Mr. President, get herdsmen off our farms!
As part of what I do in my spare time, and in line with my belief that the earth is the Lord’s with the fullness thereof, I tend a farm in my compound. On that little farm, I cultivate shallow rooted crops like maize, watermelons, tomato and pumpkins leaves and manage a mini poultry. Every morning after my family wakes up and finish with our orisons (prayers), we descend on our farm. And on weekends I would gather the whole family together to weed the farm, tend and water our crops. While in the farm, the feeling is akin to obedience to a holy injunction that we should till the earth, subdue and take care of it. Some of my friends and colleagues who have seen my farm are pleasantly surprised at the emerald effervescence of my maize, melon and pumpkin. They have no idea that I had taken the trouble to visit the ADP in Benin City for healthy seedlings which I understand can be harvested in three instead of six months it takes for crops to mature. I know that Nigerians are a laid-back lot, preferring to import food rather than grow it. My wife has happily taken to harvesting pumpkin and water leaves from this farm with which she prepares the family’s favourite – vegetable soup.
I don’t joke with my farm. I am my farm, my farm is me. Even though it is not as large and as capital-intensive as the Obasanjo Farms, I take great pride in it. I see myself as a metaphor for the thousands in my village Uzere who have invested time, money and their lives into eking a living from the land like our ancestors. Touch my farm, go near it and you would be looking for trouble. I remember growing up as a child in Uzere – that I ate so much fish and so much kpokpo gari to the extent that it seemed like paradise.
Over the years, however, as a result of the activities of the Nigerian government and its cohorts, the multinationals that prospect for oil to feed Nigeria, nearly every piece of land and river has been polluted. The pawpaw trees are dead, the cassava, the yams are not growing anymore and that is because the soil is soaked with crude oil. The rivers where we once took a haul of shrimps and baskets of eba and ero fishes, where we once took our bath and drinking water are all dried up. In their places are artificial lakes, aka burrow pits that have dislocated the aquatic balance of our community. When it rains, we dare not drink the water, and that is because gases that have been flared since 1957 in my village coagulate and return as gooey residue on the pots and pans which we put outside to collect the rain water. These were the issues that Ogoni leader Kenule Saro-Wiwa took head on, and which his predecessor Isaac Adaka Boro championed before they were killed.
Ordinarily, one would have thought that because of the fact that our lands feed Nigeria, certain choice appointments would have been reserved for our people. One would have thought as well that some our people in whose custody proceeds from 13% derivation were invested in trust for us would be doing the needful by being transparent and accountable to us. But no, they’d rather take these proceeds from processes that have nearly annihilated our farms and rivers, and invest them on vested interests. And if this is not travail and harassment and marginalisation enough, a new spectre – marauding herdsmen armed to the teeth with AK47s – are the new threats to our source of life.
I have quickly brought in the fact of these Fulani being armed with AK47s because Fulani herdsmen are mere employees of the wealthy owners of the cattle they herd. Fulani count their Swiss Francs and the Euros and their dollar and their Remnimbi in their cattle. Just as I value my farm so does the Fulani, and would stop at nothing, even the taking of human life to protect his cattle! What makes me different though is that I cannot take the life of a human being because of an animal.
These herdsmen seeking pasture for their damned Bororo cattle have killed hundreds of farmers in Agatu Benue State, in Osun, Delta, Taraba, Edo and lately Enugu states. Two reports, one in The Guardian and Independent, titled Tears as man killed by herdsmen is buried and Fulani Herdsmen Kidnap DELSU Staff in Kwale, (22nd April, 2016) respectively chronicle the repercussions of the daily and brazen attacks by Fulani herdsmen, especially on those in the South, and more frequently after the inauguration of Buhari as president.
President Buhari is Fulani, former head of state and former soldier. He declared in his assets that he has 270 heads of cattle. My take is that anyone naïve to believe that it is the President’s herdsmen who are killing Nigerians has to be a very irresponsible person. But all this while that his cousins and kinsmen have been plundering and murdering and ravaging our farms, he has not deemed it fit to order the IGP of Police to round these criminals up. Rather, he took up the matter of pipeline vandals very personal, threatening that he would deal with them like Boko Haram. This is indeed unfortunate and unbecoming of a man elected to be father of all and who said in his inaugural speech that he belonged to no one.
Let the President know that his body language emboldens those herdsmen, who believe that they have him as one of theirs and can get away with anything. He had better call them off and quickly so. That our people have been quiet and have not taken the laws in theirs should not be misconstrued for cowardice.
Etemiku is Manager Communications, Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice, (ANEEJ) and wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org
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