IN the beginning was the land, and the land was with the people and the land was god. No one up till today, in spite of the sophisticates of technology and commerce, has been able to do it in. It has duelled men and with men, and men with it, and there is no effort that people ever made that was without the land. When we fly, we come down to it alive, lame or dead; or when we paddle through roaring waters, we berth for peace. When it is all over, it has never lost appetite to swallow and digest the end of all flesh.
It is the light of society even when we try to make light of it. Out of it we feed, on it we walk, from it we fly, for it we war and worry. Also, we make routes and in Nigeria, it has had its own tumults called the herdsmen and farmers.
With a new government policy, it seems we are making peace with the land. It is perhaps the cowry, the mystique to cow the herd. When the idea was first propounded, the earth shook. They called it RUGA, and the storm was the name, not the idea. Or shall we say the name was the idea. RUGA is an Hausa word, and if it meant anything to those who did not like it, it was that the Hausa-Fulani in high places wanted to take over southern communities.
Who would not think so when the whole idea was to call them RUGA in Kano and call them RUGA in Sapele or Onitsha. Did the locals not have their language? It came across as a hegemonic gambit and frowned at by those who did not call farm or cattle in the Hausa language.
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was at the head of another project known as the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), and had to scramble to dissociate himself from RUGA. It became a name-tainting gamble to stand in Abuja and be tarred with the RUGA brush. Not I, said the vice president as though an echo of the bird in Wole Soyinka’s Death And The King’s Horseman.
RUGA signified a ranch, but once you called it RUGA, it was a Hausa-Fulani ranch. Language can make the difference between war and peace, joy and suffering. It is a project of power. Literary and political theorists like Michel Foucault call it the rhetoric of discourse. It was language nationalism, and it is a sentiment that can change a meek man into a warrior.
So, President Muhammadu Buhari cancelled it. So the Osinbajo project, working with others, became the saving face. But it was a project the north wanted, and the north only. Another man who had to confront the bear is the governor of Plateau State who is also the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum. It became clear that Governor Simon Lalong would have to expand his affairs as governor to the tempest of the region.
But Governor Lalong now abides as governor in a relatively quiescent time, having confronted the apocalypse of the herder’s menace. He had set a template that made Plateau an oasis when others burned. Then the template fell into error from sabotage and it quickly found it feet after many dead. His solution, an envy and copycat of some neighbouring states, makes a case for him to lead his fellow governors at this time of unease in his region. As they say, cometh the hour, cometh the man.
As one of the key figures working on with the vice president on NLTP committee, he had to bring the experience of the mechanics and politics. When he agreed on bringing ranching to his state, some forces opposed because they saw it has Fulanisation. But what he was doing was to revive a dead project long before he became governor. In fact, the existence of reserves dated back to the military era, to the colleagues of Jeremiah Useni, who got flunked in the last governorship polls.
He had set up a 12-man committee headed by Prof Ochapa Onazi and members that included traditional rulers, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), as well as civil society organisations. This group recommended ranching. They were to revive the eight reserves in the state. But it turned out the army had appropriated the lands and only two reserves at Wase and Kanam survived the onslaught.
The new project will encompass not only cows but also hens, goats, cocks, pigs, et al. It is a new way for peace, if we are ready for it. What this means is that herders don’t have to go about from place to place. Their cows will not moo into farms and munch the riches.
If this works, it will be a historic shift. If the herders see their nomadic life as not only economic but also cultural, the NLTP project is fundamental, at least in the north. So what happens to the cattle and the argument that the cow cannot survive anything but a nomadic life. Obviously, it made no sense. The cow can be sedentary. It can sit, mull and moo.
The cow will not mystify the grand poet John P. Clark, who in his famous poem, Fulani Cattle, wondered “what secret hope or knowledge/ locked in your hump away from man/ imbues you with courage/ so mute and fierce and wan/ That, not demurring nor kicking/ you go to the house of slaughter?”
With Prof Osinbajo and Lalong working together, shall we not see this as the first major seed in putting to an end the suspicion? We still need to know the details. How is it going to be funded? Governor Lalong says it will be piloted by the federal government but it is essentially a local affair. Ironically the whole story started in the Jonathan era, and it had budgeted N100 billion. The Plateau State Governor clarified that the Buhari administration did not allocate N100 billion towards the dream.
Peace is the first condition for prosperity. Governor Lalong with his colleagues just launched a mall in Kaduna as part of the effort to turn the north into post-crisis place. But Lalong knows that this is no easy venture. His experience in Plateau knows that to reconcile, you must watch. If he has been able to do it in Plateau, he has the challenge to do it all over north, especially with the bandits abroad in bushes and highways. the goons are rattling Governor Masari of Katsina State who heads the committee whose report is expected soon on security.
The northern crisis has lingered too long. Lalong seems poised for success. So are all Nigerians.
The Old man at Sea
TO be old in Nigeria is to bleed and die alone. That explains the pensions system. It is tragic that most states are not interested in the lives and welfare of our senior citizens. Barely a third of the states pay pensions in the country. Rochas Okorocha, for all of his noise and flamboyant talk, has not been able to deny the charge that he did not pay pensioners when he was in office, even though he still would not yield government properties. For 77 months most of them did not get paid. Governor Emeka Ihedioha is undergoing a biometric investigation of those who are really elders. Preliminary report shows that there are ghost old men and women. Governor Ihedioha wants to know them and start payment immediately.
His team is taking the data and combing everywhere. Old men should not be taken for granted. Gone are the days of communal joy when the old depended on the young. The rise of the city with individualism has alienated our senior citizens. They can hardly feed or enjoy healthcare. Hence the playwright, Tennessee Williams noted in his play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, that “you can be young without money, but you cannot be old without money.” Kudos Ihedioha.