A proper understanding and deployment of sociological knowledge and skills at the topmost level of our governments today could really help, beyond merely acquiring guns to take to zones where misunderstandings have now led to the breakdown of peace and order. Most of Nigeria’s problems are telling us to wake up and use what we learnt in school…
I recall Nigeria’s ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo ‘slagging off’ people who studied sociology and history. I was alarmed then, because even if he was right in his concern about the fact that these professions do not manufacture anything, and that Nigeria needs more scientists and engineers, a deeper understanding of our challenges as a country requires that we mainstream these subjects. Sociology enables people to understand other cultures and how cultures evolve; it just broadens the mind. We must acknowledge that a vast majority of Nigerians are of narrow minds and limited understanding of anything else apart from their immediate environments. Most Nigerians therefore indulge in a type of parochialism that places them and their ancestors at the top of the pile, and everyone else at the bottom. It’s no wonder the nation is contorting and cavorting today.
History. Well, this one is obvious. They say history not only tells a people where they are coming from, but why they are where they are, and where they must be heading to. That is if the people are mindful enough to keep and study history, and take history serious. Nigerians are not one of such people. But if Nigeria were wise, ALL our university students, irrespective of their major courses of study, would study a lot of sociology and history.
Look at us today. In year 2018, Nigerians understand less and less about each other than they did in 1970. This is despite the availability of a myriad of communication channels and gadgets. In 1970, there were no mobile phones. The few landlines that there were, hardly worked. There were no emails, no text messages, no WhatsApp or instant messaging, no Skype or Zoom or any of the dozens of gadgets and applications and innovations that ease communication today. Yet our people exercised more patience and understanding with each other, and had more hope of a better future together. Okay, we had fought a war. But by 1970, the war was over and Nigerians were back to being friends again. In many places, returnees from the war were welcomed back with open arms, and many had their properties protected for them by those they left behind.
Look at Nigeria today. We have problems all over the place. Not only economic, but sociological. One could argue that the level of mutual distrust and growing hopelessness is now higher than in the pre-civil war times. Nigerians seem to have lost hope that this union can ever work again. All we hear is doom and gloom, and hardline positions. I believe that the economic aspect plays a large part in this, anyway. A people who have been deliberately impoverished and denuded of dignity over many decades by those they call leaders, who have been deceived, subjected to nepotism, tribalism and religious fanaticism, are the worst to teach sociology and tolerance. Alas we may have also got to the point where a mere focus on economic issues can no longer solve these problems.
How do we solve the issue of herdsmen/farmers clashes without understanding the underpinning sociologies? We are talking here of a clash of cultures, a clash of civilisations, the impact of a new world economic order on farmers and herdsmen together, and our overall failure as Africans (not only Nigerians), to document ourselves properly and know who we are. We are talking of a growth in the populations of herdsmen and farmers alike, and perhaps more importantly, of cows too. All of us – humans and cows – now have better access to the gains of science, are perhaps more physically resilient than we used to be, live longer on the average, and for cows at least, their reproduction could even be better today than used to be the case. We Nigerians have availed ourselves of the advantages of science and technology, while playing no part in the evolution of those bodies of knowledge, and of course, without considering the immediate and long term effects that these bodies of knowledge will have on us.
I once listened to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar at Chido Onumah’s book launch as he spoke about the fact that a Fulani man’s greatness is measured at death by how many heads of cattle he leaves behind, and not by his number of houses or companies, or quantity of cash. This is a sociocultural fact. However, the upshot is that there is an incentive for the number of cows in Nigeria to keep increasing, because the owners are not totally motivated by the money to be made from selling them. (And an unconcern about the money skews the demand and supply equation, leading to higher prices). The relationship between herder and cattle is not a transactional one. I understand that the Fulani hardly eat cow meat, and I can see why. They relate with the cows, name them, love them, protect and guide them, discipline them. I have watched herders talk to cows and I am amazed. I believe the cattle language is another thing we are not documenting which we ought to. What is more?
Where are our sociologists in Nigeria? Do we think the essence of sociology is to get a career in the police or in politics? Or become the chief security officer of some oil company? Or to join the foreign service? No. Sociology’s relevance is essential to the survival of a country.
