Just last month, barely few weeks after his swearing in for a second term as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government began hurried effort to perfect implementation of the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) programme initiated by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and approved by the former Federal Executive Council (FEC) and National Economic Council (NEC) under the “National Livestock Transformation Programme”, ostensibly aimed at establishing Fulani settlements in “willing states” to “resolve” the festering farmers/herders clashes across the country.
The implementation of RUGA, under the supervision of the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, comes on the heels of heightened tension across the country with the largest Christian community in Africa, of surreptitious plots by the Federal Government to Islamise and ‘Fulanise’ Nigeria, in violation of the objective principles and tenets of the Constitution recognizing the territory as a “Secular State”.
Indeed, the controversial scheme, smartly conceived as a platform for the rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons as a result of the farmers/herders’ crisis, and factored as a basis for the development of ranches in any willing state of the federation, has been stoutly resisted by more than 25 states. Even a section of the population in the 11 states alleged to have given “consent” to the establishment of cattle colonies or ranches in their states, has shown infectious opposition to any programme designed to grant herdsmen special status and public-funding privilege in any form or guise.
Expressing the stark opposition of Rivers people to RUGA, Governor Nyesom Wike, last Tuesday, said that his government had not given any approval for the siting of RUGA settlements anywhere in Rivers State, because the state had no land for the implementation of such a policy, as it needs available arable land to drive its commercial agriculture policy to fast-track economic diversification, boost youth empowerment and job creation, and improve revenue generation for the betterment of the people. The Governor reiterated that he “will continue to defend the interest of Rivers people who have overwhelmingly rejected cattle colonies, RUGA settlements and any such policy”, and “advised Rivers people to join the State Government to protect all arable lands by reporting any form of encroachment under whatever guise” to appropriate authorities for immediate action.
Wike is not alone in this. The Ijaw Youth Council, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Yoruba Council of Elders and Afenifere, Middle Belt Elders’ Forum, and a collection of all Southern and Middle Belt leaders, have unanimously condemned the move by the Federal Government to revamp the old grazing reserves, and deploy the N2.26 billion Grazing Reserve Budget, in addition to other extra-budgetary allocations, to fund the devilish plan, describing the veiled policy as another confirmation of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration’s design to Islamise and ‘Fulanise’ Nigeria, which must be resisted at all cost.
The Tide completely agrees with Wike and other leaders across the country, who had voiced unambiguous opposition to the Presidency’s push for Federal Government’s direct or indirect involvement in efforts to give herders an uneven advantage in their private business of cattle breeding and sales. Just as we clearly condemned the Federal Government for initiating the idea of lobbying state governments on behalf of Miyetti Allah and other herders for the creation of special colonies or grazing areas for cattle across the country early in 2018 as a possible solution to the farmers/herders’ clashes, we still restate our opposition to this new coinage: “RUGA”, as its intents and purposes are the same.
We vehemently condemn the Buhari-led Federal Government, not just for pushing the implementation of this dangerous policy, but for showing to Nigerians that it places more importance on cattle than human lives. We know for a fact that the harbinger of farmers/herders’ crisis is not the dearth of grazing land for cattle in states of origin or residence of their owners, as there are large enough fertile forests in the North-East and North-West for cattle grazing, just as there is enough water in the Northern Belt for the cattle to drink. After all, there are thousands of irrigation and mechanized farmers in the North who are doing fantastically well in their agricultural ventures.
But fundamentally important is the fact that the Federal Government has no business intervening and lobbying for cattle rearers to spread their tentacles across all cities and communities in the country. Similarly, the Buhari Presidency has no legal obligation to allocate tax-payers’ funds for the establishment of cattle colonies, grazing reserves or RUGA settlements anywhere in Nigeria, as cattle breeding and sales are purely private business opportunities and choices that people make for their interests in life. Therefore, lobbying for cattle breeders to have choice fertile lands and fresh water belts clearly amounts to favouring one business class over millions of others.
This is patently why we had and still argue that establishing ranches by cattle owners is the way to go. As private business owners, who decide the price of their goods and services, cattle breeders, if they are genuine entrepreneurs with clear passion and drive, should approach state governments or communities for lands on lease, and on agreement and payment of appropriate fees, must build facilities in line with best global practices for their ranches. Such ranches will definitely create job opportunities, boost economic growth and contribute to national development through payment of appropriate taxes, royalties, levies and fees.
