FEATURE ARTICLE

Sunday, June 13, 2021
uokwukwu@yahoo.com

NDIGBO, RESTRUCTURING AND OPEN GRAZING

Introduction

eople set agenda and the Igbo man hastily keys in without checking the background and motive of those behind it. The most painful thing is that he's always in the forefront in every fight even when he knows next to nothing about what he's fighting for.

Such scenario plays out in the present campaign to restructure Nigeria ahead of the 2023 general elections. We Igbos tend to support restructuring that clearly advances others' interests not minding the havoc it could inflict on us.

Restructuring fits the Yoruba political evolution, for instance. Their cities, roads and universities were built with the commonwealth when Lagos was Federal Capital, 1914-1990. It makes sense when they now argue for resource control. Same can be said of northerners as the new Federal Capital of Abuja, 1990-present; as well as northern cities and institutions were also built with the oil revenue. But what is the Igbo man going home with in a restructured Nigerian?

The Igbo man must look before leaping. Too much hurry is bad for any man. What Ndigbo need is not restructuring or secession but the opportunity to rule Nigeria on the bases of justice, equity and rule of law. We believe in peaceful co-existence.

The Asaba Accord of 11th May 2021, banning open grazing and movement of cows by foot in southern Nigeria, issued by the 17 southern governors, is defective. It identified the problem associated with open grazing but failed to advance a concrete solution beyond stating that it "Recommended that the Federal Government should support WILLING states to develop alternative and modern livestock management system."

But if you identify a problem, you must also advance solution else your work is not detailed. Climatic and environmental factors that triggered the abnormal Fulani transhumance that results to farmer/herder conflict must be admitted in proffering solution. Solution must also accommodate the pastoralists' rights to freedom of movement while guaranteeing that sedentary farmers are not encumbered and endangered.

Ndigbo Against Restructuring

As Igbo leader, I am not comfortable with restructuring on four grounds:

One, Yorubas have argued for restructuring on the premise of regional control of revenues from sea ports and natural resources beneath the earth. Without averting our minds to our own disadvantages we took up the battle cry in solidarity. But are we conscious of the harm such arrangement could do Igbo importers; particularly as we are yet to discuss with our minority brothers whose territories host the sea ports?

But bear in mind that in a restructured Nigeria, powerful regional parliaments will determine and regulate property tax, which can be turned into instrument of oppression and control. How many buildings do northerners have in the entire seven Igbo speaking states of Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia, Rivers, Anambra, Delta and Imo? Juxtapose that with the verse Igbo estates in Kano State alone. Same goes to properties owned by Yorubas in Igboland vis--vis what Igbos have in Yorubaland.

Other Nigerians have properties in their own territories and cannot be taxed by Igbos. But we will continue paying heavy tax to those on whose lands we built. So before shouting for restructuring we must think deeply as we might be frustrated into selling off all we have by the time the restructuring smoke cleared up. Igbos might even pay tax in Asaba and Port Harcourt if we don't control the levers of power.

Two, Lagos was Nigerian capital before General Yakubu Gowon turned it into a state in 1967. The Agbari who own Abuja, therefore, have the right to also demand for an Abuja State in a restructured Nigeria. Such state will come under strong northern control likely to exclude Ndigbo. Anything is possible in an exclusive condition.

Three, assuming Ndigbo ban open grazing after restructuring without providing lands for northerners to ranch their livestock, all the markets in the north could be shut against our traders. Those who control the markets could ask non-northerners to vacate without their goods. They could also ask non-northerners to surrender their goods to northerners to sell and remit the proceeds. We must be careful.

And four, some Igbos have joined the chorus that without restructuring there would be no election in 2023. But this novel idea could derail the entire electoral timetable leading to power vacuum. That would be inviting the military to intervene.

If President Muhammadu Buhari's tenure expires amidst restructuring and there's tension in the land, somebody will rise to restore order. And how are you sure that in the intrigues associated with military intervention Igbo presidency will emerge at the end of the day? I am careful supporting what I don't know.

Postponing the election is tantamount to postponing our chance of having a bite of the cherry in 2023. On grounds of morality, equity, unity and fairness; we continue to argue that Ndigbo should be allowed to produce the next president. We are confident that our compassionate compatriots will zone the presidency to an Igbo from any of the seven Igbo speaking states.

Ikwerre Against Restructuring

As Ikwerre leader, I daresay my Ikwerre tribe of the Igbo nation is comfortable with the present political configuration. Ikwerres do not want restructuring and will vigorously oppose any arrangement that alters the present state structure. Regionalism is anathema to us as we shall never surrender our freedom to any arrangement capable of enslaving us.

People are insensitive to the Ikwerre clamour for equity and justice. Injustice against Ikwerres is as old as Nigeria. The rape of crude oil is not as painful as the rape of land because oil is in the land. People talk about giving back the oil to host communities even though none talks about communities whose lands were stolen to host private, public and government institutions.