A proper understanding and deployment of sociological knowledge and skills at the topmost level of our governments today could really help, beyond merely acquiring guns to take to zones where misunderstandings have now led to the breakdown of peace and order. Most of Nigeria’s problems are telling us to wake up and use what we learnt in school – especially in higher institutions. What is the use of having so many PhDs who don’t solve any problem? Our focus so far has been to go to university to acquire degrees with which we gain employment and earn money. Today, we are called upon to ensure that we actually use those degrees to make our country a better place to live in. Where are our sociologists in Nigeria? Do we think the essence of sociology is to get a career in the police or in politics? Or become the chief security officer of some oil company? Or to join the foreign service? No. Sociology’s relevance is essential to the survival of a country.
Let us try and itemise the several levels to this current crisis that is threatening to tear Nigeria to pieces:
First, there is the fact that people who herd cattle do well financially, more than their farming counterparts – in the medium to long term and where all else fails. This was true in Biblical times when Abel the shepherd was more favoured in comparison to Cain his brother, leading to disastrous consequences. It was there in Rwanda when the white colonialists favoured the cattle-owning, frailer Tutsis and planted them in leadership positions, while using the stouter farming Hutus as workers. This led to a gory genocide. If you see the Tutsis, you have seen the Fulanis. Bola Ige once controversially described Fulanis as the Tutsis of Nigeria. Are we ready to deal with such a delicate issue? Are we wired to solve such a complicated problem? I very much doubt so.
Second, the incentive for herds to grow is indeed a problem, as we may see cattle crowding out humans in the medium to long term. There are cultural aspects which clash with modern city dwelling. That is one. We shouldn’t be seeing cattle herds in built up cities. But we can see that the rural areas are even more dangerous for cattle and their herders because farmers see it as a frontal confrontation, and cows have been alleged to eat people’s crops. There are traditional practices in place to prevent this but my understanding is that it often fails. Also I think the fundamental thing is to accept that the growth in population and continued food poverty in the land has vitiated this idea of herding cattle all around the country. It will not be easy to change an age-long culture I admit, but the opposite is even more costly by far. In one of my researches, I saw that Tanzania seized and auctioned 1,300 cows that strayed into its territory from Kenya in October 2017, while the herders ran away. They had been warning the Maasais of Kenya not to herd cattle in their territory but the herders were forced to, in search of grazing when the season was dry. Same issues. Only that in Nigeria it’s about bloodbath.
Third, what do we do about the high cost of meat? On what basis is the price of cows determined? Is it ‘market forces’? Do we believe in that nonsense that one day a man went into the market with N200,000 looking for a cow to buy anyhow, or did the cattle cartel set the price? Can we reduce that price and get rid of excess stock? The market for cattle is imperfect for several reasons. The fact is that it is always a sellers’ market. I went to Uganda and realised that beef is infinitely cheaper than in Nigeria. Is it time to speak with the cattle-owners and ask them to pity Nigerians?
Fourth, given the video from Ghana which shows the Ghanaian Police taking a war stand specifically against Fulani herders (even though there are Hausas and Fulanis who are citizens of Ghana), we can see that the Fulani herders have an undeniable continental problem – which may actually berth majorly in Nigeria like everything else does. This means that we need to, at some point, deal with the problem of Fulani exceptionalism, by which the people see themselves as a borderless tribe with fierce mutual/tribal loyalty. The Fulanis are called upon to talk to themselves and not take a hard stance on this, as such a stance could destroy Africa. We are at the epoch where a culture must change or keep us all in the dark past. The issue of ranching becomes secondary. The fact is that the Fulanis as a tribe that spans almost the whole of Africa in one form or the other (though there are related tribes like the Barabaig of Tanzania), can undo the entire continent if these issues are not well managed. How do we solve that problem beyond kicking the can and sweeping stuff under the carpet? To make matters worse, Nigeria is a country with an exceptionalism problem and that is very dangerous. Many tribes in Nigeria actually have this idea that they are special and better than the rest. It’s not looking good at all, as all these large egos are set to collide with very coruscating effects – in a bad way.
…this problem of herders/farmers is also mirrored in other aspects of our social interactions today. Our misunderstanding of our sociology within context, has led to a shrinking of our cocoa in the South-West to the extent that Ivory Coast, Ghana, Malaysia, and even Cameroon are edging us out. No one is replanting the cocoa of the 1950s.
