Which Nigerian state has the most dialect

Nigeria: Fulani villages as a political issue

It seemed to be a done deal: Nigeria's government under President Muhammadu Buhari (76) had announced that it would introduce so-called ruga settlements. The word Ruga is both the abbreviation for "Rural Grazing Area" and the Haussa name for the Fulani, an ethnic group who traditionally keep cattle and some of whom still live as semi-nomads today. Villages with a minimum of infrastructure should be created especially for them: school, health center, veterinarian.

The hope: Since the ruga zones would be specially designated for cattle breeding, the routes of the nomads could be better controlled and there would be fewer conflicts with the surrounding farmers. In less than three years, more than 3,600 people died in clashes between cattle herders and farmers, according to figures from the human rights organization Amnesty International in December 2018. In the meantime, the riots have resulted in more deaths than attacks by the terrorist militia Boko Haram.

Funeral of 73 people killed in clashes between Muslim cattle herders and Christian farmers in Benue state in January 2018

Opposition to Ruga plans

But now the idea will not be pursued any further for the time being. The government has received massive counter-pressure, especially from states whose governors belong to the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP). It was particularly noticeable in the eastern Nigerian state of Benue. There, too, there were serious riots last year, with numerous deaths. Fulani shepherds who were believed to be collaborating with Islamists have been blamed for some attacks.

At the beginning of the year, the Benue Emergency Relief Agency, Sema, counted more than 480,000 internally displaced persons. Sema board secretary Emmanuel Shior criticizes: "Neither the governor of Benue, nor the population or those responsible in the affected villages was discussed about the project. This ruga settlement initiative is being introduced without involving the various parties."

Speculation about a hidden agenda

In Benue, before the elections in early March, Governor Samuel Ortom left the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), rejoined the opposition PDP and strongly criticized the Ruga idea. For Shettima Mohammed, General Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in Benue, this is a political game. In other states, the villages would be accepted: "I know ruga settlements in the state of Enugu. There are no problems, no crisis. You are more sensible."

Cattle farmer Shettima Mohammed is committed to ruga settlements

He annoys that so much attention is being made about an old concept. "Fulani villages have been everywhere for decades. They have nothing to do with Islamization or a political agenda. It's not about stealing land or evicting someone."

Christian Nigerians in particular had repeatedly accused the government of having a hidden plan to Islamize the country over the past few weeks. Another reason for this is probably that President Buhari himself is a Fulani and a Muslim.

The fear of scarce land

The land issue in Nigeria is an extremely sensitive one. The state has around 200 million inhabitants and is growing by four to five million people annually. Land is a precious commodity. Isa Sanusi, spokesman for Amnesty International, supports the Ruga plans in principle, but: "It is very important that the government does not take land anywhere for such settlements without permission." It is also important that the reasons for the initiative are understood and accepted by the population.

Shepherds' settlements already exist in many parts of Nigeria

In recent years there have been isolated peace initiatives, especially at the local level. In 2014, under the government of then President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP), 100 billion Naira - the equivalent of around 500 million euros - were to be made available for cattle ranches. Unlike Buhari, Jonathan, a Christian belonging to the Ijaw ethnic group from the southern state of Bayelsa, received no headwind for his proposal. Nevertheless, the project was not implemented.

Lagos consumes 7000 cows every day 

Mohammed Bello Tukur, lawyer, activist and head of an authority, continues to campaign for the Ruga project. In his opinion, critics would not understand that the cattle are not only the livelihoods of the Fulani herdsmen: "You cannot associate the economy around cattle with just one ethnic group. The cattle dealers, the transporters and the butchers also belong to the production chain. They would all benefit. "

The demand for meat is high in Nigeria. During a visit to the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in May, Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh said that almost 7,000 cows were consumed every day in the economic metropolis of Lagos alone.

Alice Nyitor wants a solution to the conflict

Alice Nyitor is not interested in the political and economic dimensions of the conflict. The 60-year-old has been living in a refugee camp in the state of Benue since the beginning of 2018. Instead of a political power struggle, she wants peace. "If the Fulani have pastures for their cows, then peace is possible", she remains confident despite the violence that flares up again and again. "When I was a kid, we didn't have any problems either. We lived together and shared everything."