Ikwerreland hosts the Rivers State University, University of Port Harcourt, Ignatius Ajuru Univerity of Education, University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Port Harcourt International Airport, NAF Base, Bori Camp Army Barracks, Naval Base at Ohiaemeru (Borokiri), Naval Base at Iwofe, Area 1 Seaport, Old GRA, New GRA, largest palm oil estates in Africa in Elele and Ubima, Shell, Agip, Total, Mobil, 52 oil wells, 4 Flow Stations, biggest NTA Station in Nigeria, etc.

Three million Ikwerres are dying in overcrowded inner-city ghettos where Nigeria stampeded them. Who is talking about that? The Ikwerre man is rootless in his own land. So talking about one rootless community means we must talk about all. While Nigeria thinks of compensating the Aworis of Lagos, Agbari of Abuja, Finimas of Bonny, etc, Ikwerres must also be compensated.

Ikwerres must control their land and also determine what to do with it. The existential challenge confronting them in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor LGAs, in particular, is dearth of living space. Our position remains that all military formations in Ikwerre territories should be relocated and their sites returned to the original Ikwerre owners.

The land question is fundamental to Ikwerres. Agrarian lands taken from us without adequate consultation and compensation must be returned. Ipo and Omagwa communities in the Ikwerre LGA, hosts to Port Harcourt International Airport, must be rebuilt, rehabilitated, empowered and paid reparations for decades of deprivation and degradation by the Nigerian state.

Unseen Hand at Work

Without considering the wider implications, or even the socio-anthropological structure of Igboland, our people established the Eastern Security Network, ESN and Ebubeagu security outfits. The Yoruba put their Amotekun security outfit on a regional platform and there was no crisis. But you can see the implosion associated with ESN and Ebubeagu.

Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the ESN and Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, issued a Fatwa against the Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma for allegedly killing one of his commanders. Ralph Uwazurike, leader of the Biafran Independent Movement, BIM, accused Kanu of trying to kill him while openly admitting to kidnapping Kanu in the past. The herdsmen they set out to fight are not even mentioned. It is now brother against brother and mere anarchy is loosed upon Igboland, according to WB Yeats.

I am not opposed to change; but I don't support a violent one or one managed by violent people or when it is backed by force of arms. The consequences of violent change in the short run, long run and very long run are always disastrous. In the South East nobody is pointing accusing finger at the Federal Government for the murder of the ESN commander. All eyes are on the governors who are Igbos. Capitalizing on the pervading ill-will, the police rounded up suspected ESN members who are also Igbos.

A script is being written outside for implementation in Igboland. Igbos are yet to understand strategy in warfare. They go for a fight without considering its enormous implications. We are notorious for aping others. When such second rate act boomerangs we start crying while those we ape prosper. Does the hairy rat play in the rain as the hairless lizard? The lizard will get dry and live while the rat dies of cold. It's not everything you see another man do that you copy.

Biafran secessionists must first think of the challenges and limitations of their space before firing a shot. We have no Sambisa forest for anyone to hide in. The entire circumference of Igboland can be covered in six hours. They must be careful.

Boycotts, threats and violence always engulf Igboland anytime Nigeria embarks on critical census or electoral exercise. Why? This brings me back to my understanding of what I call the unseen hand or the invisible enemy who wins his war without being seen. In 2006 Uwazurike told Ndigbo to boycott the census exercise of that year. Millions obeyed him. In the published census result, Ndigbo shrunk numerically to a minority. Kanu also called for a boycott of the voters' registration exercise of 2018; in addition to asking his supporters to burn their PVCs. Again, millions complied. It was a bombshell when the 2019 election results showed that, numerically, Ndigbo were also a political minority. Votes from Kano State alone almost equaled those from the entire South East.

The 2021 voters' registration will soon commence. Already, Igboland is engulfed in crisis with Biafran secessionists pitted against those who want Igbo presidency in 2023. Offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, are being burnt by "unknown" arsonists. It is unfortunate as you can never have credible election under extreme violence not managed by anyone. People can never register or vote when their safety is not guaranteed.

If the next voters' registration exercise is truncated in Igboland, it will undermine the emergence of an Igbo president as weak votes from his own constituency will be a burden. That is my fear. It is the same script. I saw it coming and warned but some detractors wrote me off as a troublesome Ikwerre man out to fight Igbos.

Open Grazing

Igbos have active social conscience. We sympathise with Fulani herdsmen made to work under the rain and sunshine, heat and cold weather. They are exposed to hazards including being knocked down by vehicles or devoured by wild animals, in the course of grazing their cattle in the open. Poverty and illiteracy are responsible for their sad story.

Aristocratic Fulanis are not involved in herding. So we must express our sympathies with poor Fulanis involved in this occupation. For decades, these unappreciated herders provided animal protein for Nigerians. So there is a class dimension to the open grazing imbroglio because these herdsmen are children of the poor.

