in a milieu where some people are already suggesting amending the Land Use Act. That would be dangerous.
A study conducted by two professors at the University of Oxford on the causes of wars that occurred between 1816 and the early 21st century revealed that majority of them were principally about land. According to John Bruce and Karol Boudreaux, in their contribution for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), land “is the object of competition in a number of potentially overlapping ways: as an economic asset, as a connection with identity and social legitimacy, and as political territory.” Across Nigeria today, there is hardly any section where there are no intermittent skirmishes and killings over land. That is why the idea of ‘Ruga Settlements’ with official imprimatur is a tricky issue.
That some people in our country are bent on manufacturing, manipulating and magnifying our differences for parochial gains is not in doubt. That has always been the tactics of choice for most of our politicians. But when, rightly or wrongly, a leader is perceived as promoting identity politics in a plural society such as ours, there is a problem which is then compounded when it is about land.
Until we settle the question of citizenship and identity, those in charge of our affairs will do well to consider these as high risk factors in conceptualising any policy. As things stand in Nigeria today, if our national identity clashes with other identity formations, whether it is ethnicity, gender or religion, our Nigerianess does not stand a chance. Therefore, while it is possible that the promoters of the ‘Ruga Settlements’ idea might have been driven by national interest, they have also underestimated how the question of citizenship and identity could be implicated in their ‘noble’ venture, especially given the underhand manner in which the implementation was being done.
In his three previous bids for presidency until he finally won in 2015, the main grouse that most people, especially in the southern part of the country, held against Buhari was that he would not be fair in managing Nigerian diversity. After four years in office, the nation is now so divided along ethno-religious lines that it is difficult to build consensus around important things that matter for our socio-economic progress. President Buhari must accept responsibility for that state of affairs, even when there may be other forces at play as I explained in my last week piece, /index.php/2019/07/04/the-problem-with-ruga-settlement/?amp.
The sensitivity of the land question is politically aggravated when it comes mixed with identity politics. The political confusion that sacked the economy of Zimbabwe and eventually toppled Mr Robert Mugabe is traceable to the contentious land contests between indigenous land owners and settler white land holders. Within Nigeria itself, inter communal crises in the places that have remained security flash points is the result of disputes over land. For the federal government to consciously orchestrate and multiply the theatres of such crises as a result of official action is to sow seeds of discord in a nation with existing clear fault lines. What makes the RUGA gambit even more dangerous is the combination of ethnicity and faith which it connotes.
While we must address the problems associated with animal husbandry, nomadism, ecology and social integration in our country, the authorities must also understand that implementing a ‘Ruga Settlements’ scheme under an atmosphere of ethno-religious suspicion is a recipe for disaster. In this perilous circumstance, President Buhari’s clear and urgent leadership challenge is to rise to a higher statesmanship by acting above kinship and sect in the service of the nation.
When the chairman ARISE/THISDAY, Mr Nduka Obaigbena clocked 50 on 14th July, 2009, I was at that period spokesman to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. A few days before the birthday, I asked the then THISDAY editor, Mr Simon Kolawole (currently the publisher of TheCable) to give me the back page for that day and he obliged. As he marks 60 this coming Sunday, I republish the tribute with minimal editing to reflect the new age.
Following the sale of the Benue Cement Company (BBC) to Alhaji Aliko Dangote in November 2000, some prominent Tiv people came out publicly to oppose the transaction conducted by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), then headed by Mallam Nasir el-Rufai (the current Governor of Kaduna State). In his reaction, el-Rufai said the opposition to the sale was on account of Dangote’s ethnicity and religion. At THISDAY, some of us considered the statement unnecessarily provocative, especially from someone handling a rather sensitive assignment. And the editorial board decided to intervene to caution el-Rufai.
The editorial was written and submitted, but when we opened THISDAY on the day it was supposed to be published, it had disappeared! The then editorial page editor, Mr Waziri Adio (current Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NIETI), was angry and had hot exchange with the then editor, Mr Victor Ifijeh, (the current Managing Director of ‘The Nation’ newspaper whose THISDAY newsroom nickname was ‘Kabila’).
While Ifijeh accepted responsibility for pulling the editorial on grounds that “the views conflicted with THISDAY’s stand on privatization”, some of us suspected that he might have acted on some “order from above”. But we needed to be sure of what we were dealing with. Even though I had written my column for that week on a different topic, I decided to drop it and wrote another one on the el-Rufai/BPE issue, taking into account all the excuses given by Ifijeh for pulling the editorial. On Thursday, my back page (VERDICT) column also disappeared from THISDAY!
Quite naturally, Waziri and I did not keep quiet about our feelings. A few days later, the chairman, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, who had been out of the country returned and, as usual, called a meeting of the Board of Editors. The session over, Waziri said: “Chairman, Segun and I have an issue to discuss with you and Mr. Ifijeh but we want other people to excuse us”. To this, Obaigbena replied: “This is a newspaper house, whatever issues you want to raise, let’s discuss them here and now.”
With that, Waziri began: “Well, if you want it that way. What we want to discuss has to do with your hypocrisy and double-standard. Every day we criticise President Olusegun Obasanjo. That is fair to you. Most of us are Yoruba, yet we risk our lives by attacking the excesses of OPC (Oodua Peoples Congress) and you also have no problem with that. But now that we touch your friend, Nasir el-Rufai, you are pulling editorials and personal columns.” The session that followed was very stormy as we practically put our employer in the dock in the presence of other editors.
