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Herdsmen, Massob and need for caution — 1

By Dele Sobowale

“If you can keep your head/while others around you are losing theirs…

Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936.

That was one of the conditions good old “Rudy” gave for becoming a real man in one those long poems which we were proud to memorise at Igbobi College in the early 1960s. As much as possible, it has become a vital part of my life. The principle is “in any circumstance, be the last to get hysterical”. At the moment several events are driving Nigerians up the walls.

Predictably, when a nation is besieged by an avalanche of social, economic and political challenges, there is no shortage of “Quick Fix” solutions. Invariably, the proponents of those “solutions” depend on the current pervasive frustration felt by most of the fellow citizens to present their ideas articulately and loudly. Noise is always an essential part of whipping up mass hysteria. It seldom sheds light on the issues at stake and the promoters of the agenda seldom bother to consider the consequences. To them, the most important thing is to be heard.

Fortunately, late Senator Hubert Humphrey, 1911-1978, a former Vice-President of the USA, on August 3, 1965, in Madison, Wisconsin, had told another hysterical group of university students (including me) that “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” It was a devastating put down; impossible to forget.

Two matters, calling for extreme caution, dominate our discussions theses days, apart from the APC/PDP political tango. The first concerns the herdsmen and the other the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB. Because the issue of the herdsmen (and women incidentally) has become a hot issue in Yorubaland, permit my “charity” to start at home. It will not end there.

I was closer to the herdsmen than most Nigerians could ever be because within two years of relocating to Kano, I had a small flock which was on the move by herdsmen and women. Contrary to the notion most Nigerians have, of several rampaging mobs of marauders, what is on the move 24/7 are several families and communities working to feed the nation with animal protein. The flock they drive around the nation turns millions of tonnes of grass, shrubs and leaves (all useless to us) into meat which we love to devour. For the most part they graze in places where there are no farms and no human settlement. If the truth must be said, they take great risks with their lives, which are copiously lost, to grow their cattle. The encroachment into farms, admittedly reprehensible, is almost always inadvertent and not premeditated. The herdsmen and women don’t carry compasses, they follow the sun and the seasons and they have only a rough notion of their own location on the map of Nigeria. If they invade a farm, as some of them do, it is not because they have decided in advance to enter “Farmer X’s” farm and pillage it; most of the time it because they lost their bearings.

I have gone into those details because of conversations I had with the fellow handling my flock. And, I can assure the readers that close to 99.9 per cent of herds people are not violent or deliberately destructive. Let me also correct another pervasive mistake which, if not taken into account, could result in ethnic cleansing of Fulani people. While the majority of herdsmen are Fulani, not all are Fulani. Thus, our penchant for always referring to all of them as Fulani herdsmen puts the entire blame on the Fulani. That is most unfair.

Now the current uproar in Yorubaland, especially after the kidnap of Chief Olu Falae, CFR, can now be examined against the background of the information provided above. To be quite candid, I think the Yoruba leaders who gathered at Ibadan, as well as others who are calling for “drastic action” (secession, inter-ethnic conflict, self-help etc) are totally misguided. The leaders of Afenifere and their spokesman, Yinka Odumakin were acting out of character. To me they have always followed the path of caution. It is possible that the relative loss of relevance in the politics of the South-West is responsible. Femi Fani-Kayode’s outbursts are not surprising. His love for fishing in troubled waters is inherited from a character who was a major player in the WILD, WILD WEST of the 1960s. Femi has also inherited cowardice. When the war for which he is clamouring starts, he will run for cover.

The first question one must ask those asking for Yoruba collective action is this: why are we asked to fight? Is it because a BIG man was finally involved in a drama which plays out daily throughout Nigeria involving herdsmen and farmers? If so, it will be difficult to imagine a more silly reason for such a measure. I have the utmost regard for Chief Falae, my senior at Igbobi College, but, it is doubtful if he would support such a step when he was Secretary to the Federal Government if it was another prominent Yoruba person who was kidnapped. So, what makes this case different? The only war fought by two nations was between Troy and Greece over Helen of Troy. The two nation-states paid dearly for their follies.

It certainly cannot be on account of thousands of farmers in the region who had suffered without anyone calling for action on their behalf. And, how many of those who attended the meeting at Ibadan, in designer attire, will take up their guns and march to the front if conflict breaks out? So what is being proposed by the some of the elite in Yorubaland is a war to be fought by the poor to save rich people’s farms from destruction. Lest anybody thinks this is one-sided, I also have total disdain for people like Senator Shehu Sani and Kwakwanso, who will only read about casualties from the comfort of their homes……

 


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