Nigerian novelist, Cyprian Ekwensi’s “Burning Grass” portrays the idiosyncrasies of herdsmen which includes but not limited to diabolism, strife, and violence associated with conquest. Through intricate character deployment, the novel introduces Mai Sunsaye, a Fulani herdsman who also doubles as the chief of Dokan Toro, a cattle settlement in northern Nigeria. However, his rival, Chief Ardo, who wants to be chief of the cattle settlement, through magic and charm, inflicts him with Sokugo, a disease that drives the victim wandering from one place to another.
While Mai Sunsaye is away on endless wanderings, Chief Ardo destroys his home, chases his family away and mounts the throne as the Chief of Dokan Toro. In a rare moment of epiphany, Mai Sunsaye reveals the true nature of herdsmen. According to him, “we are men of cattle, our cattle come first and since it is our wish to take them to better pastures, all else must succumb to that wish”.
The nature of cattle herders described above is the reason why millions of Nigerians have rejected a proposal by the federal government to establish RUGA across the country. Chief Ardo in the novel personifies a typical herder who can go to any extent to usurp the throne of another even if it means using diabolic means. Today, the magical Sokugo is still popular and can be used by herdsmen to set their host community adrift.
Of course, subscribing to such narrative may seem devious and superstitious but the informed mind understands that literary creations, even if fictional, are plausible in real life. However, it appears that the Sokuga charm has been replaced by sophisticated AK47 assault rifles which cattle herders employ to maximum use.
Nigeria’s current pulse is that of heightened hysteria. There is palpable tension in the land with millions of people living in febrile anxiety. Since the federal government came up with the proposition to establish cattle settlements across the country, Nigeria has never been the same. Although the federal government has guilefully suspended the scheme, it has lacerated the body politic to the extent that diverse groups now call on different ethnicities to protect and arm themselves against any invasion.
One begins to wonder if this was the reason why the federal government disarmed Nigerians while herders walk about with sophisticated weapons unchallenged. Nigerians are of the view that RUGA should be cancelled immediately because suspending the scheme suggests that it can be revisited and implemented with more sophisticated machinery. It is reprehensible that some northern groups are already war inclined, threatening the country to either accept RUGA or face dire consequences.
This kind of open threat, with its epistemic ruptures across the country, inevitably yearns for war and bloodshed. Certainly, violence is not exclusive to any group in the country. Now, let us engage the issues and perspectives regarding RUGA, arguably the most popular word in our lexicography only rivalled by COZA.
RUGA is a Fulani word for home or settlement although some people have appropriated it as an acronym which stands for Rural Grazing Area. We know that cattle-rearing is a big business in Nigeria and all over the world. However, if the owners of cattle herds want to expand their empire as businessmen, they should roll out massive funds, buy acres of land across the country from those willing to sell to them. It is insidious for the federal government to ask states to donate their lands for a scheme that will ultimately vanquish their people. Nobody is going to be deceived that the proposal is optional for all the states because we know that the instrumentality of power thrives on subtle coercion. You do not give a hungry child a piece of meat laced with poison and turn around to say that the child has a choice in the matter.
Many people have faulted the presidency for the RUGA proposal. This is because given the reputation and recent activities of herdsmen, given all the security issues they constitute across the country, the idea to further spread them to various regions across the land is inimical to national development and insensitive to the security plight of Nigerians. What is the equitable justification behind the RUGA proposal seeing that the South of the country does not have enough land mass even to accommodate human beings? The South-East has only a 3% of land the mass of the country, the South-South has only 9% while the South West has 8% land mass across Nigeria.
In all of this, the North has a massive 79% of all the land mass across Nigeria. It defeats reason for the government to come up with such a proposal asking the people who do not have enough land mass to donate land for RUGA. From reports across the whole of Nigeria, these herdsmen graze their herds on people’s farms and destroy their economic base. To date, no single herder has been prosecuted or brought to book for violating the economic fortunes of a fellow citizen.
Therefore it is understandable that no state in Southern Nigeria will be willing to welcome the RUGA idea. The north understands RUGA, they have the landmass for it too, so let the idea stay in the north.
The unpopularity of this government and the wide rejection of any proposal that promotes Fulani interest can easily be traced to the kind of political behaviour of the presidency which, as appointments show, is committed to enthroning Northern/Fulani hegemony across Nigeria. For this reason, RUGA as an idea is dead on arrival because people outside the north view every move by the presidency with caution and suspicion. Since the emergence of the current government, Nigeria sits on tenterhooks, hanging on a precipice due to security issues caused by herdsmen.
Nigerians do not see the RUGA idea in a positive light. They see it as a scheme to further the Fulani agenda. Nigerians see the RUGA idea as an opportunity to bring in herders across Africa into Nigeria unhindered. The fear is that if they could maim, kill, rape and kidnap when they have not been accorded any official welcome across Nigeria, what then will happen if there is an official pronouncement earmarking designated places for them across the country.
This is the kind of perception the federal government has created and this feeling of apathy can only grow stronger. For now, given this kind of mindset in Nigeria, RUGA should be cancelled. The propaganda that the federal government has set aside eleven billion naira to compromise Southern governors to accept RUGA does not interest me.
However, if the governors are compromised and they welcome the idea, then it simply means that ant-infested firewood have been brought home, therefore rodents will naturally come calling.
Dr. Adiele writes from Lagos via