“We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:32-35)
There is no gainsaying that the farmers and herders conflict has disrupted the peaceful coexistence of Nigerians and threatened the survival of the country. There is no denying also that the federal and the state governments are worried about this existential threat that has proven to be more destructive and divisive than banditry, insurgency and terrorism, which are regarded as its offshoots.
Open grazing of cattle is the cause of incessant destruction of farmlands and communities in Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt by bandits masquerading as herders. The other causes are the perceived threat of “Islamization” and “Fulanization”. This is the contention of the people of these regions.
Stifling of cattle trade along with the livelihood of cattle owners and herders is the reason southern governors are insisting on the drastic and chaotic metamorphosis of age-long pastoralists into modern husbandmen. The rights and privileges of herders as bonafide citizens of Nigeria are never considered, even as they face the ravaging activities of cattle rustlers. This is the protest of many spokespersons from the ‘core North’.
Innumerable lives and property are being lost to attacks and reprisals. Farmers are frightened off their farmlands by AK-47 wielding herders. Nigeria faces looming food shortages. There is the proliferation of regional and state-funded security outfits like “Ebube Agu” of the South-East and “Amotekun” of the South-West as a response to this crisis. There are hunters and “Civilian JTF” in parts of the North.
Amidst this crisis, Nigerians still enjoy their torso, kpomo and suya, talk less of ‘assorted meat’ alias ‘orishirishi’.
However, the popular street adage “bring meat, bring meat na nama bodi” is a subtle reminder that there is a price to pay for everything. It is the near equivalence of the English idiomatic expression “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”. But Nigerians know how to hold on to the cakes they had eaten already. They know how to wriggle out of anything.
Munching mouthfuls of Kilishi meat, Nigerians can spew their anger at the marauding and murderous herders: “You have no right to destroy our farmlands; after all, we pay you for the cows we eat”. “You can’t eat your cake and have it”. Nigerians will distort the English idiom “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”. They will disorganize and rearrange its sequence. They will put the cart before the horse in order to wriggle out of anything.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State puts the cart before the horse too. He is one governor that has harvested tremendous political capital in the fight against the menace of Fulani herdsmen. He has become a culture hero of some sort, shouting and baring his fangs at perceived enemies. Ortom was the first to sign an Open Grazing Prohibition, Ranches establishment Law 2017 and immediately began to arrest cows on the streets of Benue State, even as no ranches were provided for the cows.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has found a new friend in Ortom and has also fallen in love with the trademark cap-of-many-colours of Benue State. He wears the Igbo red cap too, as if to eat his cake and have it too. Like Ortom, Wike sustains is approval rating by opposing and confronting the federal government.
James Freeman Clarke has a little admonition for the duo: “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman the next generation. A politician looks for the success of his party; a statesman for that of his country. The statesman wishes to steer, while the politician is satisfied to drift”
Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey’s song “The Donkey, the Man and his Son (Ketekete)” throws more light on the opposition to the federal government by these governors. It tells a story of a man who embarks on a journey with his son and donkey.
Due to his old age, the man rides on the donkey while his son walks alongside. The elderly man is immediately derided as uncaring for riding on the donkey while his son follows on foot. In response, he carries his son on the donkey only to be called cruel with the intent to kill the poor donkey. In despair, father and son came down from the donkey and walk alongside the animal but were demeaned and called slaves to a mere donkey.
Ebenezer Obey concludes that there is nothing anyone can do to satisfy his critics even as our Lord, Jesus Christ said of his critics (the Pharisees) “We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep”.
First, it was cattle colonies, they rejected it, then RUGA, they poopooed it, then the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), they killed it, then grazing route, they wailed. Four times, these governors lampooned President Buhari’s proposed solutions to a devastating national crisis and four times the president threw up new strategies.
The Federal Government may have buckled under the waves of propaganda against its solution to the farmers and herders crisis. But unlike Jesus Christ and Ebenezer Obey, President Buhari didn’t wax lyrical. He launched a counter attack, dug into the archives and dusted up what he called designated grazing routes used by herdsmen in the First Republic. Here, he missed it completely. What anachronism!
Still throwing punches and grandstanding, these governors turned full circle. They are now making provisions for land to build ranches in their new anti-open grazing laws. What is the difference between RUGA and Ranching, we ask?
At last, land will be set aside by these governors in their states and allocated to herders to breed the cows whose meat their people love to eat.