Thursday 5 May 2016

#MustRead: Sacred Cows And The Rest Of Us

by: Lekan Sote

It is increasingly looking as if cows are sacred while human life is cheap in Nigeria. The frequency and scale that predatory Fulani herdsmen feed and water their cattle forcefully on the farms of fellow Nigerians at gunpoint, and maim farmers across the nation, without any sanction, is rising.

You wonder if the life of the cattle, albeit an item of commerce, is worth more than the life of Nigerians. In mock robbery stick ups, kids stick out their index finger and the one next to it, to form a gun, and ask their playmates, “Your money, or your life?” The playmates, in mock surrender, release their “valuables” to the pretend robber. On other days, the “victim” and the “villain” would switch roles.

But the agony of poor farmers attacked by the herdsmen is no child’s play. Some think that the harm visited on the farmers and their crops should earn the herdsmen the biological nomenclature of pests. Agriculture textbooks say pests are detrimental to humans and crops or livestock, as they also annoy or pester. The plundering done to farms by the herdsmen is in the manner of a descent of pests.

This sad development has approached pestilential proportions which the dictionary describes as virulent, devastating, and contagious epidemic, or outright destructive occurrence. The kidnap, release on payment of a ransom, and the return by the herdsmen to kill the guardsman of a former Minister for Finance, Olu Falae, shows there are no boundaries to this crime. And it is ominous.

The metaphors of pestilence and pest, in the form of AK-47 rifle-wielding herdsmen, suggest that farmer and second-time Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, should commission an Environmental Impact Assessment before deciding to acquire grazing reserves for Fulani herdsmen.

Protagonists of this view think that when the Fulani herdsmen (expectedly) claim grazing reserves as conquered lands, and install emirs, the resulting communal clashes would have made Ogbeh’s good intention a fiasco indeed! Imagine the reaction of the people of Oke Ogun corridor of Oyo State, Agatu in Benue State, and Awgu in Enugu State, who have been victims of marauding herdsmen, to the grazing reserves idea.

The Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, who reportedly opposes the Grazing Reserves Bill, is categorical about his state not buying into the project. Ndigbo has also said a loud “Mba nu to the proposal!” That’s a no. These nays should not be regarded as posturing of ethnic jingoists, but hard headed submissions of political realists who have experienced the disaster up close.

Southerners, and northerners, who suggest that Ogbeh’s grazing reserves should be restricted to states with indigenous Fulani, or the sprawling Sambisa Forest, have not spoken in jest. They express genuine fear that appropriating grazing reserves in their communities may unwittingly trigger further belligerence and strife.

The bill provides for the preservation and control of grazing reserves and stock routes. It promises that “there shall be no improvements, encroachment, bush burning, hunting, use of chemicals, and felling of trees by anyone inside lands acquired and demarcated as National Grazing Reserves or Stock Routes.” Lands at the disposal of the Federal Government of Nigeria, or acquired by merely notifying states can be converted to grazing reserves.

The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria alleges that “some people somewhere are out to profile Fulani herdsmen as terrorists.” The claim by its National Secretary, Baba Othman Ngelzarma, that between five and 10 Fulani herdsmen are kidnapped daily is alarming, must be investigated, and addressed.

A theory suggests that the herdsmen are not Fulani herdsmen, but terrorists in disguise. Fulani herdsmen, they point out, traditionally carry daggers and not sophisticated weapons. This is cold comfort. The intelligence community — police, Department of State Services, and the military — must also confirm the veracityof this claim, for appropriate actions.

But the theory that the herdsmen are indeed Fulani, breaching the perimeter of tolerance ahead of a future Fulani expansionist agenda to forcibly rule Nigeria, is frightening. A footnote in the history books claims that Northern Nigeria’s Premier, Ahmadu Bello, boasted that the meddlesome British colonial masters aborted the intendment of the Sokoto Caliphate to overrun the south.

And that the Caliphate’s cavalry would have gone beyond the annexure of Ilorin, sacked the south, and dipped the Koran in the Atlantic Ocean, as a symbolic mark of conquest. If Nigeria’s sundry ethnic militias, like the Oodua People’s Congress, believe this theory, and secretly amass weapons as a deterrent strategy of mutually assured destruction, that would be the day.

It can only lead to the forceful eruption of the seething undercurrent of ethnic jousts and feints that have been kept in check only by Providence. Nigeria’s national interest and national security will not be served if ethnic groups abandon press releases, press conferences, placards, and protests, to take up arms; it threatens the corporate existence of Nigeria.

President Muhammadu Buhari should take a hard look at Section 14(2)(b) of the constitution: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” As a Fulani and cattle farmer, he needs to personally address the nation on this sticky issue of grave national security. He cannot speak through proxies.

It is not enough to set the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector-General of Police after marauding Fulani herdsmen, cattle rustlers, terrorists, or whatever name they are called. Other ethnic groups in Nigeria may read unintended meanings to his silence. He cannot seek comfort in stoicism at this time; all ethnic groups in Nigeria want to know his take on this matter.

The President must engage and address the Fulani nation, the cattle lobby, and the victims of the attacks, to effectively diffuse the rising ethnic tension. Musician Asa says, “There is fire on the mountain top!” Mr. President’s time to be a-running, to halt the carnage and destruction, starts now.

Fulani emirs cannot play ostrich on this one; they can’t be silent. They must restrain the Fulani herdsmen, disclaim,and expose those herdsmen who are not their own, and assist President Buhari, their kinsman, to manage this delicate and emotional issue of sacred cows and their victims. A section of Nigerians must not prey on others.

The Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Tunde Fowler, may have a role in all these. Presumably, those Fulani herdsmen pay personal income tax. Presumably also, the owners of the cattle in their care pay personal and company taxes.

So, there must be records through which these categories of Nigerians can be tracked. If there are no such records, it is time to compile them. You can only imagine the tons of intelligence data that the security agencies can mine from these records. Enough said.

Now those unpatriotic National Assembly members who want to shoot down the Calabar-Lagos Railway Line should be told that a comprehensive, nationwide, railway system could be a masterstroke to douse the tension occasioned by the intransigence of the herdsmen.

While those who want to take a long stroll can do so, the Trans Nigeria Cattle Trade should be on rail lines, which is cheaper, faster, and safer. After all, the Trans Sahara Trade that extended to Nigeria used horse and camel drawn caravans.

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