In the past couple of weeks, we in the South-west have not been experiencing much of Fulani herdsmen’s terrorism in our part of Nigeria. We hear of it still going on very brutally in parts of the Middle Belt – still more or less regularly taking the lives of many people, destroying villages, and forcibly seizing territory in Benue State, Southern Kaduna and other parts of the Middle Belt.
Obviously, we in the South-west would be fools if we allowed ourselves to fall into the thinking that it has ended in our South-west. It has not. In fact, whenever one travels through any part of the South-west these days, one cannot avoid the very clear impression that the cattle herders and their cows are streaming in larger numbers than before to the South-west. They are everywhere, from the tall grass terrains of our northern territories (in northern Ekiti, Osun, Ondo, Oyo and Ogun states), all the way to our southernmost districts, including our Lagos State in our farthest south. They are roaming in places where there is, obviously, only thick forests and broad-leaf vegetation and no visible grass. Even though the reports of the herdsmen’s violent attacks on farms and farmers and villages have been muted in the past few weeks in our South-west, we need to watch out. Their coming at all, and their coming in the larger numbers that we are now seeing, is not good for our well-being and cannot be good for our future.
We must entertain such fears for obvious reasons. When, at the early high points of the Fulani herdsmen’s massacres and destruction of farms and villages in various prats of our South-west, we cried out in pain, the responses we got were such as should always keep us on our guard. Some leaders of the association of Fulani cattle herders responded to us that there was nothing we could do to keep their herdsmen and their cows out of our homeland, and that their being Nigerian citizens, and their living under the ECOWAS agreements, gave them the unlimited freedom to enter with their cows into any part of our land, even if they were engaging in violence and destruction there. We, as Nigerians, deserved protection by the Nigerian federal government; but, not only did the President of Nigeria keep silent about these outrages by his Fulani kinsmen terrorists, the general behaviour of the federal government was such as to make us suspect that the powers and influence of the federal government were being used to support the Fulani herdsmen terrorists. We can see, as many Nigerians have pointed out in the media, that the Nigerian Police seem to fear to arrest the murderous terrorists, even when the terrorists carry AK47 rifles in the public, and even when the terrorists are suspected to have killed people or destroyed property.
When the government of our Ekiti State made a law to curtail the rampages of the Fulani terrorists in Ekiti State, and the leaders of the herdsmen’s associations responded that they would disregard the law and defy the Ekiti State government, we could only conclude that they derived their defiant spirit from the support they were getting from federal sources. And, finally, it is no longer a secret that our governors are under federal pressure to accept the cattle herders, and to provide land for them, in our states.
In short, there are good reasons why we must suspect that there is a plot in high places to inflict some horror on our homeland in Nigeria, and that the Fulani herdsmen terrorists are part of the instruments of the plot. Most informed Nigerians believe by now that some very influential Nigerians are behind the radicalization of the Fulani herdsmen in these times – that some influential Nigerians are supplying sophisticated weapons to them, training them in military assault tactics, indoctrinating them against the rest of Nigeria, and attracting foreign elements (Libyan militia men and Fulani desperadoes from neighbouring countries) to come and join them in killing and destroying in Nigeria. The ultimate objective of all this remains a puzzle to us; we only know that it cannot possibly be good for us or for the other Nigerian peoples that have been under the attacks since 2014. There is no doubt that this is some sort of invasion.
Nomadic cattle rearing is one of the most primitive survivals of barbarism into the modern world. In most countries where it still exists, the authorities are striving to bring it to an end and to replace it with modern cattle ranching. In contrast, in Nigeria, the authorities are manoeuvring to create space for it even in regions where it never existed even in ancient times. The record of our history shows that we Yoruba, living in a homeland that is mostly tropical forests, have never engaged in nomadic cattle rearing. In the course of the past 6000 years, we have steadily developed our sedentary crop farming into the most successful in tropical Africa. On the basis of that success, we built the richest urban civilization in the history of Black Africa. But today in Nigeria, we are being pressurized to push back on civilization in order to create space for barbarism on our land.
We must make it abundantly clear to Nigeria and to the world that we will never yield to this outrage. We will pursue our best and most sustainable options in the circumstance. We will not harass or antagonize our governors in this matter. We know the kind of pressures they are operating under. We only demand of them to dare to speak out clearly in ways that fully and unambiguously express our wish. Then we ask that they should, like the Ekiti State governor, make laws that will push back on nomadic cattle rearing in our states.
And finally, to nail our approach to this problem definitively, we must ask our state governments to embark on programmes for the development of modern cattle ranching. This would mean that, in the grasslands of the northern provinces of our states, we should set aside areas that we designate as ranch-lands; and in such places we should encourage our own citizens to acquire, at minimum costs, appropriate sizes of land for ranches; and we should set up programmes for helping them to develop their ranches and to enforce ranch regulations and security. As a corollary to this, we should set up cattle markets in the same northern areas of our homeland, and encourage our business folks to establish slaughter facilities or abattoirs, and to put frozen meat trucks on the roads to supply beef to our towns and cities. We have reached the point at which we should prohibit the rearing of cows through our farmlands, and prohibit the driving of cows though our city or town streets. We have also reached the point at which we should see to it that our beef retailers will buy their beef supplies at frozen depots and sell with smaller frozen facilities.
If other people desire to bring cows for sale from outside our region, they should bring their cows, by approved pathways, to our cattle markets and sell there only. In all these, there are great business opportunities for our people. There are also great business opportunities for citizens of northern states in their own states, if they would choose to take advantage of what we are doing. We will gladly buy the cattle that they bring to our cattle markets. These are things we and they can do quite easily. For us and for them, it is a win-win proposition. But we must not wait for anybody; we must go right ahead regardless. If we handle this well, we in the South-west can soon become a major exporter of beef.
In summary, we must not let ourselves get embroiled in wild and messy battles over our farmlands. We must mobilize the factors of civilization to win the primitive war that some people have chosen to wage against us. Let us win it – in ways that are peaceful, in ways that will advance our progress and prosperity. I hope that our governors – Akinwumi Ambode, Ibikunle Amosun, Abiola Ajimobi, Rauf Aregbesola, Rotimi Akeredolu and Ayo Fayose – are reading this. And I hope they will spring into action. If they do, they can count on our powerful backing at every step.
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