On send­ing the no­mads pack­ing

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

An al­le­ga­tion of­ten heard in Nige­ria in re­cent times is that “the youths of nowa­days” have de­parted from the path of hard work, obe­di­ence and re­spect for el­ders that youths were once known for. The as­sump­tion has al­ways been that while the youths went hay­wire, el­ders have re­mained their old selves, wise, peace­able and mea­sured. Fif­teen years ago I was part of a del­e­ga­tion that went to try and re­solve an in­tractable so­cial prob­lem. I de­vel­oped a deep re­spect for our del­e­ga­tion’s leader be­cause as soon as he sat down he told the other side, “Things will never get out of hand where there are el­ders!”

Well, not any­more. Ev­i­dence has just sur­faced to in­di­cate that “el­ders” in Nige­ria have stepped for­ward and taken over the youths’ old role as fire­brand, mis­di­rected, devil may care, leap be­fore you look and shoot-fir­stand-ask-ques­tions-later. I am think­ing here of the com­mu­niqué is­sued in Ibadan af­ter an “emer­gency sum­mit” of Yoruba el­ders. In at­ten­dance were such prom­i­nent per­sons as Pres­i­dent of the Yoruba Coun­cil of El­ders (YCE) Ma­jor Gen­eral Adeyinka Ade­bayo, Sir Olani­wun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Ade­banjo, Chief Idowu So­fola, Dr Fred­er­ick Fase­hun, Bishop Ayo Ladig­bolu, Prof Banji Ak­in­toye, Prof Adetowun Ogun­s­eye and Dr Kunle Ola­jide.

Pre­tend­ing to be irked by last month’s ab­duc­tion of for­mer Sec­re­tary to the Gov­ern­ment of the Fed­er­a­tion Chief Olu Falae and the sub­se­quent at­tack on his farm in Ondo State, the meet­ing is­sued an in­cen­di­ary com­mu­niqué that, in ef­fect, called for the ex­pul­sion of all no­madic pas­toral­ists from the South West re­gion. This gath­er­ing, which in­cluded lawyers, ca­reer sol­diers and bish­ops, most of them very ad­vanced in age, held ALL pas­toral­ists re­spon­si­ble for a deed that was done by no more than ten peo­ple.

The com­mu­niqué read by Dr. Ola­jide said, “Yoruba lead­ers of thought both at home and in Di­as­pora had an emer­gency sum­mit in re­sponse to the clear and present dan­ger to the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of our peo­ple… De­spite the non ag­gres­sive dis­po­si­tion of the Yoruba, we have been vic­tims of vi­o­lent vi­o­la­tions from our hos­tile neigh­bours from pre- colo­nial days to mod­ern times. From the 18th cen­tury, the Fu­lani ji­hadists’ on­slaught against the Yoruba through the tra­vails of Chief Obafemi Awolowo through the June 12 saga with the latest wars de­clared on our peo­ple…The re­turn of the herds­men is a dec­la­ra­tion of war on the Yoruba. Falae’s ab­duc­tion is a con­tin­u­a­tion of at­tacks which these herds­men have un­leashed on our peo­ple over the years…”

Chief Femi Fani-Kay­ode, who not present at the meet­ing, later poured kerosene into the flames by say­ing, “Let this meet­ing be a warn­ing to those that un­der­es­ti­mate our re­solve in this mat­ter and that mis­take our kind­ness and pa­tience for weak­ness…If and when we are pushed to the wall we know ex­actly what to do. The killings, the rap­ings, the ab­duc­tions and the des­e­cra­tion and pil­lag­ing of our land and farms by these Fu­lani herds­men must stop or else there will be con­se­quences.” No won­der that Chair­man of the Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion Pro­fes­sor Chidi Odinkalu ac­cused Fani-Kay­ode of hate speech.

Now, the kid­nap of Chief Olu Falae was a heinous crime and peo­ple all over Nige­ria were shocked when they heard of it. How­ever, it was not the first ever kid­nap case, in Nige­ria or even in the South West. It is there­fore dif­fi­cult to see how it con­sti­tuted a “clear and present dan­ger to the con­tin­ued sur­vival” of the Yoruba. There must have been many other kid­nap cases in the South West that did not get as much pub­lic­ity as Falae’s case got, ob­vi­ously be­cause of the vic­tim’s promi­nence. How­ever, kid­naps are tak­ing place in many other parts of Nige­ria, many of them un­re­ported in the media. In many cases they are per­pe­trated by lo­cal youths. A few years ago when kid­nap­ping be­came such a huge men­ace in the South East, no one said that some other eth­nic group was threat­en­ing Igbo ex­is­tence, clearly be­cause lo­cal gangs were per­pe­trat­ing the crimes. Five years ago when the Sec­re­tary to the Kaduna State Gov­ern­ment Waje Yay­ock was kid­napped in Kaduna and taken to Delta State, the South­ern Kaduna Peo­ples Union [SOKAPU] did not say its peo­ple’s ex­is­tence was be­ing threat­ened by South­ern­ers.

