By Ochereome Nnanna
After the spate of mayhems committed by insurgents masquerading as Fulani herdsmen in the South West, North Central and isolated communities in the Niger Delta, an expanded security meeting of the federal and state governments has resolved it is time to end the madness. Part of the plan, we hear, is to persuade the cattle Fulani to exit their nomadic lifestyle and embrace the ranching option, a policy an official inappropriately called “domestication”.
Also, the old grazing pathways and reserves, which were created as part of the agricultural strategies of the defunct Northern Region will be revived so as to keep the free-roaming herdsmen, who are involved in the pastoralist branch of farming away from their counterparts who cultivate crops.
Before I go further, let me point out that there has been this controversy over whether the “Fulani herdsmen” killing, maiming, robbing, sacking villages and setting fire to people’s property after chasing them into the bush are actually “Fulani herdsmen” or insurgents, criminals and mercenaries masquerading as such. If you ask me, I will say the latter is the case.
Why would a genuine Fulani cattle-rearer saddled with his precious cattle which he often values above human beings, carry weapons and launch attacks on communities where he grazes his animals on a daily basis? They do carry weapons but that is usually for self-defence against cattle rustlers. Going on the offensive means they do not want a peaceful atmosphere to graze their cattle. It can only mean that the gun-wielding “Fulani herdsmen” are agents of some political forces out to terrorise their victims for some unexplained reasons; either in vainglorious attempt at land grabbing or territorial expansion. Otherwise, why is it that is mostly minority hamlets populated chiefly by non-Muslim groups in Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states that are targeted?
This puzzle must be solved by the security agencies and the real identity of the armed insurgents exposed and dealt with. Otherwise, the innocent, genuine Fulani nomad, who has droven his livestock through the terrains of the West African sub-region for ages with little friction, will become a target of assault wherever he goes if the awareness grows that he is a danger to their hosts.
We must persuade the Fulani nomads to do away with the rumoured assumption by them that, because they have been allowed to drove their cattle through other people’s lands for ages without let or hindrance it now gives them the right to claim “ownership” of those lands. That is a recipe for eternal conflicts, and being people without access to land, the Fulani herdsmen will be the ultimate loser. We don’t want any section of society to lose out. After all, the Fulani cattle and livestock are part of the food needs of the society and the herdsmen are providing an important service too. We must be ready to accommodate each other, but the Fulani must do away with their ancient imperial mentality, which some of them exhibit even in politics and governance. It has been a source of friction between them and other Nigerians. Usman Dan Fodio’s Jihads and amassment of the Sokoto Caliphate is a thing of the past and no community will be willing to surrender their lands to infiltrators under whatever guise. This reality must sink in once and for all.
On the other hand, it is high time that the people of the Southern zones reawakened their own agricultural enterprises. It is not only the North that should engage in large-scale agriculture. The South has unwittingly abandoned their evergreen agricultural commonwealth and allowed the North to supply their food, both crops and animal products. That is highly anomalous and dangerous. A lot of young men and women who should be in the farms are loitering the streets of the major towns in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Aba – you name it, peddling worthless imported goods in the traffic. They are wasting their lives cultivating poverty rather than go back to their villages and engage in modern farming and become wealthy like the American farmers under our new agricultural deal.
More pathetic is the fact that the various animals and crops that are peculiarly Southern are now beginning to go into extinction due to lack of people cultivating them for consumption. We have the Southern forest goats, which are stronger and more nutritious than the long legged savannah goats from the North we are forced to consume. We also have the native chicken and the short legged cows which in Igbo are called efi(as in Ogbu-efi, a prestigious Igbo title given to one who kills this type of cow to announce his arrival as a man of substance in society. That prestige was never for those who kill the ndama cows of the Fulani).
There is nothing wrong in encouraging people to go into ranching of the native Southern goats and cows in the South as well as the ranching of the Northern goats and cows in the north. People can always choose which animal product to go for. Fulani cattle breeders can go into pacts with land owners, even in the South, pay rents and breed their cattle, always avoiding droving their cows through farmlands.
It is possible for us to live peacefully and prosperously here in Nigeria, provided we adopt positive and realistic mindsets towards one another, eschewing asinine imperialistic antics.