July 13, 2021

Nigeria and cattle: Dialogue of the deaf

Nigeria and cattle: Dialogue of the deaf

By Patrick Dele Cole

THE Fulani North claims that cattle is central to their existence. If they cannot sell their cattle the way they have been doing then the Northerner’s very existence is threatened. The South is not listening to this plea of the Fulani North’s necessity to survive.

The South feels that in this day and age nomadic rearing of cattle should not be the centre of the life of the Fulani, that this claim is unjustified and the Northern Fulani are exploiting their power to force Southerners to accept what the North decrees.

As usual, the North claims that the South is not only insensitive but they forget too soon how the North saved the South from destruction by the Igbo as they attempted secession. If you have not learnt your lesson we are ready to teach you the lesson again, but this time there will be hell to pay.

The South retorts that Fulani North does not see what is being complained about. Your cattle are killing our crops; your herders are burning our villages, killing farmers who try to stop the destruction of their crops. Cattle herders are carrying AK-47 guns to protect themselves and killing crops, and anyone who remonstrates against the uncontrolled despoliation of their land.

The North claims that the land is not the property of the farmers. The Nigerian Constitution allows freedom of movement and freedom of trade. That, in fact, there is a law guaranteeing freedom of trade, guaranteeing free grazing on routes established by law. TheNorth further claims that there may be unauthorised Northerners, or even non-Nigerians who carry AK-47 and pose as herders.

In any case security should be the province of a Governor not that of the President. All of a sudden more deaf people are shouting at one another, and nobody is hearing the other. Let’s go back. Some parts of Nigeria depend on cattle for livelihood. How can these people continue to live if they cannot sell their cattle? The Southerners should have replied by saying no problem.

You have been going through Southern Nigeria for ages and there has been no problem. How can we stop herders from carrying AK-47? It is illegal anyway. How can you stop them from carrying guns to kill Southerners?  The routes to the South are well-known, so it should be possible to stop herders carrying AK-47. There have been cattle stops in the South for ages – colonies of Fulani. They know the people: the people of these cow sanctuaries know the routes which do not destroy farms.

If non-Nigerians carry AK-47 killing Southerners – how can such actions benefit the herders? Should the Fulani herders and the Southerner not unite to drive out the foreign herders who cause havoc to both Southerners and Hausa Fulani? Eventually these established trade routes would stop regardless of how many guns the herders have.

If these are the basis of a dialogue then progress is beginning to be made. On a much larger scale, travelling 1000km may be adventurous but modern trading practices may soon put an end to this type of business. The grazing routes being mentioned by the President and Attorney General were all in the North. When will proper grazing farms be established?

Is that not an opportunity for investment to be funded by the perspicacious investor, etc. It may be objected that this will end nomadism, yes; but it has to end sometime. Camels used to be transported by nomads in Abu Dhabi, but there are no cattle or camels there now.  Good productive dialogue is an attitude of the mind. The North must see the Southern argument as the South must answer to the concerns of the North. That’s how brothers speak. 

Nomadism must end. How do we do it humanely? Anything to learn from Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa? The brickbat between Governor Nyesom Wike and President Muhammadu Buhari is unfortunate, but it reveals the unanswered question of the real relationship between the President and the Governors.

That relationship has to be co-operative and the latent difficulty can only be papered over. President Buhari is calling on governors who like to describe themselves as chief security officers of the state. No constitution can possibly cover all eventualities that may arise between the governor and the president. The relationship has to be calibrated carefully in a non-combative manner.  It is the duty of the President to protect all Nigerians.

He cannot say that insurgents dressed as herdsmen who carry guns and who hurt Nigerians, because they are not the stick carrying Fulani herdsmen then somehow his obligation to security is somewhat diminished or non-existent. The people being killed in the South are Nigerians. If those killing them are not Nigerians then the President has a double responsibility.  Non-Nigerians have breached our borders and are killing our people. But what can the President possibly mean by bringing up the nationality of the killers and pushing blame away from his kinsmen? 

The President went further to call on Nigerians in his cabinet and implied that they do not live up to their responsibility when he calls upon them about security. The President did not tell us that he and the governors meet in the National Council of State. It is somewhat unseeming that security matters cannot be handled there.

Nor is Wike’s answer not somewhat disingenuous. It is true that the President appoints the security chiefs and military personnel. The governor works with these appointees to keep security in his state. At a more mundane level Governor Wike’s one unaccountable head of expenditure is the security vote. What did Governor Wike think this money was for? From where he presumably, sent N500 million to the fire victims in Sokoto market? You can’t spend security vote and adjourn the job of securing your people.

Basically, government is not nearly as compartmentalised as President Buhari and Governor Wike want us to believe. Ministers from the South should have been telling President Buhari what really was happening to their farmers. He claims they do not: they claimed that they do but the President does not listen. One gets the impression that this job- seeking Ministers are too afraid to tell the President what they feel. The Governors did not need to grandstand on this issue. It concerns everybody.

Mr. President should have shown sympathy to all those killed in the South, promise to end their suffering- one person killed in the South or the North is one Nigerian killed. This is unacceptable. Mr. President has a problem and it is this: how can he, accompanied by the Governors, end this unnecessary bloodletting? Can Nigeria not face the challenge of nomadism?

The South must see the problem posed by changing conditions and find solution to it. The problem was not that cattle should not graze on their way to the South. The herders must not destroy crops, kill people and burn their houses. The laws in Nigeria do not allow herders to kill farmers or anyone else even if their cattle are being rustled. Since when does the President of a country condone the carrying of AK-47? It is illegal.