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A letter to the herdsman whose cattle ate up my cornfield


October 1, 2017 | 3:46 am
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On Tuesday this week, I got down from the motorcycle, in front of BusinessDay office, since there are no longer roads in Apapa, you go to the ferry and catch a bike to the office – where I work as a journalist, covering energy, to see five missed calls from my mother.

My heart skipped a beat. No, it is not unusual for a mother to call his son. Five times means something is wrong. My father’s health keeps us, his children, up at night. Fearing the worst, I called her back, my heart pounding and knees wobbling…

My father was fine! Aha! The sigh of relief reached the deepest nadir of my soul.

But my farmland was not. She told me that you and your cattle have invaded my farmland and left it a wasteland. I learnt that my investment in the farm has been destroyed!

The chill that washed over me was unspeakably profound; I stood there at the gates of my office building, holding the phone to my ear, hearing nothing else, staring vacantly, like a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield.

Journalists in Nigeria unarguably are endangered species. You see, we are constantly told that social media has made our work irrelevant, that the internet has made a journalist out of everyone with a mobile phone and half a brain. Advertising revenues are shrinking, newspaper circulation continues to plateau and predictably the welfare of journalists does not rank very high. So, you can imagine how difficult money is to come by.

Like most businesses, people are classed as expense in the balance sheet but computers and furniture are termed as assets, so people are easy to cast off. As journalists, we are among the most expendable, treated sometimes, slightly better than you do your herd of cattle. You hit them to move, we take hits even when we are running – from repressive regimes, from regressive employers, from a retrogressive society.

But I am fortunate to work in a media that pays its staff monthly – let’s not get into the argument about whether it is sufficient – because indeed there is usually enough to cover everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. Plus your overhead costs are minimal; you just roam around the country and trample everything in your path.

I have gone into this detail to let you see what it cost me to save enough to buy a farmland, pay labourers who cleared the lands, chopped down trees, planted corns, watered the plants, tended the seedlings, weed the farmland and nurtured the earth with fertilisers.

You may not know this, but I didn’t just buy it for me. You see my parents are advanced in years and I wanted to care for them too. Part of the plan for caring for them was through proceeds from the farm. I take 60 percent and 40 percent goes to them. My mother, ever the skilled negotiator, said the project will only be sustainable if I relinquish 10 percent more to compensate her for the tedium of managing those managing the farm. We settled on 55:45 sharing formula. Of course, I bought her, her own farm too.

I thought it was a nifty arrangement, well; it was – until you and your cows came. I don’t want to worry every month about sending something home. I have a family too and I have an obligation to care for them as well.

You know that same thing you feel for your cows. I mean the special bond you feel for your cows. A bond strong enough to make you kill, that inspired that gory blood orgy that is Agatu, that has made Benue State, a killing field.

I confess I felt like making someone pay, I am after all human. The first thought was to go home, arrange for people to spray some deadly chemicals on whatever remained of the farmland, so that when you bring back your animals, you will watch them die where they stand.

But I told myself I was better than that. I will only be inflicting on you the same pain I feel, the same economic loss, I experienced. An eye for an eye, someone more intelligent than I am once said, would soon leave us all blind.

Besides, I know your murderous disposition. I have seen the carnage you spurned in several parts of the east and the Middle Belt. I have seen pictures and videos of the orgy of killings and the indifference of the Nigerian state. You will regroup and inflict terror on my community. You will kill old men, rip open pregnant women, and bludgeon children to death. With phlegm as brain matter, and bile where others have blood, your capacity for destruction is unequalled.

Don’t worry Mother, I told her that evening, please do not return to the farmland, leave it for them. The loss of money, I can live with, it’s you I cannot afford to lose, I told her.

I am from Isi-Ala Ngwa North, Local Government Area of Abia State, yes the same state where a group calling themselves, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has been fighting for the right to rule themselves, before the Federal Government sent the army after them and branded them terrorists. But you are of course, by your actions are a ‘civil rights group’.

For whom Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of Information and Culture, said we should not confuse acts of terrorism for terrorist acts – whatever that means.

Just days after the tanks from the Nigerian army rolled away from our villages and hamlets, shooting unarmed protesters and molesting vulnerable people, you and your cattle have to make the victory complete with a destruction of what we own. Who will dare query you for the destruction of a couple of farmlands belonging to a conquered people?

Certainly not the governor of the state, the head of a bunch of prisoners is also in prison, notwithstanding the privileges. Definitely, not from the security forces, they only go after the weak and vulnerable. It took all they had to fight off a band of ragtag Boko Haram terrorists, who seem to inspire your peculiar brand of evil; even then, they still have not been routed.

And definitely not from Abuja also, where some say your confidence stems from the fact that your kinsman and fellow cattle herder is president, insulated from the agony of those whose farmlands you destroy, unmoved by the cries of those you render hapless, because he “belongs to nobody and to everybody,” who just must be from the north to matter.

I write this letter with clarity of mind, a few days later, even though pain courses through every pore of my body. How do you feel after your cows destroy people’s farmland? How does the pain of another give you pleasure?

Beyond just my farm, I worry that without a law keeping you and your cows in ranches; you represent a threat to Nigeria’s national security. Does a government shouting itself hoarse about diversification know that you constitute the greatest threat to the agricultural sector and the economy?

Do you, my dear herdsman, know that your cows lose value by moving them across the country? They weigh less due to being moved across vast plains, and attract less money, a few die on the way, some are exposed to all sorts of hazards. I know the argument that your forefathers have always been doing it that way, guess what, your forefathers didn’t know better. There’s science now, it makes life easier. Do you know you can actually make more money from keeping them in ranches like it is done in saner parts of the world?

Today is October 1, we will be told the unity of the country is sacrosanct, if that were true, why does the country prey on itself?

My dear Fulani herdsman, I leave you my farmland and my cornfield, feed your cows to your heart’s content, then when the sun leaves the sky, find lodging on the branches of the Udara tree that forms the border of my farm that is the prerogative of conquerors – until they are conquered.





October 1, 2017 | 3:46 am
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