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Our sacred cattle and their grazing routes

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There have been resistance to President Muhammadu Buhari’s revival of grazing routes across the country. In the last few years, a number of states have made laws to prohibit open grazing within their boundaries. These assaults on cattle have reached a point where those who care about the rights of cattle must act. As a self-appointed cattle rights advocate, I set out in this piece convincing reasons for the primacy of open grazing over ranching which is being popularised as a better alternative. I argue that, for a number of reasons, our nomadic herding model has a comparative advantage over the ranching model practised in civilized countries.

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First, nomadic herding is the future of the Nigerian economy. Under President Muhammadu Buhari, it has become evident that petroleum can no longer be the mainstay of the country’s economy. The reason is obvious to all except the mischievous who take too seriously market statistics, the power of meaningful economic policies, and the place of a competent economic team. When the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) presented himself for the job, the only economic-related experience on his CV is herding. We trooped to the polls to elect him because we believed in the revolutionizing power of his job experience. Now that all other aspects of the economy are either collapsed or struggling under him, it is time we revived our trust in the president’s core economic competence. Glaringly, nomadic herding is the only surviving sector of the national economy where we have in the highest office both the will and the competence to provide leadership. If they are tried in a competent court of law, those who are acting against open grazing will be found guilty of treasonable felony, for they are sabotaging the country’s economy. Under Buhari, the economic future of Nigeria is guaranteed only to the extent that we allow the open grazing agenda to thrive.

Second, ranching is a violation of the fundamental rights of cattle to freedom of movement. I admit Nigeria is not the best country when it comes to animal rights. Our focus has been on preventing cruelty to animals. Nevertheless, one thing we have always done better than countries with good animal rights laws is ensuring animals’ right to freedom of movement. We have achieved this without authoritative documents until the recent review of grazing routes by President Muhammadu Buhari. The president has left no one in doubt that he will not leave office until he legalises the use of firearms by our nomads. It is not too much to ask that our nomads be guaranteed a steady supply of AK-47 riffles for the sake of our sacred cows. It will not be out of place to call the president the patron saint of cattle rights, for he has done to ensure cattle rights more than anyone else in history did. I am sure other animals in the country will be envious of cattle these days. We even privilege the rights of cattle over the rights of our brothers and their women who lead the cattle from forest to forest. With no access to healthcare or education, they pay the highest price in the service of the cattle. No country does this better than we do. When we extend the rights to other sacred animals, we will take our rightful place in global animal affairs.

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Third, ranched cattle produce meat whose softness is strange to the typical Nigerian dentition. Ranching produces a kind of beef whose softness in the mouth feels like boneless fish, with no struggle between the teeth and the tongue. Is that one truly beef? The beauty of our local parties is in the toughness of the meat served. Such meat is sourced mostly from nomadic cattle. Cattle that traversed forests covering thousands of kilometres in a lifetime of two years or so cannot but produce meat that is worthy of a serious bite. We can always trust the quality of their beef. Why do you think private-jet-flying dignitaries from all walks of life flew to Kano to attend the royal wedding of Yusuf Buhari, son of President Muhammadu Buhari, and Zahra Ado Bayero, daughter of Emir of Bichi, Nasiru Ado Bayero? Those are people of means (and it matters not how they got the means) who can afford to feast daily, even in today’s crumbling economy. Nevertheless, the challenge nomadic herding is currently facing has denied many of them access to beef from authentic nomadic cattle. Being who President Muhammadu Buhari is, a herder of repute and an unrepentant supporter of nomadic cattle, everyone attending the party was certain there would be enough supply of beef from nomadic cattle.

Fourth, ranching is a betrayal of the heritage that our forebears entrusted to us. The countries that have civilized beyond nomadic herding have strayed too far from the heritage handed over to them by their forebears. Unlike those countries, we have kept the philosophy of nomadism in honour of our history and as a service to future generations. How else do we keep reminding ourselves that we are descendants of wandering Neanderthals? The few among us herding cattle across the country’s forests are our true heroes, literally walking in the footsteps of our ancestors who lived some 40,000 years ago. Nomadism is our pride and we must leave no stone unturned in seeking its preservation. The earlier we get the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to recognise nomadism as our major intangible cultural heritage, the better. Our Arewa brothers and sisters have always missed out on this important point, that cattle are more valuable than petrol. The legislative coup they executed against oil producing states would have been needless, had our Arewa people supported President Muhammadu Buhari in giving cattle the well deserved dignity.

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Fifth, ranching will deny our cattle access to farmlands across the country. We have across the country an army of farmers who are not tired of feeding wandering cattle. Our farmers cultivate different delicacies for our cattle. They know what cattle like to eat in rainy and dry seasons. They understand the taste of different species of cattle and plant just to satisfy the cattle. They even go to the extent of taking loans from banks to ensure that the farms do not fail the cattle. Despite that marauding herders have subjected them to rape, abduction and murder, surviving farmers keep returning to the farm. Their allegiance to feeding wandering cattle remains unflinching, for it is a sentence inspired by the powers that be. Contrary to general belief, the farmers who have died in the line of duty did not fall to the cruelty of criminal herders; they paid the maximum price for securing the future of our sacred cattle. They do not deserve any protection from the country, as martyrs need no saviours. They die to preserve the Nigerian dream that is hidden in the destinies of our cattle.

Before it is too late, we need to come to terms with the centrality of open grazing to the survival of Nigeria. Let us lay aside our pride and stop treating cattle as common animals, for they are sacred animals with rights. It is an act of good citizenship to support the dreams of our leader. Our problems are wicked. They have defied all known textbook solutions. Let us revive our trust in the visionary leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. Open grazing may be the revolution we have always wanted. In the long run, nomadic cattle may be our greatest gift to the world, as we daily inch toward the end of petrodollar economy.

Oladapo wrote from the University of Ibadan.

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