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CGN Leader, Azeez says suspension of Ruga project has heightened tension
most of the southern leaders and governors were not cautious. Their utterances ended up inflaming tension. Azeez claimed.
Leader of Coalition of Northern Groups, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, granted interview to Punch Correspondent, talks on the controversy trailing the suspended Ruga settlement project.
Airing his view on matters of national security regard to six questions posed to him by MUDIAGA AFFE, Azeez said the suspended Ruga cattle settlement has heightened tension and among other issues. See excerpt below.
Why did you kick against the suspension of the Ruga settlement initiative by the Federal Government?
First, let us situate our position properly with regard to the issue of Ruga before I answer this question. Most reports made it appear that our press conference of Wednesday July 3 was a reaction to the Ruga suspension by the Federal Government. The truth is that we sent out invitation for the press briefing the previous day being Tuesday. This means that we could not have known that the suspension was coming at the time we were putting our statement together.
It was a mere coincidence that the suspension was announced on the same day we addressed the press conference though several hours apart. Our conference was held hours before the government made the announcement for the suspension. But the media, for whatever reasons, twisted the report to make it look like we were responding to the government’s action.
In voicing out their rejection of the Ruga project, most of the southern leaders and governors were not cautious. Their utterances ended up inflaming tension. Some southern governors and opinion leaders in expressing opposition to the Ruga project actually made remarks that contributed to the rising tension that involved instances of the expulsion and other hostile acts against the Fulani.
What is your reaction to the President Buhari’s statement that Nigerians should ignore the 30-day ultimatum the CNG issued to the FG for the implementation of the Ruga project?
No one should expect the Presidency to say otherwise. It is therefore not really surprising to us. What is important is that it will not deter us from pointing out that the initial tension has only been made worse by the decision of the Federal Government to suspend the Ruga project. The project addresses most of the genuine grievances and challenges related to the management of livestock assets of the nation, the bulk of which is in the hands of the Fulani. Those of us in the North are more victims of Fulani criminal elements than any other part of the country; and we will never get tired of demanding that all governments must curtail this menace. This is in part why we support the immediate establishment of Ruga settlements in northern states using northern land and resources and contributions from the Federal Government. Settling Fulani with cattle in a secure and productive environment will drastically reduce conflicts and hostilities against them as well as improve quality of livestock and products. It will also isolate law abiding Fulani from others who have criminal tendencies.
Are you holding meetings with the government and private groups on the issue? If yes, what has been the outcome?
Of course, a lot of groups and individuals have shared our concerns and have said it publicly. The Northern Elders Forum has aligned with our position as well as the Arewa Consultative Forum.
We shall in the coming days hold meetings with the Northern Elders Forum and possibly the Arewa Consultative Forum. The Northern Governors’ Forum has also reacted positively to our position and we are going to meet with them soon.
A number of groups and other stakeholders have been contacting us. We even had engagements with some liberal groups from the South. We are hoping to make the northern governors and other categories of leaders to see the urgency of engaging their counterparts from the South and impressing upon them the dangers of seeking to achieve goals that threaten others and the survival of Nigeria.
What will the CNG do next if the government fails to respond to your demand after the 30-day ultimatum?
We do not think any reasonable government would fail to respect genuine calls to protect the lives of any category of its citizens, whether the calls come by way of an ultimatum or not. People deliberately hype the use of the word ‘ultimatum’, which in actual sense is just a deadline given within which results are expected. It is unlikely that any government would deliberately refuse to act to save the nation from a dangerous drift to anarchy just to test the resolve of people or groups that put it to task on a deadline.
Things are already easing up as there are no more reports of wanton harassment and attacks against the Fulani, which is the basis of the ultimatum. It is also a warning that the Presidency must act to bring to book all elements that break our laws, including foreigners who may live illegally in our midst and provide excuses for opportunistic attacks on the Fulani and other northerners within a given deadline.
The ultimatum also aims to remind the nation that we are law-abiding citizens who want to see justice done to all Nigerians. But we will not be cowed by threats or fooled by people who think the North is too weak to defend its interests. There are several ways of pressuring the government to act without necessarily resorting to unrest or breach of the law. When we get to that bridge, people would certainly see how we will cross it safely and triumphantly. It is too early to start talking about that now.
The Benue State governor has also said the Federal Government has every right to suspend a scheme it initiated. What is your reaction to this?
The governor has the right to say what he wants to say but it does not mean that he is right. The North has no excuse for surrendering its assets and responsibilities to hostile interests which is what people like Governor Ortom stands for.
Your group had also recently issued an ultimatum to the Igbo people to quit the North. Why have you not acted following the expiration of the ultimatum?
The main objective was achieved before the expiration of the deadline. Nobody intended that the Igbo must leave. There were circumstances that required a decisive action at that time. It was primarily a bold but necessary step to draw national attention to the then emerging trends in the country with and unforeseen consequences.