Thursday Column with Mohammed Adamu
When Ibrahim Babangida’s Fulani Education Minister, Jibril Aminu, in 1989 proposed a compulsory ‘nomadic education’ policy for the children, mostly of nomadic herdsmen, a large section of the Media vehemently kicked. Not because we did not know that it was a good idea –to ingest, in good enough time, the anti-venom necessary to counteract the potential danger of nomadic pastoralism in a future when the herdsman’s anachronistic ways predictably could come in the way of agrarian and communal living.
Nor was the Media’s opposition to Jubril Aminu’s ‘Nomadic Education’ program informed by the fact that the nation could ill-afford such a reformative novelty. In truth nomadic education was not what many Nigerians, especially Southerners, had thought it was, namely some kind of ‘sop’ to the Saberus of geo-political or ethno-religious patronage intended to benefit only a particular people, the Fulanids. Rather these people were specially 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 learning the hard way, 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 long have helped us ‘save nine’. Alas, here we are today all raggedy and patched-up because we have opted to be 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 some 35 years ago, with educating the Fulani child, by now at least a first generation army of nomadism-shy, easily ranch-embracing, successor-herders would’ve come of age to rest once-and-for-all, the drudgery of nomadism by accepting a sedentary life of herding through modern ranching by whatever name called.
And what with ranching’s proven multiple potentials for improving quality and quantity of meat and quality and quantity of milk production. But no! We have 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. In fact the irony of it is that this same ranch-like option of Ruga, with its economic value chain and most importantly its potentials for ending the perennial 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. Those who had opposed ‘open grazing’ in favor of a sedentary system of herding are now against ‘ranching’ merely because to entice a distrustful Fulanis to accept it, it has been given the name ‘ruga’ which they are familiar with.
And this is the irony of it all, that 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 we all had to work on to accept ranching as the veritable solution to the farmers-herders crises. Anti-open-grazing and pro-ranching voices were especially all over the social media haranguing the government to do the needful –namely to rein in on Fulani herdsmen 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, had 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 to make a public show of legislating to adopt ranching, he was also the earliest thereafter to announce that Benue had no land to spare the Fulanis for ranching.
It was thus obvious that even those who had preached the virtue of ranching had not the virtue to keep their word to allow ranching because the promise to avail herders land for ranching was one big lie. The whole thing was a ploy first to get the Fulani herdsman accept a legislation ending his ancestral life of nomadic open grazing on the promise of a more modern sedentary system, and then second, to take him out thereafter by denying him the ‘promised land’ for ranching. Or isn’t it obvious also that even now that the Federal Government is contemplating lending federally-owned lands in the states, the same Ortom is also one of the stiffest oppositions. Ortom again would be the first to claim to expose a poorly-scripted contractual sign-post which he alleged the Federal Government had mounted in some desolate Benue bush as proof that contracts had already been awarded to execute the Ruga project without consulting governors.
And although it is now clear that the Ruga option is optional (for states that may willfully desire it) and not an imposition (on states that may not), 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. And they ask the question, ‘why should government federally-owned resources to help privately-owned businesses?’ But the question rather should be ‘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, previous governments are known severally to intervene in many other privately-run businesses before now?
Even in the United States, the bastion of democratic capitalism, government occasionally subvents and whenever necessary, subsidizes agriculture. In order to keep its already-wealthy five percent farming population gainfully in business, the American government spends billions regularly to suck up and store-away glut in both strategic and emergency grains reserves all over the United States. That way, not only are prizes of farm produce kept stable so that farmers meet their expected annual profit margins and are able to fully reinvest, but food security is also guaranteed for the American citizen who benefits both from affordability and prize stability.
And you wonder, if there is a price to pay for peace and security in our land, and the Government can afford it, why should the government not pay to get it? Why should the ‘do-nothing’ prescriptions of the few among us who have a penchant for politicizing and ethnicizing 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. Audu 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 appears that now that the Government is getting the hang of it, the mischief makers in our midst are obviously not happy about it.
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 if they will not, then 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 them and not care what happens to them thereafter. But can we ignore what they do thereafter to get by?
We did not give a hoot that ‘nomadic education’ succeeded or failed; but are we not now having to deal with the deviant errantry of the illiterate Fulani herdsman as he is gradually veering into crime? And in the last ten or fifteen years when, especially us the media, had looked the other way while the cattle of the Fulani herdsmen were repeatedly being rustled after we had set them up to be reviled and hated, are we not now having to deal especially with kidnapping as the newfound way of living by the deviant ones who must’ve lost their cattle to rustling?
We have been at this for ages; but our self-harming mutual grudges for each other will not allow us agree on a solution. As a matter of fact some believe that not finding a solution is the solution. It is obvious that we prefer to argue and argue; to bicker and bicker. Well, since we’ll do neither ranching nor ruga, by God let’s continue to do what we always do best, -ramble!