Fifth, most Nigerians also prejudge issues from primordial perspectives. That is why all of a sudden this is a religious issue. The Tutsis, who are arguably of Fulani stock (at least in looks and body shape; check out Paul Kagame) in Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, and DR Congo, are actually Christians. So are also the Dinkas of South Sudan, the Maasai of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and the Barabaig of Tanzania. So in order to solve this issue, a clear mind is required, devoid of biases. This is not helped though by voices such as those of Dr. Nazifi Darma of the Arewa Consultative Forum, as well as many of our pastors. Though all sides have lost many human beings, now is not the time to escalate the bad blood else we will all pay dearly.
Sixth, we may have been able to reduce the intensity of the clashes – and the coming ones – if only African leaders have done well and have been imaginative and honest enough to develop the people and not just their pockets. Nigeria is a particularly pathetic case in this regard. Decades of misgovernance got us here, where we are having Fulani/Farmers clashes in Adamawa, Benue, Taraba and elsewhere, and governors are issuing fatwas that they don’t want to see these herders. At the same time, there are many simmering inter and intra-tribal wars all over Nigeria. One could conclude that indeed the people are hungry. Only hungry people are so angry to pick up arms and slaughter each other at every little provocation.
So we need this methodical approach of layering and delayering the problem, and situating each layer where they belong. We must not lump up the issues, or bring in our own biases. I listened to Fani-Kayode speak among his Igbo in-laws the other day and I was afraid. Orators are dangerous when their minds are infected. This was a man who rubbished the Igbo just some months ago, now swearing fire and brimstone about the country because things didn’t go his way? Most of us have not been a tenth as lucky as this man, but his type are ready to burn Nigeria down. I hope Buhari is not totally losing control.
I conclude that this problem of herders/farmers is also mirrored in other aspects of our social interactions today. Our misunderstanding of our sociology within context, has led to a shrinking of our cocoa in the South-West to the extent that Ivory Coast, Ghana, Malaysia, and even Cameroon are edging us out. No one is replanting the cocoa of the 1950s. Nigeria never plans ahead. But how was Ivory Coast able to do theirs; producing 10 times what we have here? This same problem has led to the fact that we now import palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia, and is responsible for our mismanagement of our crude oil resource and the death of our industries (which are replaced by religious houses), among other problems. Other countries all over Africa seem to be solving this herder problem better than we are in this country. Positions are hardened here and egos are too large. How come it’s only in Nigeria that we hear of heavily armed herders. Elsewhere it’s not like that. Something is fishy.
Nigerians love easy problems. However, as we seek easy problems that we can simply pray or wish away, we have created hard core issues for ourselves that will not disappear in a lifetime, except we truthfully engage our brains and our brawn. In this modern world there are no easy problems anymore. My own immediate call is for our governments to just become responsible. Governance has to go back to the villages where they belong. For some reason, our leaders understand governance to mean being ensconced in some plush palaces in some capital city. While we have such conflagrations in the country, our president takes delight in traveling all over the world at the drop of a hat. That is not how to solve this crisis.
Muchangi, J. (2017); Kenyan Herders Lose 1,300 Cattle to Tanzania. Auctioned for SH93m Against Their Will. Retrieved from; https://www.the-star.co.ke/ news/2017/10/31/kenyan- herders-lose-1300-cattle-to- tz-auctioned-for-sh93m- against_c1661180
Semenye, P (n. d.): Grazing Habits of Maasai Cattle. FAO. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/wairdocs/ ilri/x5491e/x5491e0y.htm
Fratkin, E; Wu, T (1997): Maasai and Barabaig Hwerders Struggle for Land Rights in Kenya and Tanzania. Cultural Survival Magazine. Retrieved from; https://www.culturalsurvival. org/publications/cultural- survival-quarterly/maasai-and- barabaig-herders-struggle- land-rights-kenya-and
Oxfam (2006). Maasai Cattle Herders Try to Cope as Their Options Shrink. Oxfam. Retrieved from:https://reliefweb.int/ report/united-republic- tanzania/tanzania-maasai- cattle-herders-try-cope-their- options-shrink
Mann, O. (2010): Dinka, The Legendary Cattle Herders of South Sudan. Youtube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=7z3SsT-FW7Q
World Watusi Organization (n. d.): A Short History of the Watusi (Tutsi) Cattle. Retrieved from: http://www.watusi.org/2012/05/ 17/a-short-history-of-watusi- cattle/