Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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The biggest problem of a writer is when he puts a lot of resources and energy and yet the product of his efforts gets ignored. In a society like Nigeria which has little respect for intellect and knowledge, this is very common. In 2009 when clashes between sedentary farmers and herdsmen were still at a rudimentary stage, I wrote on this page, captioning my column for July 20 2009“NOMADIC FULANI AND THE REST OF US”. In it I warned that the country will face dire consequences if we do not ask the right questions and come out with the right solutions to the problem. I was ignored.
But look at where we are today. I hereby reproduce my column of July 20, 2009:
The nomadic Fulani do not trek long distances out a hobby. They do not journey for tribal wars but trek in search of fresh grazing grounds. The products of their long toil ensure their survival and come to us in the form of milk, meat and leather – things we need.
In the colonial and first republic days when agriculture was the backbone of our economy, their grazing habits presented a serious problem to Nigeria’s agricultural and forestry practices. The governments of those days asked the relevant questions and provided appropriate answers. Consequently, they came out with such policies as carving out grazing reserves particularly in the Northern part of Nigeria.
Such policies however lost their impetus with the military take-over of government, the ensuing anarchy, the civil war and the emergence of oil as a superior foreign exchange earner over agriculture. Each of these events has contributed in its own way in leading the country away from its coherent agricultural policies, leading to distortions that have made the nomadic Fulani and the rest of the country worse off.
When Solomon Daushep Lar an elected governor of Plateau (1979-1983) tried to implement his policy on nomadic education, it’s main thrust got lost in the political and religious storm it generated. During the Military, Prof JibrilAminu tried to re-invent Lar’s program. At the launching of the Nomadic Education scheme in Yola, capital of Gongola State in 1987, I remember the State Governor Johnah David Jang telling the Minister in a rather point blank manner that nomadic education without provision of grazing reserves for the Fulani’s was “an exercise in futility.” The governor was instantly dubbed by the members of the Ministers entourage as a Fulani hater. Today, given the state of the permanent slumber of the whole scheme, all fair minded people will agree with me that the governor was right and the Minister was wrong.
It is not just the lack of government created reserves and educational opportunities that is the misfortune of the nomadic Fulani. In 1983 for instance, Rinderpest a highly contagious virus devastated cattle rearing, destroying the economic life wire of the nomads.
Where do all these problems lead the nomadic Fulani? For how long will the shy, humble Fulani cattleman keep moving with this heavy baggage?
Brazil had 175 million heads of cattle by 2002 count. There are more today and the country is making bold attempts to tackle the problems of cattle rearing. Even though these attempts have not led to a comprehensive solution to the problem, you can see efforts to that direction. There, the government and civil society are worried about the effects of massive grazing on the Amazon forests – grazing is the biggest cause of deforestation in that region. It has deprived the rural populace of their land, their natural habitat and has accelerated the rapid rate of global warming. All kinds of policies are being advocated or implemented in a realistic attempt to find a solution to what has become a menace. There are even efforts to discourage the populace from beef consumption and large scale cattle grazers who clear the Amazon every year to plant grazing grass. The mere fact that genuine efforts are being made is reassuring.
Here our stock in trade is to trivialize and invoke sentiments on the issue. When Fulani people run into problems on the Plateau we mount propaganda on the theory that Governor David Jang hates the Fulani. If you remove Jang as the governor, will the problem of the nomadic Fulani on the Plateau disappear? No.
When sedentary Tiv farmers have a clash with mobile Fulani cattlemen, we set up a committee that humors itself and irritates the rest of us with boring tales of Tiv/Fulani kinship. What if that committee succeeds in the task of building a harmonious relationship between the two feuding groups? Will the Tiv people in Benue, Taraba and Nassarawa have enough land to graze all the herds of cattle in Nigeria?
I ask because all over Nigeria, the Fulani herdsmen are at war with sedentary farmers. They fight the Ndoro in Taraba, wrestle the Kanakuru in Adamawa and are at war with Bura of Borno. They do not even spare themselves as they often fight with the Fulani of Sokoto who are involved in sedentary farming.
Down South they have clashed with the Yoruba and the Ibo’s who call their live cattle “nama”. A few years ago, Fulani cattlemen were grazing at the Port Harcourt airport and some of their cattle were having a nice time on the tarmac when the Control Tower cleared an incoming aircraft to land. It was divine intervention that saved what could have been a major air disaster. If that happened, would we have concluded the thatIkwere people of Rivers are waging war against the Fulanis?
The problem of nomadic Fulani is not just between them and the Tiv or between them and David Jang or between them and Plateau and Borno States. It is a serious issue of economics and environment – a problem that requires coordinated national and even sub-continental approach. It is a clash of civilizations – like the near air disaster in Port Harcourt shows – and not a problem that can be sorted out by a Tiv/Fulani forum with its endless tales of historical jokes, no matter how humorous they may be.