Sacred Cows Desecrating Sacred Lands By Babatunde Tella
Recent report that herdsmen invaded and destroyed Plants grown for research works at the University of Ilorin is extremely disturbing, and urgent steps must be taken to ensure that our sacred institutions and lands are not completely destroyed by marauding herdsmen.
A friend of mine once told me a story about the ‘sacred cow’ in his class while in primary school. The class according to him comprised about 35 students, with a female teacher who was widely reputed to be a notorious handler of the cane, which she referred to as ‘Mr. goody goody’. Her pupils were often scared of her as she never hesitated to dish out ‘Mr goody goody’ to them at any slight misdemeanour. However, there was a particular boy in the class who never got a taste of ‘Mr. goody goody’. It was widely rumoured among the pupils that the boy’s dad regularly greased the teacher’s palm with crispy notes, thus the boy remained a sacred cow among his peers.
The issue of killer cattle herdsmen in Nigeria have been on the front burner of public discourse for a considerable period of time now, to the discomfort of many, and despite the outcry from several quarters, these killer herdsmen have refused to desist from the notorious practice of not only invading farmlands with their sacred cows and destroying the livelihoods of farmers across the length and breadth of the country, but also leaving a trail of blood and murder after every invasion. What started as a bad joke is now threatening to destroy the very foundations of this country. Farmers in Benue, Pleateu and Nasarawa states live in perpetual fear of an invasion from these herdsmen. Farmlands in Anambra, Ebonyi, Ogun, Ondo and Oyo states to mention but a few, have also been invaded by these notorious herdsmen in the recent past.
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Recently, a friend of mine was persuaded to go into farming after four fruitless years of seeking a white collar job after completing his NYSC. He subsequently secured a loan from a financial institution after depositing his University and NYSC certificates. He leased a piece of land and started a cassava farm. He said he took extra measure to secure the farmland by putting demarcations around the farm. His cassava was growing well, until one morning when he got to his farm to meet some sacred cows feasting on his farm. An argument ensued after he confronted the two herdsmen he saw under a tree, and he was eventually inflicted with machete wounds, he had to flee for his dear life.
He was recently discharged from a private clinic, and now has no job, no farm, and his certificates remain with the financial institution. Interestingly, it is not only poor anonymous farmers like my friend that are receiving the herdsmen’s treatment, even rich and prominent farmers like Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Chief Olu Falae among others have their own tales of woe to tell. It was reported on January 22, 2018 that Fulani herdsmen stormed the farm of Chief Olu Falae, located at Ilado near Akure, the Ondo State capital and set it on fire.
The most disturbing aspect of these herdsmen madness has been the response of the federal government. The most important function of any government is the protection of the lives and properties of its citizens, it is only when security is established that politics, as well as the economy can thrive. One of the major selling points of President Buhari during the last election was that his military background will help him to successfully combat the insecurity that was and is still predominant in the country. The military command was deployed to the north east on assumption of office, operation python dance and crocodile smile were also instituted in the southeast and southwest respectively to curb the high level of lawlessness. Indeed, groups who threatened the country’s peace at various points in time were branded as terrorist organizations. However the government’s response to the current herdsmen crisis has been extremely disappointing. Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, a close ally of the president was quoted to have said that the killer herdsmen were not Nigerians.
Also, after the initial unwelcome silence, the president directed the inspector general of police to relocate to Benue state, and to show the ineptness of the directive, the personal farm of the Benue state governor was attacked few days later. At no time did the federal government order the Army to go after the herdsmen or declare them to be terrorists. In fact, the Minister of Defence, Col. Mohammed Dan-Alli (rtd.) further stoked the embers of fire by claiming that the enactment of the anti-grazing laws by some states was the immediate cause of violence by herders. The solution proposed by the federal government is the establishment of cattle colonies across the country. While, I totally support the idea of government providing conducive environments for private businesses to thrive, I think it will be total injustice if it is only the herders that will benefit from such a policy, other colonies for livestock, fish, rabbits, dogs among others must be created simultaneously in all the states of the federation.
The docility of the federal government has emboldened the herdsmen, thus they now have the effrontery to invade a citadel of learning, which is considered to be a sacred land. The University of Ilorin in its weekly bulletin issued on Monday, 12 February, 2018, stated that the management of the institution last Thursday 8 February held a security meeting with the leaders of the 11 Fulani settlements on the University land, the meeting was attended by representatives of law enforcement agencies comprising of the Nigerian Police Force, the Department of State Security Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). The publication quoted the vice-chancellor Prof. Sulyman Abdulkareem, as saying that ‘economic trees were destroyed by cattle grazing on the vast land of the institution’. It was reported that Fulani Herdsmen illegally grazing on the campus of the University destroyed multi-million research and training farms of the institution, and that the university could no longer condone the destructive activities of cattle on the University land, as it has become too costly for the institution to bear.
A source at the meeting, according to an online news platform hinted that the VC ordered the illegal settlers, who have started building permanent structures to vacate the University land in the interest of peace. The source quoted the Vice Chancellor as saying, “We have a multi-million Naira programme that is currently at stake now because they (herders) have gone to the extent of uprooting tubers of cassava for their cattle to feed on. We cannot conduct any research or training on the farm again because each time we get to a point where their cattle can feed on it… they go back there and destroy it.”
The source further recalled that the university management had on April 26, 2017, handed down a seven-day ultimatum to the Fulani herdsmen encroaching on the University land to quit the campus. The vice chancellor was quoted then as saying to the herdsmen ‘your activities are affecting our research works. Plants grown for research works are being destroyed, slowing down the pace of research work. People are building permanent structures on our land. When we went round, we counted about 16 structures’. Unfortunately, but the quit notice was never complied with.
The widespread and unending attacks of the herdsmen have become a major source of concern. The federal government has not demonstrated the political will to effectively and decisively address the problem. The time to wake up is now; and the government should without delay mobilize security agencies against the menace. The few reported cases of herdsmen arrest should be speedily processed, and the culprits charged to court in order to serve as a deterrent to the growing army of violent herdsmen in the country. Cattle business is a private business, thus any solution that will involve the government placating the herdsmen by ceding land to them in other people’s territories will only give rise to accusations by other groups who are likely going to feel cheated.
It is therefore time for the President Buhari led Federal Government to remove the ‘sacred cow’ appellation from the violent herdsmen, and dish out ‘Mr goody goody’ to them; otherwise they will continue to desecrate our sacred institutions and lands.
Babajide A. Tella is a student of Politics at the University of Ibadan and writes via firstname.lastname@example.org