On sending the nomads packing
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!”