The cow moos past. The herdsman belts a whip. He does not look at you or even acknowledge you. As you think, he is mere savage, no literate tongue, no keen gaze, and immune to your latest fancies: a tv show, or happening tie, femme fatale, or the high-end restaurant even if his cow ennobles the cuisine. For you, he is here to sell his cows. The space between you connects you in fact but not in spirit.
You think him an outback barbarian; he sees you as a showy and interloping infidel, even though his nomadic feet sweep through your backyards, highways and, of course, farmland.
He has a concept of you as you do of him. Yet in between, no dialogue. You think he is a seller of cows. He knows you are wrong. Cows are mere emblems of his identity. He does not only think you don’t want him to earn a living. He thinks you don’t want him to live.
He thinks your highways and your cars and your backyards are incarnations of the devil. They disrupt the rhythms of his peace. Too much population. Too much technology. Whither his way of life? His way of life is not just to sell cows. His way of life is the cow, but it is also to move in the woods, to twirl a stick, to follow the scent of history, the path of his forefathers, amidst lush, dewy grass, under a sky’s merciful blue and grey rage of torrents. He eats on the go beside his alter ego the cow, watches his maker blaze his trail from one arid land to another rich pasture. When in a grip of a carnal zest, he deposits his tumescence on the go, sometimes on a naïve nubile or deposits a child like the unseen parent of the protagonist of Ayobami Adebayo’s novel, Stay with Me. He follows his spiritual lead more than a commercial deal.
When we say the herdsman’s life is about the cattle, he wonders why we don’t get it. That is the crux. We are facing the deadly impulse of antiquity in the age of cell phones and Instagram. Whither twitter? That is the challenge of the age when an Emir of kano reels out figures of the dead in what should be a moment of funeral sentiment, when Miyetti Allah yells out self-righteous indignation that smothers the grief of the bereaved, when the president tells the Benue elders to accommodate their neighbours when they are counting their corpses.
If we say modernity is right it is because we see it as inevitable. If they say the herdsman is right it is because they see him as unchangeable. When unchangeable confronts the inevitable, 73 souls expire in a night raid in Benue, a farmer plops down in Ogun, a political chieftain waddles away with his captors in Ondo, Americans and Canadians are whisked away in a fatal abduction in Kaduna, a head herder flares up in a press conference, a Mambilla Plateau draws blood on its scenic swath.
Do we know the herdsman? Does the herdsman know us? Does any of us care? A deaf wall has sprouted between us, and we inhabit our own echo chambers, luxuriating in the eloquence and sonorities of our voices.
For many of us, the herdsman is one image. To them, they are more complex. Why was it that in the past when the herdsman held a dagger in his pouch, no one was afraid? Or when he had a dane gun, it was perceived as self-protection. They held it in the event of game or peril from a savage beast. But not now. It is because society has evolved from a place of trust, and that is one of the narratives lost in the crisis.
As Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai has said repeatedly, some of the killers are Bororo Fulani. Many of them are now jobless because of another factor of modernity: capitalism. Some big men now own great numbers of cattle and employ fewer herders. As the machine is depriving workers of jobs, capitalist thinking is driving these boys into unemployment and ominous despair. They are thus Hobbesian candidates: angry, alienated and dangerous. The have sticks but no cow to whip. So, they head for our brood and blood.
The herdsman and his sponsors’ claim to not want change is therefore self-serving and hypocritical. The business has changed and created an army of vicious young men. And this leads to a yet unresolved piece of the puzzle. When the herdsman clashes with a local in which his cattle consume farm crops or a herdsman is killed, or cows are rustled, a reprisal follows. When it erupts, we don’t see any trace of the offended herdsman. We see new men, guttersnipes armed and raging like a pack of hyenas. The question is, if the herdsman is innocent, how come such waves of attack come after they leave in anger?
That is the sort of question I want El-Rufai, our security agents and even the Miyetti Allah to unravel. The next question is, who arms them? Are the employed herdsmen not in cahoots with marauders? These episodes of weaponised outlawry cannot come from jobless criminals if there is no backing from well-heeled men. Is there a connection between the owners of cattle and the weapons in circulation, or is there a shadowy force yet undiscovered in a reign of rampant barbarity in the country?
We cannot solve this problem by planting ourselves behind a deaf wall. It is because we have not decided to talk to each other but at each other that we are at each other’s throats in a state of incendiary paralysis. No dialogue has begun. No trust yet. Why, for instance, did the Afenifere and the Ohaneze go to Benue State to condole the bereaved and the Arewa Consultative Forum was absent? Were they invited but turned it down, or were they not invited at all? Either case points to the deaf wall wailing on both sides.
As I noted last week, this is a time to cooperate and not compete over who spews out the fiercer rhetoric. The Yemi Osinbajo panel makes sense. But I suggest the Plateau and Nasarawa models where mutual understanding precedes template. Since independence, we have had many panel reports in the archives and we seem to worship them as monuments, although they give us opportunities to make monuments of our lives. The choice is ours.
Ambassador Dapo Fafowora retired from the editorial board of the Nation newspaper and we feted him as only a man of such honour and erudition deserves. He is 77, and has served this country with distinction. First as a career diplomat culminating in the United Nations. He was the president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, a commissioner in Osun state, amidst other engagements. He is an honorary fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters. From The Nation’s inception, he maintained a back page column until late last year. In his clear, persuasive style, he illumined many of Nigeria’s contemporary issues. His contributions to our editorials are so unique, we can only try in vain to replace them.
But what many do not know are his sense of humour, his disarming humility, his anecdotal repertoire of our country and its elite, and a gregarious soul. He knows how to throw a barb without a hint of being mean. Amidst wine, food and banter, every member of the board rose to pay tributes to him. And laughter was a recurring theme of the afternoon. I started the event by saying facetiously that he was going, among other things, because of the “imperatives of biology.” But Professors Adebayo Williams and Ropo Sekoni cut in impishly and asked, “do you mean ‘old age?’” Laughter. Both men taught me literature at Ife and their former student was not going to get away with verbal cunning, a sleight of a phrase.
Everyone had a unique thing to say about him. Eventually when he rose to respond, he also had something to say about everyone, unveiling his free flow for devastating humour, laying waste rib after rib. Yet on more than one occasion, he almost broke down in tears, his tongue seized, his eyes moist. We had to clap to bring the old man back to cheer.
We are all going to miss you, Ambassador, but you promised to pop in once in a while. We shall hold you to that account.