Epilogue: In RUGA, Rivers State Gained a Goldmine – By Sotonye Ijuye-Dagogo

Rivers people were greeted with the pleasant announcement that “in his second term, Governor Nyesom Wike had prioritized commercial agriculture; hence all available arable land in the state would be needed to drive commercial agriculture across the state to create employment for the youths”.

The good news was contained in a statement issued on Tuesday July 2, 2019 by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Mr. Paulinus Nsirim while announcing the decision by Gov. Wike not to take part in the now suspended Rural Grazing Area, RUGA programme of the federal government.

Until this revelation, Rivers people were unaware that Gov. Nyesom Wike had any plan to prioritize commercial agriculture across the state in his second term in order to create employment for the teeming population of unemployed persons, especially the youths.

The government had exhibited total disinterest in the agricultural revolution that gained unprecedented momentum across Nigeria in the last four years. The Wike-led government discontinued all the laudable agricultural programmes of his predecessor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi and watched the huge investment made by Amaechi in that sector go to waste and with it the banana plantation, the Songhai farm, the fish farms and the jobs.

Not a few persons were taken aback by the sudden change of policy direction in favour of agriculture by the Wike-led PDP government. Many wondered why a programme as massive and as important as “prioritized commercial agriculture” was kept secret and its blueprint known only to the governor until the RUGA controversy erupted. They say the statement was an afterthought and a cheap excuse by Gov. Wike to join the rising opposition to yet another programme of the President Buhari-led APC federal government.

Indications that the new commercial agricultural programme of Gov. Wike was more of an opposition to RUGA than a well thought out policy, were contained in the Paulinus Nsirim statement. He said that the Rivers State government has not given any approval for the sighting of RUGA settlements anywhere in Rivers State and that Governor Wike would continue to defend the interest of Rivers people, who have overwhelmingly rejected cattle colonies, RUGA settlements and any such policy, calling on Rivers indigenes to join the state government to protect all arable lands by reporting any form of encroachment under whatever guise.

The controversial RUGA programme was suspended by President Buhari a day after Paulinus Nsirim’s statement but in RUGA, Rivers people gained a goldmine and should be grateful to Mr. President whose programme forced/facilitated Gov. Wike’s announcement of Rivers State Prioritized Commercial Agriculture Programme. Whatever the motive was, Rivers people are happy that at last, the Wike-led government has announced its intention to prioritize commercial agriculture and create jobs.

However, it is of interest to note that the opposition to RUGA by Governor Wike was a mere confirmation of the popular position of the majority of Rivers people which they vehemently canvassed across the state, especially on the Social Media, at Radio Talk Shows and in Beer Parlours.

The noise against RUGA in Rivers State was deafening, drowning the voices of the discerning few, they just won’t brook any such policy coming from Buhari, touting the cliché of Islamization and Fulanization, asking anyone that wants RUGA to donate his/her father’s land to Buhari.

The stiff opposition to RUGA by Rivers people was done without the slightest regard to the benefits adduced by the federal government, which were dismissed outrightly as utter balderdash.

It is disturbing that a state battling with high rate of crimes and criminality as a result of massive youth unemployment and poverty, could shun a programme like RUGA with all its potentials to create jobs and reduce insecurity.

It is worrisome that a state suffocating under the stranglehold of violent jobless youths can, with the wave of the hand, dismiss a programme that could create at least 2000 jobs per settlement.

Even as Gov. Wike was announcing his opposition to RUGA, some forty or so jobless persons got roasted, scooping fuel from a broken pipeline at Komkom in Oyigbo LGA of the state.

What then is the real palaver?

The people that occupy the present-day Rivers State, like its sister states of Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa (carved out of Rivers States), had since pre-independence, always supported the government at the center. They always supported and voted any federal government.

But events changed when some northern politicians made good their threat to make the country ungovernable should former President Jonathan win the 2011 presidential election; they destabilized the Jonathan administration and ganged up to push him out of office in 2015.

The conspiracy against a president from the Niger Delta by the northern political oligarchy and its southern collaborators, completely changed the political landscape of Rivers State and indeed the South-South. The people now exude extreme resentment for the North, especially the political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC that was the platform used, as it were, to shortchange the South-South.

Rivers people would do and say anything to bring the current administration of President Buhari to disrepute, especially as the President continues to inflict Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi on them, as a painful reminder of the 2015 conspiracy against former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Rivers people are at the forefront of the anti-Buhari mass choir singing that nothing good can ever come from President Buhari, whose sole agenda is to Islamize Nigeria. They do so with much anger, distorting and linking all federal government programmes to Fulanization, relishing in vengeance, even as they know in their hearts, that the Fulanization and Islamization concoctions are mere political gimmickry.

The RUGA programme was the latest victim of the Rivers man’s pent up anger against the Buhari administration.

Here lies our concern:

Wike emerged as governor in 2015 because he understood the political moment and grabbed it and now he governs as a prisoner of that historic moment that chronicles the gang up of the north against former President Jonathan.

But leaders, especially those in political offices are expected to make decisions that will determine the course of the lives of their people – to shape their lives and destinies.

To have presented himself for the office of governor, not once but twice, Nyesom Wike must have convinced himself of possessing the unique ability to guide millions of Rivers people to prosperity and happiness.

Unfortunately, amid the vast insecurity and biting poverty that have unleashed misery on Rivers State, Gov. Wike finds it convenient to exploit the deep anger of the people.

Whereas, if he had intervened as a leader on the RUGA issue, Rivers people would have listened but Wike simply did what the people wanted – he played to the gallery. He did not act in the interest of the future of Rivers State but was influenced by the political reality on the ground and became a prisoner of that reality.

Governor Wike didn’t want to be seen as powerless against the federal government, his rejection of RUGA gives the impression that he is in charge but the truth is that he simply submitted to the unfortunate reality in which he finds himself.

Trapped as he was, Wike still had the opportunity to speak and act as a patriotic leader and shape the future of Rivers State. He had the opportunity to put the economic wellbeing of his people above politics. He had the opportunity to show strong character. But he didnt; he chose to be politically correct.

With RUGA, Gov. Wike was poised to throw out the baby with the birthwater, satisfied that he had thwarted yet another programme initiated by the Buhari-led federal government and he is not alone in this.

©Sotonye Ijuye-Dagogo
08/07/19

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