Just when you plan to write about something else, Nigeria will happen. Do we ever run out of bad news? Let me rephrase that, do we ever run out of bad news that is stupid at the same time? I mean, the news can be so stupid that it would make a nice comedy script. The badness arises from the fact that it is done by real people in real life whose decisions affect millions of real people. Nigeria is just a tragicomedy series. It would make a hilarious sitcom. We however don’t find it funny, because, unfortunately it is our reality.
It is reported that the Nigerian Army has decided to setup grazing reserves all over the country. In fact, some officers have been sent to Argentina “to look at how cattle are reared.” The question is, what’s the relationship between protecting the territorial integrity of the nation and cattle rearing? Why should the Army that is presently embroiled in a battle with a terrorist group in the North andwith militant groups in the South think it is wise to begin to dabble into cattle rearing? If the report is true, then the Army is engaging in an escapade that will completely tarnish its already inglorious image in the eyes of Nigerians.
To understand what is going on, one needs to understand some recent happeningsin Nigeria. One of the major occupations of the Hausa-Fulani group in northern Nigeria is nomadic cattle rearing. So they migrate with their cattle, moving south in search of grassland as it gets drier in the north. Now this was not a problem. In fact, one of my fondest memories as a little child was seeing the herdsmen pass with their cattle. We would follow them and chant, “Enang, Saanu!” and the herdsmen would laugh.Our curiosity was particularly piqued by the egrets that followed the cattle. “LekeLekegive me white fingers!” was popular then. There was a myth surrounding them, and what wouldn’t children believe? That’s part of what makes childhood fun, you know,myths and legends.
But then, things changed. In some communities, the cattle destroyed crops which were the means of livelihood in these communities. The communities didn’t find it funny, so there were clashes in some cases. News started breaking out of some communities being attacked at the slightest provocation. And recently, actually in the past two years, it took a worrisome dimension. Herdsmen started attacking communities with sophisticated weapons, the type of weapons that would send our police into hiding. Communities were being wiped out. Any community that dared complain was attacked. At a community in Benue State, for instance, about 500 people were allegedly killed in one night. There was tension in rural areas. They didn’t feel safe anymore. Some communities even organized themselves to attack nearby nomadic settlements. The police and the Army did not do anything. And even when they showed up, they were seen as being against the communities. Of course, all herdsmen are not the same. Majority of them are peaceful. I still see them around in Calabar, and nobody has a problem with them or sees them as a threat. That cannot be said of farmers in villages who have crops though.
What was annoying about the whole thing was that the presidency was quiet. They didn’t see the killings as serious enough to merit a statement. They had to be dragged and prodded for months before they even mentioned it. How can Nigerian citizens be killed and the presidency be silent about it? That made some people to accuse, erroneously or otherwise, the presidency of implementing a northern agenda. The presidency’s response was to propose to setup grazing reserves around the country. The proposal was met with stiff opposition by some states, especially in the south. Then the whole thing died down.
And now, the Nigerian Army plans to setup grazing reserves all over the country. How does that sound? The same thing that was resisted by some parts of Nigeria will now be forced down their throat. Please, tell me, isn’t that provocative? The Army should not be engaging in ethnic politics. They ought to be neutral. They should be, and should seem so. In some countries, the Army is the defender of democracy. In Egypt, for example, when there is political instability, the people look to the military for intervention. Now, I’m not in support of military rule, but there is no denying the fact that the Egyptian military plays a unique role in that country. They have a certain reputation, and they command the respect of the people. Even American soldiers say that they fight to defend their way of life.
What I’d expectedthe Nigeria Army to do was to act as a mediator between the warring parties. They should try to negotiate peace between the herdsmen and farmers. If the herdsmen and the village leaders are made to sit and deliberate, they can draw up a plan that would enable the cattle to graze without destroying crops. That is what the Army should be promoting. Setting up grazing reserves against the will of the people will only make them to resent the Army. How do you think those communities who lost lives in attacks will take the Army’s decision? The Army should know that it was created to protect every Nigerian citizen, whether the soldiers believe that or not. It is not a regional institution but a national one.
Recently, a disturbing video emerged online showing soldiers battling Boko Haram begging for food. Is it the same Army that cannot carter for its soldiers in the midst of battle that is sending some officers to Argentina to go learn how cattle are reared? What does that say about their priority?
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. TukurBuratai represented by the Chief of Army Logistics, Major General Patrick Akem allegedly said while commissioning the Mogadishu Cantonment New Mammy Market (former Abacha Barracks), Abuja, “Argentina has a population of 41 million people, but it feeds about 400 million people around the world with its beef. To take it to the next level, we want to adopt a system where the cattle are not just free ranging coming from Sokoto to Port Harcourt, thereby making their meat tough to eat, the products will soon be coming from our own farms and ranches.”
Is the Army now the Ministry of Agriculture or a business organization? Is that their primary responsibility? They are complaining about “tough meat” when they should be protecting the country! The Army is not a revenue generating arm of the government and is therefore not judged on that parameter. What Nigerians want is to feel safe in their own country. Make the place safe and people will provide their own meat. If the Army cannot maintain their barracks that look like poultry farms, why do they think they can maintain ranches? Do they think they can just order the grass to grow and it would say, “Yes Sir!” and grow?
The Army, as part of the military, plays a vital role in the life of a nation. They are not only supposed to be neutral, they are a unifying force. They should be the epitome of our unity. In this ethnically polarized nation of ours, the Army should show us that unity is possible and achievable by showing us examples. They should be seen by Nigerians as “our own.” This cattle rearing escapade does not portray them in that light. Whoever advised them on this one advised them wrongly.
Since the Army have decided to go ahead with this comedic script, let me give them my own 2 Naira piece of advice. Mr Chief of Army Staff Sir, Nigerians don’t mind eating tough meat. What they want is cheap rice, beans, garri, yams, palm oil, tomatoes. If you could order your officers to go to the farm and cultivate these life-saving crops, we would really appreciate it walahi. If you threw in some fish, we wouldn’t mind. If you can do that for us Sir, God will bless you! You will become a national hero. You will win the “Man of the Year” Award. And we will sing about you forever.