Even the most egregious and utterly deplorable religious and ethnic dimensions of the present farmer-herder crisis are ultimately symptomatic, not causative. It is the same predominantly Moslem Fulani pastoralists, whom, decades ago, used to interact harmoniously with their predominantly Christian Southern compatriots that are its chief dramatis persona.
If neither religion nor tribe were the problem back then, it is highly suspicious that it is really the issue now. The very fact that fellow Fulani, fellow Moslems and fellow northerners of the bandits and rogue herdsmen are now increasingly their hapless victims, puts a very big and shaming lie to the ethno-religious colouration of the crisis.
I rather find the widespread conspiracy theory that Fulani are engaged in some grand design to overrun the rest of us, and, by means of conquest and device of ethnic cleansing, take over the entire country, to be more of orchestrated propaganda than anything with real basis in fact.
The notion that Fulani are hellbent on having us all uprooted from, and, supplanted in our ancestral places is at best alarmist. At the end of the day, the Fulani are really just your average everyday folk trying to earn a living, make ends meet and keep body and soul together vide what is ordinarily a most legitimate form of human activity called animal husbandry.
If the Fulani were to bulldoze everyone else away, who would they then sell their cattle to? The Fulani is a businessman who does not only want, but, actually needs to sell his produce to someone.
Needless to say, native war, tribal conquest, religious jihad and ethnic cleansing are all execrable vices most inimical to that overriding survivalist goal of having someone to transact and trade with.
While our population kept expanding in giant leaps and gigantic bounds, we paid scarce heed to the rear guard of our sustenance and food supply. No one seems to have bothered to wonder how do we produce our meat by the time our masses have increased from 20 million to 200 million?
Fertilizers and similar tokens aside, not much meaningful attention was ever really paid to the farmer. But as for the herdsman, his place in the food infrastructure was as good as completely ignored. Within the frame of our agricultural architecture, the herdsman was treated worse than a second class citizen. Yet we all kept munching hungrily on the meat.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Though we failed to plan, we have not yet exactly failed for there is still hope. Nevertheless, I cannot see how the current crisis is a problem capable of being handled by the Ministry of Agriculture alone or indeed one amenable to resolution as strictly a law enforcement challenge at all.
Truth is, we are not presently faced with an ethnic or religious problem but with a FOOD PRODUCTION CHALLENGE!
All the security components of the crisis are derivative and spring from a most perplexing lack of planning by successive governments through the years. The chickens have come home to roost and we are rudely awoken from our irresponsible national slumber.
The present challenge, far from being a regional, sectional or sectarian crisis is an unambiguous national emergency and I strongly believe that only an office with the constitutional clout, scope and reach as that of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice is in pole position to steer and coordinate an appropriate and adequate response for its resolution.
In order to avoid the disaster inherent in the sorts of conspiracy theories that are fast becoming our staple in this country, we must now embark on an immediate, frontal and holistic resolution of the present crisis before it is too late and we might have become too invested in the accidents of the problem to even remember its essences or how it all began in the first place.
The simple truth of this crisis is that but for the cattle we all consume across the nation, from South to North, we wouldn’t be hearing “Fulani this” and “Fulani that”. It is ultimately really that simple!
At the end of the day, the pastoral Fulani is in focus today because he is the one, who, without government support or the sympathy or understanding of far too many of his compatriots, is nevertheless constrained to bring the mass of the rest of us the meat we can scant do without.
He is ultimately a victim and only inevitably a perpetrator. His problem is actually our collective challenge as a nation and we must meet that challenge right now, lest it be too late for all of us.
*Jesutega Onokpasa, a lawyer, wrote from Warri.