When gun is cheaper… than shepherd’s staff
It takes curiosity to interpret today’s nomads at the first sight. The picture is the same everywhere: a herd of cattle stretches along a bushy path in the tropical heat. Leading the stalk is a pair of young men of nearly the same age bracket (between 20 and 30). Each escort hangs an assault rifle which experts call is AK47 AK4 menacingly on the shoulder. Their haversacks bulgingly displays enough spare bullets apart from the ones suitably fitted in magazines to fight off any challenge, which often occurs at one spot or the other along the tortuous trip.
Tailing them, however, are two middle-aged men in their white-turned-brown babaringa and caps. They are with remnants of what herdsmen are: empty containers of water bottles and a short stick. Still their high-pitched whistle for the animal clears any doubt as to whether they are really in charge of the stretch of animals in their various sizes and shapes. But the mien of the gun-wielding ones portrays a different picture. They can fiercely scare anybody, who dare challenge their use of space and time in any location.
For the trip, two vital items are in dire need: water and grass. These are not necessarily for the men, more than they are for the animals. As soon as a pool of water is sighted, the cattle are led in to lap on satisfactorily before their rearers could fill the cans for onward journey, pending when another is located. The scenario paints a picture that the herdsmen own both the land and space with the lethal weapon in their possession, anybody who dares query their right to the grazing land or the stream for the animal is courting trouble.
Ironically, before now, the Fulani who ferry these wares (cattle) to the market (abattoir) were known to have been friendly in the neighborhood that they cross. In the past, they were only seen with long sticks and crispy tone to tell their herds what to do. Instances were given as when they even gave out weak cows to the community for nothing, preferring instead a good rapport with owners of the lands, who in turn guide them through all terrain, devoid of farmlands. But in the recent past, this has given room to a brazen approach some say audacious moves laced with political undertone.
No known factor can yet be directly attributed to the current mayhem associated with the nomads in various parts of the country. Despite desert encroachment, which has further reduced the few patches of forest up north, there is a touch of impunity to the herdsmen’s attacks. Some have reasoned that the mere fact that the actual owners of the cattle have been assured that there is a constitutional provision for each state to provide them with free grazing land has made them to be more daring. This is coupled with their assumption that one of them is now at the helm of political decision making process in the country. But Alhaji Sale Bayari, a leader of the Fulani was able to dismiss the last notion. He pointedly stated that as far back as the colonial days, the colonialists have been tinkering with the idea of grazing channel carved out for the nomads. For him, the crisis is rampant these days, no thanks to deliberate incitement of the locals against his people.
This crisis is not even going to be helped unless there is sincere approach to the issue here. This will entail the security apparatus finding out how the herdsmen today source the guns that have become cheaper than the usual sanda (sticks) hitherto associated with herdsmen.
The National Assembly’s proposed carve-out of grazing path in each state of the federation is trite. Again, there is hardly any country in the world today where government bears the cost of private businesses. Therefore, there is the need to encourage private ranches as in other countries. The government is yet to handle this issue with all seriousness it deserves. A situation that makes it fatal for farmers or a community to raise eyebrow over destruction of land or pollution of stream is fretful. Many communities have already fallen victim of this act: The Agatu community in Bunue State, Ukpabi Nimbo, Uzo Uwani in Enugu State; Taraba and Edo States being victims of the latest atrocities. Farmer-indigenes have become refugees after the clashes.
Nigeria appears to be a country, which still tolerates the sacrifice of human lives in deference to lives of animals. There is yet a well-articulated documentary to ascertain the extent of damages. Already some are insinuating that Boko Haram sect has devised other means to wage war on the nation. This therefore calls for immediate solution to the menace before it takes more dangerous dimension, capable of forcing victims into self-defence.
We should begin by first disarming the herdsmen; probing the source of the arms acquisition. There is need to quickly embark on re-educating the nomads on peaceful co-existence. It would not be out of place for a special commission to look into the crisis, at the national level. There is also an urgent need to investigate the real cause of this crisis and offer solace to victims. A famous American-Israeli author Spencer Jude in his book the Wedge On Nation Building, he states: “Offended mind find solace only in soothing words, more so from the aggressor.” Since the offender in this invasion is known, extracting reconciliatory words from them may be part of it. But where it is herculean, government can do that indirectly on behalf of all.
President Buhari once lamented over the loss of farming work by the IDPs in the northeastern part of the country. But the losses will be higher if the ongoing crisis between farmers and herdsmen is not checked. Current report says about N2.5 billion has been lost, excluding lives lost in some states like Benue, Taraba and Abia. Even the idea of importing grass to feed the cattle, which is believed will cost about N600 million annually is ludicrous.
There is a still a lot to be done if a final solution to the crisis is to be found. But one thing is certain: the nomadic invasion is defying all permutations. Certainly, these days, the gun has become cheaper than shepherd’s rod and staff.
• Eke is a Lagos-based journalist. He wrote via Emmaeke30@gmail.com