THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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When Ibrahim Babangida’s Fulani-Education Minister, Jibril Aminu, in 1989 proposed compulsory ‘nomadic education’ for the children, mostly, of nomadic herdsmen, a large section of the Media vehemently kicked. Not because we did not think that it was a good idea –i.e. to ingest, in good enough time, the anti-venom necessary to counteract the potential danger of nomadic pastoralism in the foreseeable future when the herdsman’s anachronistic way of life predictably would come in the way of agrarian and communal living. Nor was the Media’s opposition to Jubril Aminu’s program informed by the fact that the nation could ill-afford such novelty. In truth nomadic education was not what many people thought it was, namely a ‘sop’ to the Saberus of geo-political or ethno-religious patronage intended to benefit a particular people. No, the particular people were targeted because they were inseparably involved in the running of a vital sector with the potential to impact positively or negatively not only on the nation’s food security, but now as we are seeing, also on the whole gamut of national security. Nomadic education was the proverbial ‘stitch in the womb of time’ that we needed and which, by now, would’ve helped us ‘save nine’. Alas, here we are today all raggedy and patched-up because we are clad in a jaded, manifoldly-torn garment of inter-ethnic crisis occasioned by our refusal to ‘stitch in time’. Had the potential nuisance of nomadic herding been timeously preempted with educating the nomadic child, by now at least a first generation army of nomadic-shy, easily ranch-embracing, sedentary successor-herders would’ve come of age to rest the drudgery of pastoral herding by accepting a sedentary life of herding through modern ranching; and especially with its trebled potentials for improving quality and quantity of meat and milk production. But no! We allowed to get the better of us, our usual trade-mark penchant for shooting down virtually every noble intention of Government on the altar of self-harming ethno-religious and geo-political grudge.
But the irony of it is that this same ranch-like option of Ruga, with its economic value chain and potentials for ending the farmers-herders crisis, was once the sing-song narrative of the same anti-pastoralists who –for reasons again, more political than pragmatic- are now vehemently in opposition to it. At the time media preachment on the virtue of ranching once took the center-stage of our public discuss, Fulani herdsmen themselves, and particularly the Buhari Government then, were the anti-sedentarists that had to be fought to accept ranching. Anti-open-grazing and pro-ranching voices were especially all over the social media haranguing the government to do the needful –namely rein in on herders to accept the option of a government-funded ranching system. And if memory serves right, two usually less than sincere state governments in this farmer-herder crisis, namely Benue and Taraba, soon rushed to their various state assemblies to legislate to outlaw open grazing even as they claimed to adopt, pretentiously now it seems, the ranching option as the minimum acceptable to them. But nothing exposes the hypocrisy especially of Benue’s Ortom more than the fact that although his was the first state that made a public show of legislating to adopt ranching, he was also the earliest to announce that Benue had no land to spare the Fulanis for ranching; and now also the stiffest in opposition to the idea of ruga-ranching. Benue again would be the first and only state to announce a poorly-scripted contractual sign-post which it alleged the Federal Government had mounted in some desolate bush as proof that contracts had already been awarded to execute the Ruga project without consulting governors. Ortom has proved himself an adept dissembler, stage-crafting the enactment of a law in order to take out from Benue a people he loved so much to hate.
And although it is now clear the Ruga option is optional and not an imposition, as has been mischievously alleged, yet the interventionist obligation of Government in such a critical sector as cattle-raising is now becoming the new Aunt Sally or the whipping boy of this army of anti-Fulani herdsmen, simply because it is privately run. And the question arises ‘why cannot Government, for the exigency of ending the farmers-herders crisis, not invest its time, energy and resources do so, when, even without as much demand of exigency, successive governments are known to intervene in several other privately-run businesses before now? Even in the United States, the bastion of democratic capitalism, government occasionally subvents and whenever necessary, subsidizes agriculture. To keep its already-wealthy five percent farming population gainfully in business, government spends billions regularly to suck up and store-away glut in both strategic and emergency reserves all over the United States. That way, not only are prizes of farm produce kept stable so that farmers meet their expected profits and are able to reinvest, but food security is also guaranteed for all its citizens. If there is a price to pay for peace and security in our land, and the Government can afford it, why should it not pay to get it? Why should the ‘do-nothing’ prescriptions of the few among us who have a penchant for politicizing every noble intention of Government be the yardstick by which to measure the legitimacy of solutions to the myriad of problems affecting Nigeria? Let’s face it, our local herdsmen, with small holdings in cattle rearing, do not have the wherewithal to afford such capital-intensive venture like ranching. Whenever Audu Ogbe spoke about those little issues germane to ranching –like the need for species of high-lactating cattle and varieties of fast-growing grass- we had trivialized it with the usual ethno-religious bigotry by which we are wont always to attend to serious issues in this country. Ogbe, himself an Idoma from Benue, had been the butt of ridicule each time he spoke about some of the condition-precedent necessary for the transformation of the Fulani herdsmen from a nomadic to a sedentary form of living. We claim to desire an urgent end to the perennial circle of farmers-herdsmen crisis, but it does appear that now that the Government is getting the hang of it, the mischief makers in our midst are not happy to let go off a vital angler.
Already to the nomadic herdsman –as well as to his particular species of cattle- even this proposed Government-funded Ruga-ranching system will initially come at a great cost to his accustomed way of life –especially with all the attendant psychological, physical and social consequences. Nothing can be more uncertain than that, by the instantaneity of legislation, Government brings to a sudden halt the nomadic way of living of a people and impose on them a sedentary one, in a technologically-driven ranch, with all the uncertainty of growing enough pasture and providing water for their cattle. Conversely nothing can be more hatemongering than to insist that this same herdsmen must, themselves, pay to be put to this uncertain future; that they must cough out capital several hundreds of times the value of their small-time cattle-holding to buy into this bleakly uncertain future, or that they and their cattle may bloody well stay high, dry and die! But it does not work that way –no matter how much we hate the Fulanis. Yes, we may impose it on him and not care what happens to him thereafter. But can we ignore what he does thereafter to get by? We did not give a hoot that ‘nomadic education’ succeeded or not; but do we not now have to deal with the errantry of the illiterate Fulani herdsman? And in the last ten or fifteen years when, especially us the media, looked the other way when the cattle of the Fulani herdsmen were repeatedly rustled do we not now have to deal with kidnapping as the newfound way of living by the deviant ones among them who lost their cattle to rustling?
Well, since we’ll do neither ranch nor ruga by God let’s continue to do what we do best, -ramble!