Relying on the Grazing Reserve Act of 1964 to promote RUGA settlements in the 21st Century is unacceptable. We, therefore, advise the Federal Government to completely hands off this unpopular programme in the interest of unity, peace, equity and justice for all. Merely suspending implementation of the RUGA programme is absolutely not enough. It must take a step further by, without further delay, cancelling the entire idea. Even the ultimatum by the so-called Coalition of Northern Groups to the Presidency to rescind its decision to suspend the policy, should be seen as an affront, and treated as a treasonable offence, punishable under the law. Besides, we challenge the Buhari administration to arrest and prosecute armed herders, who engage in wanton killing of farmers, raping of women and abduction of children under whatever pretext. This is one way to prove that the fight against insecurity is borne out of a genuine desire.
Military And Boko Haram Ambush
No fewer than 70 Nigerian soldiers were reportedly killed late last month in an ambush on their convoy by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno State.
Some of the eye witness accounts said the terrorists fired rocket-propelled grenades at a lorry carrying troops as it travelled near Gorgi village in the restive north eastern state.
“It was a huge loss, at least, 70 soldiers have perished in the ambush,” one of the officers said.
According to a second officer; “The terrorists specifically targeted a truck loaded with soldiers with RPGs and incinerated the vehicle, killing all on board.
“So far, 70 bodies have been recovered but the toll is certainly more than that as rescue operation is still underway”.
It was also learnt that the convoy had left Maiduguri, the state capital, on its way to launch an offensive on a camp belonging to jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP).
ISWAP is a splinter group of Boko Haram which has focused on attacking troops, raiding command bases and laying ambush on military convoys.
Reacting to the incident, the Defence Headquarters gave the casualty figure in the ambush as 47 dead and 15 injured soldiers.
As stated by the Coordinator of the Defence Media Operations, Major General John Enenche, “We are in a fluid conflict situation; between March 23 to 24, troops who were on a clearance and consolidation operation which was successful were ambushed and we suffered some casualties.
“After the successful operation, the troops were heading to Buk when Boko Haram insurgents shot at the last vehicle conveying supplies and the bombs exploded, in the process killing some of the soldiers and all the insurgents that mounted the ambush”.
The military spokesman also added that following the surprise attack, fighter jets were quickly deployed and the fleeing insurgents that survived the explosion were neutralised.
Even so, The Tide thinks that the latest Boko Haram ambush on the Nigerian forces is rather one too many, especially in recent times.
In the night of May 13, 2014, a Nigerian military convoy was ambushed as the soldiers were searching for the missing Chibok school girls. This was said to have dampened the morale of the troops who felt that their leadership was sabotaging their efforts against the jihadists. The result was that about 12 soldiers of the Army’s 7 Division mutinied in Maiduguri and came very close to killing their commander. They were later sentenced to death after a court-martial in Abuja.
On Christmas Day in December 2018, it was reported that over 14 military and police personnel were killed by Boko Haram terrorists on escort duty just outside Damaturu, the Yobe State capital.
July 19, 2019, witnessed another ambush by the dreaded terrorist group in which an Army colonel, a captain and three other infantry men lost their lives. The victims were said to be travelling from Maiduguri to Damaturu.
Barely six days into 2020, January 6th to be precise, the Theater Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Olusegun Adeniyi, survived a Boko Haram ambush just by the whiskers while he was returning from an engagement in the Jakana area of Maiduguri.
There had been several other instances in-between these where Boko Haram and its associate groups waylaid the Nigerian military, leaving high tolls in their wake.
While we admit that the officers and men of Lafiya Dole deserve praise for their effort so far, it however beats us as to how the insurgents are proving to be the better at intelligence gathering. Indeed, Boko Haram appears to have its informants embedded in the Nigerian security formation. The military should, therefore, investigate itself so as to fish out any sell-outs among its rank and file.
Again, why would the Army move a large contingent of its personnel and materials along a route without first carrying out a reconnaissance of enemy position to ensure safe passage?
The increasing cases of ambush attacks against Nigerian troops in the North East also call to question the Federal Government’s plan to rehabilitate and reintegrate repentant Boko Haram insurgents into society. We fear that the programme might benefit pretenders who may be sworn loyalists of the terrorist group.
Speaking in Hausa on the Voice of America (VOA), a Nigerian soldier, in 2014, claimed that he recognised some Boko Haram fighters as his former military trainers back in Kontagora, Niger State.
The soldier who craved anonymity on the programme also said that they were often ill-equipped to face the fire power of the jihadist insurgents; their commanders having pocketed the bulk of whatever monies that were allocated for equipment purchase.
The war against Boko Haram in Nigeria has lasted far longer than previously envisaged. And this should not be so given what is voted yearly for the nation’s defence and particularly for the fighting of these terrorists.
