BY MUYIWA ADETIBA
How many times have we heard the argument that herding – meaning open grazing – is a way of life for a particular tribe in Nigeria?
It is a way of life that the elite of this tribe, including the President, wants to preserve and continue if possible forever. That a tribal elite will deliberately suppress the emancipation and growth of its own people for selfish reasons under the guise of protecting a way of life depresses me.
It is like saying we must continue with hoe and cutlass for farming because that was what our forefathers used. Or that we must continue to cover our nakedness with leaves because it was once our way of life.
We would consider it racist if a white man said Africans lived under trees. The truth is that our ancestors lived closer to nature and the elements far longer than the Europeans. But we have since moved on haven’t we? Another inconvenient truth is that many cattle herders are sub-humans. Their ‘way of life’ which the Fulani elite seems so proud of, makes them so.
From an early age if not from birth, their playmates have been cattle. They live for stretches in the bush with very few human contact. They therefore understand the way of the animal more than the way of man. Some have been known to fondle and even have sex with cattle. And if asked to make a choice, many would pick the life of a cattle ahead of human life.
The Fulani elite explains the herders’ callous and brutish actions towards humans by saying they value cows more than humans. It may be understandable given their peculiar way of life. But I would have thought it was something to be embarrassed about because it portrays a distorted personality. Yet the apologists say it with so much pride.
There is hunger in the land. And where there is hunger there is anger. This will in turn lead to economic desperation. And ultimately to crime. One of the causes of the insecurity in the land is hunger. The other is religious ideology. Both are intertwined. Both are festering in the northern part of the country largely because of the attitude of leadership at the onset. Had the government read the signs correctly instead of playing religious and ethnic cards, we might have gotten to grips with the situation earlier. Even now, some people in leadership are surprised that people of the same tribe and religion are attacking and killing each other forgetting that hunger recognises neither tribe nor religion.
Even now, the issue of open grazing is still being viewed by some, with lenses that are more sentimental than economic. The President said in one of his recent speeches that change will happen whether we are ready for it or not.
I just wish he could listen to his own speech again and accept that open grazing belongs to the past. Whoever wants to breed cows must invest in ranching. Besides, it is callous to expect other people’s children to trek the treacherous route from Niger to Lagos, from Chad to Calabar under the guise of protecting a way of life while your children study abroad, live in palaces, are given out in marriages and are able to raise children in sedate homes.
A former Minister once told me of his encounter with some young herders. They were surprised when he told them there was a better alternative out there. That they could stop wandering the bush, go to school, have decent shelter with electricity and be protected against dangerous animals and reptiles. An elder who was listening to the Minister interrupted and asked ‘you mean I can have a fan’? That all the luxury a grown man was asking for in 2018was a fan should embarrass the proponents of open grazing.
Among those children who may never see the inside of a classroom wall if some selfish and self-centred leaders have their way, are future scientists, entrepreneurs, professors and elite athletes. I once read the inspirational story of one Dr Dhanadu Shehu who is a product of nomadic education. His story talked about the challenges he had; how he and his mates studied under trees and how they had to move from place to place because people, including parents, believed they were wasting time. How his father eventually provided some form of shelter by which time only a few of the ‘students’ – six out of a hundred – survived primary education.
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Today, this nomadic student is a professor sought after by prestigious universities all over the world. His saving grace was a father who believed in education and saw a future beyond herding for his son. He is proud to tell his story everywhere he goes. I am proud to help him tell it whenever I can and to ask supporters of open grazing who keep their children in air-conditioned homes; who send their children to good schools,to fear God and fear humanity. Open grazing might seem a cheap way for the rich to own and breed cattle, but it is worse than child labour. It is child slavery.
One reason there is food scarcity is because farms have been severally abandoned. The reason farms have been abandoned is because herders have infiltrated farms destroying crops and killing or kidnapping farmers. It seems logical to me that one sure way to stem confrontation which has led to food scarcity is to keep pastoralists and farmers away from each other. It seems logical to keep herders turned bandits away from forests. Reopening outdated grazing routes cannot be the way.
Government’s plan to setup agricultural projects in every senatorial district is a step in the right direction. It should have been started six years ago. Government should however be humble enough to acknowledge that we have had similar projects in the past. Why did DIFFRI fail? Why did Operation Feed the Nation fail? Government should learn from the failures of past projects if it is really serious about getting it right – and it should, because time is running out for this administration and the legacy of Mr President. He should seek competence wherever he can find it to power his project. The devil as always, is in implementation.