By Alade Rotimi-John
|Fulani herdsmen grazing along Akure/Ilesha Expressway.|
That public discourse for sometime now has been dominated by our respective view of the place of the cow in the polity is proof that the cow is poised to take its “rightful” place in the Nigerian estate. The cow is not content with its backyard place as the controversial or disputed fifth estate of the realm. As we have failed or refused to accord it its rightful due, the cow, full of wiles and fury, has willy-nilly forced itself into our consciousness. It is contesting the place of the first estate of the realm. It is however, happily assisted by the occupiers of the position it feverishly covets.
In legendary mythology, Daedalus, that ingenious inventor, craftsman and artist believed to have migrated from Athens to Crete, designed and built the labyrinth to house the Minotaur and the hollow cow for Pasiphae, the queen and wife of Minos. In curious envy, Minos her husband, detained Daedalus. As a way of escape, Daedalus contrived the wings of feathers and wax for himself and his son, Icarus. He has since dominated the consciousness of everyone for his ingenuity and daring.
The Fulani in Nigeria represent the self-longing of the cow to spread its wings outside of the Fulani ancestral homeland of Fouta Djallon or to be foot-loose as to straddle everywhere. The Fulani are the spokesmen of the searching cravings of the cow to transform into a veritable institution of state. They have made a hollow cow for Pasiphae who fell in love with the bull that had been banished to the island for sacrifice. Pasiphae got inside the hollow cow and was mated with the bull and gave birth to the Minotaur who now seek their rightful place. Minos their father, enraged by the killing of his children, has waged a ceaseless war on the outlying lands and can only be pacified by annual tribute of the inhabitants of the troubled lands. The Fulani “righteous” indignation will only be assuaged by a general agreement to allow a free rein of the cow over all the forest, farms, green or lush grounds and over the ponds and waters of their host communities.
The ambition of the cow to have a pride of place regarding a desired enlargement of the constitutional apportionment of value, quantities and figures to the respective arms of the Nigerian estate appears already laid out for it. Even though all lands comprised within a state are the jurisdiction only of the governor of that state, the cow will appear to be the only citizen that may share jurisdiction with the governor as it can unilaterally allot lands to itself in any part of the federation or any estate for the purposes of grazing, etc. As cattle trample on arable lands, as farmers contest their rude intrusion into their farms and as even the authorities appear helpless or reluctant to enforce the law, the cow may be inching its way towards its objective.
Many official policy positions for putting the cow in what is considered its natural place have been canvassed and thoroughly interrogated for their effectiveness, relevance or appropriateness. The present controversy over a putative national programme for providing land and access for herdsmen and their cattle across Nigeria’s land mass has been largely conduced by an invidious or partisan Federal Government position. Cattle rearing or the protection of livestock has become, in Nigeria, the metaphor for identifying the true nature of the official perception of the “commanding heights” of the economy over which government’s attention and energy are understandably concentrated. Official attention to other sectors of the economy trails behind the requirement or urgency to forestall a feared anger or exasperation of the Fulani herdsmen and the consequences attendant thereto. These ones must be courted, placated or pacified for the “wrongs” which the indigenous people of Nigeria have done them.
The government has refused to recognise that nomadic life is anachronistic or out of tune with modern existence. Many societies had been nomadic in the early days of their formation. The American Indians used to shepherd their buffalos, guiding them across long, uncharted territories. However, the requirement of or the search for an acceptable social system has paved the way for a modernist, less-prickly inter-personal relations milieu and genuine progress. The earth’s land resource being so finite, all available land space has been mapped out, surveyed and appropriated by individuals, families, villages, towns, etc. There are therefore no longer frontiers or “no man’s land”; there are only well defined boundaries. Trespassing has generally been criminalised. Farm settlements, ranches, animal husbandry and grazing enclosures, etc. have been identified as generally acceptable and less prone to the vexatious, painful and murderous activities of people like the Fulani herdsmen militia who rampage sleepy communities, destroy farm lands and crops, kill and maim innocent villagers in farming communities and lay siege on motorists on the highway, killing or abducting them for ransom.
Flustered or embarrassed by the popular rejection of a programme for rewarding errant Fulani herdsmen, the government devised a detour. It self-complacently announced it had secured land in all parts of the country for establishing composite ranches consisting of grazing land, modern social amenities in the form of schools, hospitals, veterinary clinics, markets, road networks, dams, manufacturing entities, etc. for the convenience of herdsmen, their wives, children and other dependants. The whole nation expectedly rose in bemused uproar, countering the government’s claim that it had been consulted and its concurrence obtained. Government shame-facedly renounced its position, saying it was “suspending the implementation” of the programme. From community to community came echoes of bewilderment regarding a patently partisan and invidious attitude and action of a government. All over Nigeria, there is a pervading sense of a nation on tenterhook. So much anxiety about the future of a federation administered from the standpoint of a self-indulgent, impunitous and un-ethical tapestry abounds.
There is however a redeeming quality in a scenic flashback to the all-time prescriptions of inimitable Chief ObafemiAwolowo regarding many of our nation’s seemingly intractable challenges. The RUGA settlement conundrum, for instance, has situated the centrality of the Awo dialectics to the resolution of this and other nagging issues of our time. An insightful recourse to the Awo template will therefore save us un-necessary hare-brained interventions whose proponents are now on the prowl. Chief Awolowo, first as Leader of Government Business and later as Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, proposed and implemented for the Region an innovative programme of agricultural production, storage and marketing which included in its amplitude animal husbandry by way of the establishment of ranches, grazing enclosures and farm settlements.
Chief Awolowo considered that it was too irksome or energy-sapping for cattle to be driven across long distances for foliage and fodder. The animals are sure to lose weight en route their indeterminate destination even as they are exposed to unsavoury weather conditions, the elements and to diseases, among other risk factors. Their handlers are no less exposed. Awo, in fact, introduced a special breed of cattle into his Region by importing a tsetse fly resistant variety whose other features included a naturally endowed good quality beef panoply and a splendid variety of health giving milk products, etc. The herds were garrisoned in large farm settlements or ranches at Shaki, Apoje, Ikorodu, Ikare, Agege, Ikun, Ibadan, OkeOdan, etc.
It is a sad commentary on the pace and direction of our development trajectory that the aforementioned great achievements of the past have been reversed through ineptitude or mediocrity in governance and by sheer lack of foresight on the part of this and previous administrations in Nigeria.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote vide email@example.com
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