While the military are wont to downplay any major battlefield successes achieved by the enemy forces, as is almost the practice globally, it has continued to exaggerate its own feats against the insurgents. Often times, Lafiya Dole has been hailed after repelling Boko Haram attacks or miraculously escaping ambushes by the terror group.
Much as this is commendable, it sometimes suggests that it is Boko Haram that is taking the battle to the nation’s soldiers contrary to the government’s claim that the terrorist group has since been technically defeated and is now focusing mainly on soft targets like markets, schools, churches, women and children.
We are not unaware of the success recorded during the Army’s recent testing of some Mines Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in the region. With such equipment and the Air force’s exclusive right to the airspace, we think that the ambush attacks will begin to reduce, thereby saving the nation such recurring embarrassments.
Against Immunity For Lawmakers
Barely four years after Nigerian lawmakers, precisely members of the 8th National Assembly backtracked on efforts to secure immunity for presiding officers of the National Assembly and their state counterparts, as a result of public outcry, the 9th National Assembly is back with a move of same purpose.
This time, via a bill sponsored by the lawmaker representing Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere Federal Constituency of Oyo State in the Federal House of Representatives, Olusegun Odebunmi, titled, “Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Extend Immunity to Cover Presiding Officers of Legislative Institutions’, seeks to extend immunity to the four presiding officers of the National Assembly and those of the State Houses of Assembly.
Section 308 of the Constitution provides that, “notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution but subject to Sub-Section 2 of this Section (a) No Civil or Criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office; (b) A person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise and (c) No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies shall be applied for or issued. Subsection 3 of the section spells out specifically the persons to whom the privilege of immunity from prosecution applies as the President, the Vice President, governors and deputy governors.
Already, the bill has passed for second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives. Interestingly, however, many lawmakers have voiced their opposition to the bill. Also, majority of Nigerians including civil rights groups have rejected the bill with many describing it as an attempt to indulge the lawmakers and shield them from answering any question generated by their actions, particularly that of corruption.
The Tide, therefore, joins other well-meaning opponents to the bill to say that such is not what Nigeria needs at this time of her national and democratic development. We say so because we are convinced that lawmakers in the country have all they need to legislate effectively for the general good of the people.
We recall that on January 27, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Legislative House Power and Privileges Act, which provides protection for decisions taken by members of parliament in the country. The law grants the Legislative Houses in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly immunity from litigation for actions taken in plenary or committee proceedings of the House or Committee.
Thus, we wonder what further immunity the lawmakers are looking for or what contributions additional immunity clauses would serve or add to the promotion of our democracy. Indeed, using the law to provide cover for official indiscretions, recklessness, abuse of power or office, impunity and outright criminality at any level is no longer fashionable.
We are not unaware of the real intentions of immunity privileges, especially, in a political climate fraught with political mischief makers and those with the penchant for ‘pull-him-down’ syndrome. But the privilege is open to abuses. Some of those currently enjoying it are not free from abusing it even to the extent of hiding behind it to escape repercussions for infringements on extent laws of the land. They often arrogate to themselves supernatural powers and see their opinions and wishes as superior, knowing that the law safeguards them.
We think that at a time other countries are trying to whittle down immunity provisions for political office holders so that they should be answerable to law and the people, Nigerian lawmakers should not try to expand the field. The fact that in spite of the amount of opposition that has greeted the bill at inception, the lawmakers still want to take it to public hearing where the outcome could be manipulated, shows that they are desperate to foist it on Nigerians.
This, we believe, is another attempt to ridicule the country and her democracy. It is a huge setback for the rule of law that the same privileged and powerful leaders of parliament that regularly make laws that consign ordinary, powerless Nigerians to prison for even trivial offences want to establish elite immunity to protect themselves from consequences for serious crimes of corruption and money laundering.
In fact, if allowed to stand, the much-vaunted fight against corruption by President Buhari’s administration would further lose credibility and moral ground to prosecute other Nigerians. This is because the bill would not only protect lawmakers from legal consequences for corruption and other foibles, it would exacerbate the immunity that prevails in Nigerian political circles and worsen the country’s ranking in world’s corruption perception index.
We think that the leadership of the House of Representatives should, without further delay, withdraw this obnoxious bill. Any contrary action would only go to prove the belief by many that Nigerian politicians, particularly lawmakers, are insensitive to the feelings of the people and mostly engage in self-serving trips rather than true and effective representation.
If it is difficult to strip those currently enjoying immunity of the privilege, attempts should not be made, at any quarters, to enlarge the field of immunity beneficiaries.
Enough Of Explosions
In early February, this year, an explosion rocked Ekiti State with preliminary investigation blaming it on
human error. No sooner had the dust raised by the incident settled, than another massive explosion tore through the peace and serenity of Abule Ado Community in Lagos State, in the morning of Sunday, March 15, 2020.
