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Herdsmen and massob: Need for caution (2)

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By Dele Sobowale

Read first part here

“Nothing in this world is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo, 1802-1883, (VANGUARD BOOK, p 96).

The first part of this article tried to establish certain facts. Chiefly, it was pointed out that our penchant for using the term Fulani herdsmen was unfair demonisation of one ethnic group – the Fulani. While a good number of herdsmen and women are Fulani, those shepherding livestock all over Nigeria are not all Fulani neither are they all men. Those late Yinusa Idi recruited, my Supervisor, in a settlement near Gezawa, Kano, to handle my own flock in the early 1980s included Basa-Nges, Igalas and Juguns. They’ve learnt the tricks.

Second, Nigerian nomads, unlike pilots and ship captains don’t operate with precise compasses telling them the exact locations in which they find themselves or where they are headed. Furthermore, they seldom find themselves in the same place every time. So, as they move with the flock, they might not know there is a farm ahead until they wander into it. By then, it is too late to prevent the flock from wreaking havoc.

Third, most of the nomadic communities on the move are usually unarmed; at least until now. Rustlers, armed robbers in the jungle, had forced many of them to acquire arms to protect themselves.

Fourth, the sort of gang of robbers, who kidnapped Chief Oul Falae, cannot be “professional” herdsmen who work 24/7 to find fodder and water for their flock. The real herdsmen cannot afford to leave their flock; stay in one place and negotiate a ransom to be paid for kidnapping one person. Those who kidnapped Falae were just armed robbers, perhaps working in collusion with one of the Chief’s staff to kidnap him. Otherwise, how could they have known that he would be in the farm on a day he should have been expected to stay at home?

Collectively, we need to think very hard, as a nation, about the solution to this national puzzle. The herdsmen and women provide far more economic benefit to Nigeria than the destruction they also bring about. Nobody even remembers that they provide millions of tonnes of natural manure which feed out crops as they pass through.

We now shift our attention to Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB. Before the reader starts wondering what cow manure has in common with the struggle for self-determination by the Igbo nation, let me quickly summarise what they have in common. And that can be reduced to two words – prejudice and panic. Scratch any Nigerian, including the so-called “de-tribalised” and you will find tribalism embedded and more than skin deep. Everybody was too eager to flay the Fulani, almost ten million in number, for the actions of less than one million herdsmen – not all Fulani – because the Fulani are supposed to enjoy more power than their population dictates.

MASSOB is also now regarded as an outlaw organization because other ethnic groups actually hate the Igbos. Yet, the self-determination for which MASSOB is agitating is as old as time itself. When Moses asked Pharaoh, “let my people go”, he started a political movement which will outlast all of us. Three examples will illustrate why I think we are handling the MASSOB challenge the wrong way and creating a national crisis when there should be none.

Britain just concluded a referendum on account of demand by some Scots men and women for self-determination. Some marched; others wrote; some used social media, television and radio programmes to make their demands. Pastors even preached it in their churches. Nobody was arrested. A referendum was organized and the majority voted to stay in Britain. That brought a peaceful end to the palaver.

When India gained independence from Britain in 1948, the country included what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh. Political agitations resulted in the fracture which produced three countries today. Each tine, the people concerned were allowed to determine their own future.

Closer to home, many people, my age, would recollect that Southern Cameroun was once part of Nigeria. Indeed, the NCNC, founded by Herbert Macaulay and others, who, on getting old, handed the leadership to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, was once called the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun. Another set of “freedom fighters” demanded that Southern Cameroun should leave Nigeria and join its northern half. Just before Nigeria was granted independence in 1960, a plebiscite was arranged for the people. When the overwhelming majority voted to leave Nigeria, a peaceful separation resulted.

To me the MASSOB challenge can also be resolved peacefully; this time by arranging two referendums. The Igbo people should be allowed to freely vote on whether or not they want to remain a part of Nigeria. Simultaneously, and on the same day, the rest of Nigeria should also decide if they want to live with them. The second proviso might, at first glance, appear strange. But, in reality it is not. Any attempt to dissolve a partnership invariably allows those who want the divorce to have their say, as well as those against.

Four possible outcomes confront all of us. Igbos could either vote to leave or to stay. The rest of us can either vote asking them to stay or go. There should be no problem if both parties choose for Igbos to stay or go. Problems would arise if Igbos vote to go and we vote to retain the union; or, if we vote for them to go and they want to stay. If the former, my advice is that Igbos should be allowed to go. The real cracker will come if the rest of Nigeria grants Igbos an exit visa when they want to remain in the union.  Permit me, if right now, I don’t offer an opinion if the latter happens to be the result of the votes. One thing is clear to me. There is no need for violence, arrests and detentions of MASSOB protesters. We should peacefully put the matter to vote.  Herdsmen or MASSOB, we need to think outside the box; we need new ideas.


  • If you still hold shares of companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, especially oil, banking, as well as food and beverages, you need to see a psychiatrist or say your last prayers.
  • Reuben Abati called Pa Edwin Clark Peter who betrayed Jesus before the cock crowed three times. Baba called Reuben a hypocrite who, after calling Mr and Mrs Jonathan a bunch of dirty names for years changed his tune once given a pot of gold. They are both right. A good name is always better than silver and gold.

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