About an hour after the meeting ended, Obaigbena came to my office and locked the door. Looking remorseful, he said: “You set me up for humiliation. If you had waited, I would have explained to the two of you why the editorial and your column were pulled.” He explained that even though he and el-Rufai were indeed good friends, they just had a serious disagreement on an issue and if the editorial had come out at that particular period, there was no way he would convince el-Rufai that he was not the one using THISDAY to fight back. He added that since we felt so strongly about the issue, he had directed that the editorial and my column be published. He insisted there were no untouchables in THISDAY. He also reiterated the conclusion earlier reached at the meeting that except for cases of libel, no editor has the authority to remove the back-page column, which is the opinion of the writer.
That Waziri and I could get away with that seeming insubordination is an immense affirmation of the uniquely liberal spirit of a boss blessed with a trail-blazing management style and what Robert Kegan calls a self-transforming mind. Also, we could do what we did to Obaigbena that day without any fear of repercussion simply because he had taken the trouble to create and nurture an environment for independent thinking by leading, mentoring, coaching and developing our latent talents and giving us a platform to stand up for whatever we believe in.
Dale Dauten, author of ‘The Max Strategy’, says that success comes from the combination of trust, energy, talent and an overall passion for what one is doing and that we should all experience a “gifted boss” at least once in our lives. Obaigbena has all those attributes in excess and is also able to be that unique boss with the knack for creating first-rate employees: young men and women he can teach and trust; ambitious people who can respond to guidance rather than only to constant supervision or micro-management. That explains why today he has been able to help many talented former employees to excel and grow into top performers in different fields of human endeavour.
With that disposition for pushing the limits and inspiring others to do same, he has made a lot of difference in our society. Even his most implacable foes will readily admit that Obaigbena helped in no small measure to raise the bar for Nigerian journalism by doing what many previously considered impossible. He introduced colour printing in Nigerian newspapers at a time most people derided it as a passing fad. Today, every newspaper has gone colour. He elevated column writing and put personal opinion on the back page. (Now people start reading newspapers from the back). He pioneered paper-less (Computerized) newsroom in which every reporter would file reports electronically. And he followed in the tradition of the late M.K.O Abiola by creating comfortable lifestyle for editors! These are facts.
At THISDAY, Obaigbena enjoys holding meeting with editors which most of us deride (we call it holding court, without his knowledge, of course) because, it could go on for hours and most often distracts us from our work. But looking back, I can understand him better now because implementation becomes easier if everyone participated in decision-making process. That way, everyone would own and support rather than undermine the efforts. (At THISDAY, there is no decision that doesn’t involve the Board of Editors- including sidelines like awards, musical and fashion shows that have little to do with mainstream journalism and in which some of us were completely disinterested!)
The benefit of working for a man like Obaigbena goes beyond his generosity of spirit to his infectious anything-is-possible disposition which compels you to give your best at every point in time knowing there are endless possibilities out there. And because he pushed himself as much, if not more than he pushed others, he is a great to work for. What makes him particularly unique in a newspaper environment where the publisher’s indecision (as we say) is final is that he likes building consensus on issues even when he has superior arguments. Obaigbena is also a great listener, ever attentive to the views of subordinates so that by the time he takes a decision, he would have improved so much on your ideas that you wonder how he could have seen farther than you did when he had only a few moments to think about what you probably spent hours conceiving.
In four decades of active working life, Obaigbena has confirmed the thesis of John Maxwell that leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts, “it’s about one life influencing another” because he has helped to fire the imaginations of many young men and women who now live their dreams. Interestingly, this he has done for more than four decades now, yet he is just 60. Quite remarkable!
Many of those who know the ‘Chairman’ well would have heard the story about how the University of Ibadan professor who supervised his birth was clairvoyant enough to see in the baby something so unique that he told Obaigbena’s parents to name him Professor, a name that was put in his birth certificate. In the field of journalism today, he has more than earned that name. But this is a restless Professor, one who is constantly searching for new grounds to break, not just in journalism, but also in other spheres as well.
Such has been the magnitude of Obaigbena’s achievements in his chosen field that the much-respected publisher of Vanguard Newspaper, Mr. Sam Amuka Pemu (Uncle Sam), who holds a postgraduate status among Nigeria journalists, affectionately calls him ‘The Superstar’ without any hint of hyperbole. And as he clocks 60 on Sunday, here’s wishing my brother, boss and friend, Nduka Professor Obaigbena – journalism trail-blazer, showbiz impresario, generous spirit, colourful genius and restless superstar – a happy and memorable birthday.
2019 Teens Conference
Online registration for the 4th edition of the annual conference which brings together teenagers and young adults within Abuja continues and interested teenagers and their wards can visit www.rccgteapteens.org for all the details, including information about previous editions. The theme for this year is ‘Nurturing Your Talent; Developing Your Character’ while the speakers are: The Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; the Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr. Herbert Wigwe; comedian and media personality, Dr. Helen Paul and the Executive Director, YIAGA Africa, Mr Samson Itodo. Usually a day of fun with music, food and drinks, attendance is free but pre-conference registration is mandatory.
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