It was a day for accolade. It turned out, ironically, as a night for introspection. Ben Murray-Bruce tried to play the common sense card. As senator, he has craved the spotlight. In diction, in boast, in effort to play down his patrician status and, many will say, in vanity.
He was talking up our history at the Silverbird Man of the Year night. He said, as he noted in last year’s event, that we have perished our memory. The young do not know the past. The old cannot remember our landmark events. We are plunging blind into the future. We need to play up our past. We need to do that now.
He gave an inspired speech. I associated with him. I have campaigned quite a few times for this. We are a rudderless people without history. When we understand our past, the resources will abound to tackle our heres and nows.
But Senator Bruce was about to be bruised that night, softly. The man of the year, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, injected him with a little dose of commonsense.
He said he agreed with Bruce, but he was acting impotent when he had the power to act. If he was still campaigning for the position of senator, he would have made a mammoth sense. But he was not campaigner Bruce, but Senator Bruce.
“Sponsor a bill,” encouraged Tinubu, and he stretched his hands to the right and called out the name of Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola. He would support the bill. He then referred to his wife and senator, Oluremi Tinubu, who would prop up the bill with her voice and brio. He assured Bruce that he would rally the forces of intellectual progress in the upper legislative chamber for the cause.
“I am anxiously waiting for the bill. Over to you, Senator Bruce. We want it to be introduced so we can have the young study it in primary and secondary schools as a compulsory subject. In universities, we want all history departments to be restored as independent units rather than combinations with international studies, which is meaningless.
We don’t have to go the past to grasp the value of the past. Look at some of the contemporary concerns. Look at the corruption war. We have been in this matter for long, since the First Republic. Nzeogwu and company despatched our first political elite in a putsch by lashing out at the fetid pool of corruption.” But he lamented the tragedy, and he noted that they were 10 “percenters.” What did that mean? The politicians and contractors stole 10 per cent of contract money, but allowed 90 per cent for proper work. In today’s terms, they were saints.
Today, at least in the era that ended with Jonathan, they stole over 100 per cent in many instances. The evidence was ghoulish. Contracts were awarded but not implemented. The same people asked for review after a year and got more money and did nothing. The historian will have to tell us how we grew from petty thieves to shameless robbers. We can learn from that how to cauterise the malignant growth.
The Boko Haram matter is seen as recent by many. But those who know our past will say that the seeds had been germinating before independence in the imperfections of its feudal nights and manifested in the First Republic, especially when the pogrom hit the Igbo and southern minorities. It grew gradually. Who has tracked this trajectory and shown us how to reverse the perverse train? Historians, of course. History feeds all disciplines. Those who acclaim science and technology also are inspired by the history of inventions and discoveries from Faraday to Steve Jobs.
I spoke to a student who made a first-class in history and international studies recently, and she had only a vague knowledge of the civil war. If a first-class student had a fragmentary knowledge of our most sanguinary chapter, our bloodlust of brothers, imagine the young men of IPOB and MASSOB who know little about that time of crushed bones and seared consciences. The first-class student confessed she was more interested in the international aspect of the studies.
Today, we are assailed by the herdsmen. Before we saw them as a metaphor for bloodshed, the herdsmen were mere curiosity to southerners. They and their cattle were mysteries. We saw them roll past on roads, in the aisles of forests, on lush grasslands. It was a mystery that overwhelmed poet J.P. Clark in his famous poem, Fulani Cattle. He wondered: “The whip no more/on your balding mind and crest/arouses shocks of ecstasy.”
But it is not the whip that arouses shock today, but guns and the omen of death rather the “secret hope or Knowledge…” that imbues the cows with the courage that leads them “not demurring or kicking…to the house of slaughter.” Clark wrote this about an idyllic vista. Today, the slaughterhouse has changed. The abattoir has been redefined in homes and farmlands and bush paths and human alleys and streets. I received a response in the form of a full-length article to my column last week from the National Secretary General of the Gan Allah Fulani Development Association (GAFDAN), the umbrella body of the Fulani herdsmen. His name is Sale Bayari.
This newspaper published it last week in full. His arguments were self-serving. He said the Nigerian cows are of the breed not suited to a sedentary condition. They have to roam to survive. That is an anachronistic view of biology. All biological beings survive. Even humans remain in prisons for life and do not die. Nature is about adaptability and not surrender. Americans who now build ranches once roamed as I traced last week. History has shown that this is possible. In his article, he should have followed the path of the Northern Governors Forum who argued that the guys doing the slaughter are not Fulani but infiltrators. Governor Kashim Shettima made this point. This brings a new dimension to the story.
What it means is that we have a bigger trouble on our hands. We hear that many of them do not speak Hausa and they come from outside the country. So why did GAFDAN scribe not make this point? Secondly, who are these infiltrators? Are they new incarnations of Boko Haram? If true, what is our security branch doing about this? Why did they not know this? More, if it is true, why have the members of GAFDAN not alerted the world and openly separated themselves from the hordes of slaughter?
If it is true that other incidents were perpetrated by feral interlopers, the Agatu slaughter was undoubtedly the work of Fulani herdsmen. GAFDAN confessed it butchered the Agatu men and women and children as vengeance. This calls for a serious investigation.
It is time for ranching, not grazing reserves if the reserves will divide us. The lands belong to locals and locals should not be coerced to give up their lands. It will trigger the conscience of sovereignty. Ranches with parking plants are possible. We need imaginative leadership to effect this. Civilisation is about bending nature to human will. Just as the cattle should adapt, so should our agricultural lands. If we have better organised farms, herdsmen will not have excuses for predation. Herdsmen versus farmers is a collision of wild anachronisms, the sort of metaphor that Jack London graphically paints in his immortal novel, A Call of The Wild, about human savagery by the agency of dogs.
The story is getting to the heart of the Nigerian fibre, and it is time for all to allow commonsense prevail over a fighting sectarianism or ethno-religious bias. It is good that efforts are now being done by north and south governors to close ranks. But nothing will happen until the bad eggs are fished out and punished according to the law.
We are making history, whether good or bad. Someday, a generation will have to learn from these times.