By Wole Olaoye
This is Year 2021. Since 200,000 years ago when Homo sapiens evolved in Africa, to the present time when man has conquered his environment and is exploring space, it’s been a steady rise in sophistication. We were once hunter-gatherers before we began to settle in groups. With time, communities expanded— and thus we have arrived at the era of towns, suburban communities, urban centres and now megacities.
Change, the inevitable catalyst of development, has also affected the occupations. In some societies, for example in Yoruba kingdoms, different families were distinguished by different occupations. Some were smiths, some hunters, some spiritualists, some drummers and entertainers, some merchants, some farmers, some royalty. Many family names and the attendant praise names (Oriki) derived from those elements that distinguished each family.
But times have changed. It is not uncommon now to find the descendants of hunters who are now engineers; those of smiths who are now medics, those of drummers who are now academics and those of witchdoctors who are now scientists. Change is the only constant factor in every society. To resist change is to be stuck in primitive stasis.
I invite you to join me in deploying our brains to separating the wheat from the chaff in the current clamour for killer herdsmen to be ejected from villages and towns in southern Nigeria. I think the issues are very clear. Fulanis have been interacting with the southern parts of Nigeria for more than 100 years. In all those years, nobody considered them as a threat because they respected their hosts and obeyed social and cultural laws that governed those places.
A friend recently sent me a video clip of a Fulani man singing Fuji. I smiled because that is the tip of the iceberg. There are Fulani people well steeped in Yoruba poems and idiomatic expressions, just as — I dare say— there are also Yoruba people who have become Fulani ‘in every material particular’. The raging issue is not about singing or reciting poems. It is about death. It is about local and imported killers using the Fulani brand and their cattle herding occupation to gain access to southern towns, villages and forests. It is also about the destruction of farmlands upon which the people depend and without which a serious food crisis is bound to descend on both rural and urban areas.
When the phenomenon of killer herdsmen/kidnappers reared its ugly head, it was a new kind of evil. Kidnapping people for ransom (and executing those unable to pay) gradually grew to industrial proportions. All former victims revealed that their captors were Fulani and that some of them were of the French stock, meaning they must have come in from French-speaking countries. Considering that the savagery reached a crescendo when Nigeria’s borders with neighbouring countries were closed, people concluded that the French-speaking contingent among the killer herdsmen must have been officially permitted to enter Nigeria.
The question on many lips was, if they entered Nigeria illegally and were perpetrating so much evil, why were they being covered up by Nigerians, or why were their crimes being condoned?
It is unfair to blame the victims as some commentators have done. Are they expected to fold their hands and continue to die quietly while their land is being pillaged and their social fabric torn to pieces?
For years, we have advocated that it is time to embrace modern methods of animal production. The era of roaming the wilderness, trekking thousands of kilometres with cattle in search of food and water, is past. The bushes of 100 years ago have become cities. More farms have sprung up to feed the additional millions of mouths that have been born. The kind of land needed for ranching is best sourced in the North because of its large size.
With an area of 76,363 sq km, Niger State alone is bigger than the entire southwest states minus Lagos. The entire Southeastern states of Anambra, Enugu, Abia, Imo, Ebonyi account for only 29,525 sq km — less than Kogi State which has 29,833 sq km. By contrast, Kano State has 20,131 sq km while Zamfara has 39,762 sq km. It is to states such as Kano and Zamfara that those interested in big time ranching must look because the primary requirement, land, is there in abundance.
In the midst of hypocritical chest-beating and unctuous supplications by those who insist on interpreting the quest by southwest governors to end banditry and bring sanity to beef production in their domains — as serving a quit notice on Fulanis, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje and his Zamfara counterpart, Bello Matawalle, have emerged as conscientious front-liners determined to modernise animal production. Both governors are establishing modern ranches that would ensure that healthier cattle with better yield of beef and milk is produced. They know that nomadic cattle have comparatively lower body weight and there is increased trans-border and intra-Nigeria risk of disease and parasite transmission as the herds are moved from one location to the other. The herders, too, are exposed to zoonotic diseases. Therefore, both governors are leading the field in modernising the cattle trade.
That is the way to go.
According to Dr. Nura Alkali, an ethnic Fulani and physician, “Only the blind will insist on living a 17th century life in 2018. 50 years ago, humans conquered space to land on the moon. Others decoded DNA, which advanced the science of animal breeding to levels never before imagined in history. But we still have people pursuing an impossible nomadic lifestyle to raise cattle.
“The problems of herdsmen destroying other people’s farm lands, crops and the crimes committed in raping, kidnapping, robbing and killing can only be solved by the Federal Government. It should allow the Nigerian Police to enforce Open Grazing Prohibition Laws passed by affected states and assist the northern states to build ‘Rugas’ for herdsmen and encourage them to ranch their cattle in the Rugas. Cattle farming is a business as other livestock farming.”
Another Fulani, Adamu Garba recently tweeted, “I’m a Fulani, but it is senseless for cows to be roaming the streets in 2021”
I can’t imagine a piggery farmer insisting on establishing his farm in Sokoto unless he is determined to offend the sensibilities of the local populace. Sokoto has land aplenty which could be used for cattle ranching, just like many northern states. The problem has always been that some people refuse to acknowledge that cattle production is a business, just like poultry farming or crop production. The number one requirement for the business is land. The part of the country blessed with land in abundance is the North. Ranching is big business and the long value chain generates thousands of employment opportunities.
Left to the rural southern farmer and his Fulani guest who obeys the local laws, there is no problem. Usually, it is the elite that fan the embers of separateness and impunity. If we want to maintain peace, we must be just and fair. I have heard some of these elites say that roaming the wilderness is the culture of the herders and that they are entitled to roam wherever they want. But you can’t roam recklessly in somebody else’s farm or forest, nor can you trample on sacred groves even if you don’t believe in such ‘pagan’ stuff.
With all the figurative and literal dust being kicked up, we are not even among the top 20 nations in cattle production in the global cattle business. In terms of cattle inventory, India comes first with 303 million, Brazil is second with 226 million, China is third with 100 million and the USA claims the fourth position with 93 million. India is also the world’s largest milk producer, with 22 percent of global production, followed by USA, China, Pakistan and Brazil. And to prove that beef export is big business, Australia leads the global trade with $5.6 Billion, USA is next with $5.2 Billion, followed by Brazil with $4.3 Billion and India with $3.7 Billion.
To the elite who say minors should be allowed to herd cattle because it is the trade of their forebears, my challenge is this: Donate your own child to roam the wilderness with cattle for the rest of his life before you sentence other people’s children to unborn years of misery.
Why should they trek from bush to bush, stream to stream, as if we were still in the 17th century when they can settle down in a ranch with required facilities, produce healthier cattle and make more money? There is a time for everything under the sun: a time to roam and a time to ranch. This is the time to ranch.