By Ochereome Nnanna
IN every adversity there is an opportunity. It is a normal trait of human behaviour that the most innovative thinking takes place when man is jolted out of his comfort zone by uncommon challenges dressed up in the garb of adversity. Some of the inventions by German scientists during the First and Second World Wars are still driving the world’s technological age. It is also true that if Nigeria had adopted the scientific and technological inventions of Biafran scientists during the Nigerian civil war, this country would probably have become to Africa what Japan is to Asia, gateway to rapid growth from Third World to First.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled: A Puerile and Futile ‘Ban’ in response to a call by the Ohanaeze Youths Council, OYC, on the governors of the South-East zone to ban the consumption of beef produced from the cows herded by Fulani pastoralists. According to the OYC, if these herders (who now carry sophisticated firearms, invade farms with their cows and kill farmers and landowners) can’t see anyone to buy their cows, they will no longer graze them on farmlands belonging to other people.
I countered this argument by saying it does not make sense. How can you implement this “ban” if imposed when, for now, there is no alternative to the Fulani cow for beef lovers? It was even possible that the people who made this call ate beef from Fulani cattle immediately after the event. Besides, who said the menace of armed Fulani herdsmen is only about looking for greener pastures for their livestock? Haven’t we lived alongside peaceful Fulani herders since time immemorial, simply because they never caused trouble until now?
Are we not reading inciting claims by some deranged Fulani writers such as one Professor Mohammed Labdo, that some areas where herdsmen have been allowed to graze their cattle now belong to the Fulani “by conquest,” a claim that is nothing but a figment of a malaria-infested imagination? Can’t we see that this asinine talk of an ECOWAS treaty that purportedly established cattle routes all over the West African sub-region (without consulting landowners for their approval) is nothing but a veiled agenda insinuating that Fulani pastoralists are now co-owners of indigenous lands?
Can’t we see the evil imperialist intents behind the desperate push for “grazing reserves” and “cattle colonies” which the Muhammadu Buhari government wants to acquire for Fulani livestock businessmen all over the country? Can’t we read between the lines that the Benue Anti-Open Grazing Law is specifically meant to counter the Fulani claim to ownership of the Benue Valley and the entire Middle Belt “by conquest”, as Prof. Labdo put it?
Merely boycotting Fulani cows will definitely not work. Even if a boycott is heeded (which won’t happen), it does not stop the armed pastoralists from grazing on your farms and fattening their cows to go and sell in other zones. So, what are the solutions to the armed herdsmen menace?
The primary answer is that the law enforcement agencies must wake up and do their constitutionally-bounden duty of providing protection to all law-abiding citizens irrespective of their ethnic, religious, occupational or regional backgrounds. Pastoralists are also important, just like farmers or land tillers. Both sides need help by government.
Secondly, the Fulani ethnic group must accept that nomadism is no longer feasible in today’s world. The Fulani nomads should emulate their settled tribesmen who have become dominant in our political landscape. The settled Fulani are as modern as any other group. They are among the most educated Nigerians. They are swimming in the bounties of this country. They are occupying mighty positions at the highest levels of governance, armed forces, police, security agencies and the bureaucracy. It is a shame that the settled Fulani are the most vocal in insisting that their nomadic cousins must be allowed to continue roaming the bushes living like wild animals, feeding their herds of livestock.
These settled Fulani and their non-Fulani pals who also own cattle feed fat of the toils of the Fulani nomads. They are the most strident in the opposition to ranching. Ranching will expose the nomads to modern education and the good things of life which will eventually make them to forsake nomadic pastoralism. If the Fulani nomads settle down, their eyes will open, and they may turn against their exploitative settled cousins in rebellion. That is what the fat-cow settled Fulani do not want. But that is what they will get eventually, whether they like it or not. Nobody will tolerate these killings and territorial claims for much longer. Patience is wearing thin across the Middle Belt and South, and the dam may break any time soon.
The second leg of the solution to the herdsmen menace, apart from insisting that the law enforcement agencies do their work, is to break the ethnic monopoly of the livestock business since it has become a problem for all. We must break this monopoly, not only to sanitise and upgrade the livestock business and make it more rewarding, but also to put an end to imperialist and territorial claims.
In my article which I referred to above, I hinted that we must establish modern ranches to be operated by indigenes of each state and any other Nigerian who decides to key into it by meeting the requirements for enlistment. I am glad that this notion is gathering refrain in important quarters. The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, made a similar call recently when he called for laws banning open grazing in the South- East. Also, the President of the Association of Small and Medium Scale Industries, Anambra State, Chief Johnson Okolo, reiterated the call by the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Dr. Nnia Nwodo, for the South-East governors to reinvent the defunct Eastern Region’s ranches that were destroyed during the Biafra-Nigeria war.
It is sad that after the war, the entire South appeared to have given up agriculture as a business to the North. When we were children, we learnt of the Obudu Cattle Ranch and other ranches from where local varieties of livestock such as cows, goats and sheep were reared. These varieties which were indigenous to the evergreen vegetational zones were much more nutritious and highly prized than their lean and long-legged Sahelian counterparts. In fact, the Northern livestock were generally looked down on as inferior to the Southern breeds.
For instance, when you hear an Igbo chief hailed “Ogbu Efi” (or one who killed a cow or cows), the cow does not refer to the Sahelian long-legged cows which today trample all over our farms and gorge on our crops. It refers to the shorter but heavier forest oxen which you do not find on the roadside butcher’s table. It is a delicacy for specialised ceremonies reserved for titled chiefs and those around them. Before the war, people kept these local-variety livestock as subsistent business behind their backyards. It is time we went back to this practice.
Beyond the subsistence level, state governments can establish ranches and parcel out portions for youth who are interested in livestock farming to embrace them. These youth should be trained to run these ranches as profitable businesses modelled on best practices around the world. Improved varieties of these livestock should be able to supply meat and dairy products that will make preferred alternatives to the nomadic Fulani cattle.
If this is done and the laws against open grazing are firmly enforced in the Middle Belt and southern states, there will be no more room for armed pastoral militias and their sponsors seeking to steal other people’s ancestral lands.
That is the way to go!