Nige­ria’s eth­nic groups are so thor­oughly mixed up now that ev­ery­one is bor­row­ing from ev­ery­one else in things good and bad. Food for­mu­las that once be­longed to par­tic­u­lar parts of the coun­try have been bor­rowed by oth­ers. Trades that were once iden­ti­fied with some eth­nic groups have been in­fil­trated by oth­ers. It is no sur­prise that crim­i­nal en­ter­prises in­vented by some peo­ple have been bor­rowed by oth­ers, es­pe­cially when they prove to be lu­cra­tive and when in most cases the crim­i­nals es­cape pun­ish­ment. There are no eth­nic patents for trades or crimes.

Pas­toral­ist youths did not in­vent kid­nap­ping in Nige­ria, nor are they the dom­i­nant force in the trade right now. There is how­ever ev­i­dence to sug­gest that they are in­volved in it. Sev­eral kid­nap vic­tims in Kogi State and other parts of the North tes­ti­fied that their kid­nap­pers spoke Hausa with heavy Ful­fulde ac­cent. But then, other kid­nap­pers spoke with other lan­guages and ac­cents. In fact, even be­fore kid­nap­ping be­came a big game, sto­ries were told in the past decade by high­way rob­bery vic­tims, es­pe­cially on the Abuja-Kaduna high­way, that they were robbed by men speak­ing Hausa with Ful­fulde ac­cents.

Like many other peo­ple, I was shocked when I first heard those sto­ries be­cause pas­toral­ists are as­so­ci­ated in most peo­ple’s minds with sim­plic­ity and lack of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Sure we knew that they could fight to the death to de­fend their cat­tle---and more re­cently to rus­tle them. Nige­ri­ans also learnt in re­cent years that pas­toral­ists tend to avenge for an of­fence long af­ter ev­ery­one else has for­got­ten about it, an at­tribute they share with pas­toral­ists in other parts of the world. If the Yoruba Coun­cil of El­ders were act­ing as el­ders, they would rather point to the pro­tracted in­ter-com­mu­nal con­flicts in sev­eral North­ern states and say, let us find peace­ful ways of re­solv­ing the farmer-pas­toral­ist prob­lems in our ar­eas.

One of the virtues of an el­der, at least in the past, was the wis­dom to seek to know why a prob­lem that was not there be­fore should sud­denly rear its head. For ex­am­ple, af­ter Falae was kid­napped and then re­leased by sus­pected herds­men and some sus­pected herds­men later at­tacked and ran­sacked his farm, I ex­pect a wise el­der to say, “Chief, was there any­thing that hap­pened be­tween you and these peo­ple? There are many farms in Ondo State; why is it that they at­tacked your farm twice within a short time?” It is not the hall­mark of an el­der to be­lieve the story told by one side and go ahead and act on it, how­ever prom­i­nent the vic­tim is and how­ever crim­i­nal the other guy tends to be.

If ev­ery­one in Nige­ria were to bor­row the Yoruba Coun­cil of El­ders’ style and crim­i­nalise whole eth­nic and trade groups any­time one of them com­mits a crime, Nige­ria will soon make the Balkan wars look like a tea party. Back in the 1970s when I was a very young man, ev­ery ve­hi­cle me­chanic in Sokoto where I lived was a Yoruba man. Many times the me­chan­ics of­fended me by pre­tend­ing to re­pair my mo­tor­cy­cle, only for me to dis­cover later that they messed things up. I did not qual­ify as an el­der in those days but I never said as a re­sult that all me­chan­ics are use­less or that all Yorubas should leave Sokoto. In­stead I iden­ti­fied which me­chanic messed up my mo­tor­cy­cle, sub­se­quently boy­cotted him and then looked for a bet­ter me­chanic [of­ten in vain].

In fact, I will like to rec­om­mend to YCE my own small ex­am­ple in 1985 when a Ghana­ian mo­tor elec­tri­cian called Kwame messed up my car’s kick starter. Day af­ter day he spent the whole day re­pair­ing it, only for the car to be pushed to start. I fi­nally lost my tem­per, glared at him and said, “I would have dealt with you if not be­cause you share the same name with Kwame Nkrumah!”

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