To say that the Ekiti blast was a child’s play, compared to the Abule Ado incident, was an under-statement. This was because the explosion in Lagos State claimed the lives of over 23 persons, including a family of four; and destroyed over 50 cars and buildings; while scores of other persons sustained injuries of varying degrees. The victims of the explosion up till this day, are still counting their losses.
The worst hit was a Catholic School in Abule Ado, Bethlehem Girls College, which lost its headmistress, Rev. Sister Henrietta Alohka; a Chaplain; an administrator; and also one of the kitchen hands to the explosion. This is besides 16 students of the school who were alleged to be among those that died.
Again, Nigerians were yet to recover from the shock caused by the Abule Ado blast when yet another explosion rocked two communities in Akure, the capital of Ondo State in less than two weeks, specifically on Saturday, March 28, 2020.
According to reports, the Akure blast had destroyed a church, a school, some houses and cut into two the busy Akure-Owo highway. Several persons were also said to have been injured.
Indeed, the frequency of these explosions, particularly in Yorubaland in recent times has raised fundamental questions begging for answers, even as keen observers of developments in the country have kept on pondering over what must have been the possible causes of these explosions which have occurred in the South-West States of the country in less than two months.
This is more accentuated by the sheer fact that the actual causes of these unfortunate incidents are still shrouded in mysteries, up till this day. At best, the causes of the explosions are still situated within the realms of conjectures and speculations.
Take the Abule Ado incident as an example. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) reportedly said that the explosion occurred after a truck hit some gas cylinders stacked in a gas processing plant located near its System 2B Pipeline Right of Way (RoW).
Some persons believe that the explosion was caused by gas leakages that formed gas clouds in the sky and upon contact with naked fire, spiraled into flames, and that before emergency responders could get to the scene, the explosion had already ruptured the NNPC pipeline that runs through the suburb, thus, aggravating the damage.
According to them, it was the contact of fire with the petroleum products in the ruptured pipeline that exacerbated the explosion and spread to residential buildings, schools and churches in the area.
Yet, some residents of the area said their initial fear was that an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) had been set off given the shocking way the explosion shook their houses, broke windows and even blew off roofs.
On its part, the Lagos State Government, said it could not make any policy statement over the incident until “we know what happened. Security agencies are investigating what happened”.
Unfortunately, the outcome of such investigations was still being awaited when the Ondo State explosion occurred. Also, the Akure blast did not offer much clues as to the actual cause of the explosion except that it was caused by those transporting explosives through the area.
Thus, it was against this backdrop that the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, recently issued a statement, demanding for a probe of the incident.
In the statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary of the body, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere said an inquiry must be launched into the matter to unravel the cause of the explosion as well as those involved in the movement of explosives through the state.
According to the organisation, inquiries into several explosions recorded within South-West States were yet to see the light of the day, hence, the need to investigate the Ondo explosion.
“While we have nothing to contradict the stated accounts yet, we demand an inquiry into this disaster in accordance with the Ordinance and Firearm Acts, to determine the type of ordinances that exploded,” the group said.
The body said the inquiry should ascertain the identities of those transporting the ordinances; the origin of the ordinances; those who assigned the escorting policemen; under what circumstances; and where was the destination of the Improvised Explosive Decries (IEDs).
The Tide joins Afenifere and other well-meaning Nigerians and organisations to condemn in strong terms the spate of explosions in South-West States of the country in recent times. This recurring trend of devastation of human lives and property in these perilous times, we think, is an ill-wind that does no one any good.
While we commend the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, his team for visiting the scene of the explosion and other Governors of the affected states for their prompt response, we align ourselves with those calling for investigation of the incidents.
It is quite unfortunate that up till date, no form of probe has been instituted by the Federal Government to unravel the immediate and remote causes of these explosions. That the explosions occurred between February and March is quite disturbing. Infact, the frequency of this ugly development alone, is enough to spur government to action.
We also think that the way and manner the explosions have occurred in a particular section of the country may not be ordinary. It raises a lot of eye brow. This is why the government should without further waste of time be able to act fast and establish the causes of these explosions. This is the only way of nipping in the bud these ugly occurrences in other parts of the country.
We are not also unmindful of the fact that a lot of people in the country today are crying for help, particularly victims of the blasts. Again, government cannot pretend to be insensitive to the plight of this category of persons. It can do a lot to assuage their feelings of pain. The truth remains that Nigerians today need explanation for this spate of explosions in the land. They want an end to these explosions. The Federal Government must act now.
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