We equally express our sympathies with Igbo hawkers across the country. They are equal victims of poverty and illiteracy exposed to risks while selling their wares on the highway. We recall with pain how the former Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fasola rounded and dumped them in Onitsha at night against their will.

African refugees in Europe are not treated the way Fasola treated those hawkers. They are Nigerian citizens on Nigerian soil providing goods and services under the sun and rain; but were badly treated. There's equally a class dimension to this as children of wealthy Igbos don't hawk.

Cows in Nigeria do not belong to Fulanis alone. Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas and other ethnic groups own cows. Two months ago, some cows strolled into the compound of the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka in Abeokuta. The herdsman in charge was Fulani but the owner was Yoruba. The owner only employed the Fulani who understands animal rearing.

Like Bello Like Malami

In response to the Asaba Accord, the Fulani-born Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, immediately rose in defence of Fulanis in a manner considered by critics as too emotional for a serving minister.

Malami said that the ban was totally illegal and unconstitutional. Then he uttered a statement that angered some uninformed Nigerians into condemning him as a bigot, "For example: it is as good as saying, perhaps, maybe, the northern governors coming together to say they prohibit spare parts trading in the north." A subordinate could have spoken for him but Malami wanted his own voice heard. His pronouncement as the Chief Law Officer of the federation is as good as the law.

Any accord, be it the Asaba Accord or future Kano Accord, that violates the provisions of the constitution cannot stand. Declarations must respect the constitution and African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Ndigbo recognise the right of all peoples to do their legitimate businesses across the country; and their right to freedom of movement.

Without sentiments, Malami owes members of his Fulani ethnic group a duty. He must defend them if and when he believes they're targeted. I salute his courage in speaking out for poor Fulanis profiled and labelled as killer herdsmen.

Nigerians who denigrated Malami as a bigot for defending his people are ignorant of history. Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Muhammadu Buhari were all written off as bigots for thinking home. But one thing going for all three is that they attained greatness among their peoples after the larger Nigeria castigated them. When Awolowo chased Nnamdi Azikiwe out of the Western Region in the early 1950s, he wasn't doing it to favour Nigeria but to become a Yoruba leader. That is how leaders behave.

May God give Ndigbo their own Malami. Ndigbo have so much to say yet no Igbo minister will risk his comfort zone by speaking out for them. The Igbo man is losing relevance because he does not want to be seen as an Igbo leader. He wants to be a Nigerian leader even when he has no home base. But you must first be loved and accepted by your own people before the larger Nigeria can love and accept you. Your people can only love you convinced that you're defending them.

The Moses we celebrate today killed an Egyptian and buried him in the sand for mistreating a fellow Hebrew 4000 years ago. He never asked why the Egyptian was beating the Hebrew before killing the man. Defending his people was uppermost in his mind. It is moral and divine for a man to defend his race. If you refuse to defend your own people, you're bound to lose ground and none will take you serious any more.

So Malami knows where he's going. At the end of the day, having said and done what the north wanted, the forces of regionalism, ethnicity, religion and democracy will fuse to also defend him. It happened to Bello and I see it happening to Malami. If push comes to shove, the north will offer him a strong base for thinking north. He has succeeded in boxing himself into the heart of the north.

Yes to Regulated Grazing

I advocate what I call "regulated grazing," defined as an arrangement that provides land for herdsmen of all ethnicities. Herdsmen and cattle owners, as business men, will pay for the land on daily or monthly basis.

In addition, they will pay for greening the land so that their cows don't stray into the roads and markets. State and local governments own markets, motor parks, cemeteries, and amusement parks. Likewise, they can procure lands for regulated grazing.

But I will not support anything that will deny land to herdsmen. It is like saying that you will not provide people with land to load their luxurious buses, trailers or market to sell their goods. This is where Malami's argument becomes apt. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

The call by the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, for the Federal Government to evacuate Fulani herdsmen from the 17 southern states is hasty and unacceptable to Ndigbo. The herdsmen should stay where they are while northern governors and CNG join hands with progressive Igbo groups and governors to work out acceptable modalities for regulated grazing.

We must take all steps to live in harmony and do what is right so that everybody can be happy. This will avert crisis particularly now that there is tension in the land arising from the activities of the IPOB, Amotekun, Ebubeagu, ESN, ISWA and Boko Haram. Nigeria is tensed and we must deescalate it.

No to Ranching

People have argued for ranching as done in Europe and America. That is Utopian. If we cannot vacate our own wastes or give ourselves pipe-borne water and electricity, how do you expect Nigerians to profitably run ranches? Bear in mind that we lack the requisite technology. But if we must ranch like Americans, then we must first be sure of uninterrupted electricity, abundant and cheap feeds and veterinary doctors.

Some Nigerians have closed their poultry farms on account of exorbitant feeds. Considering that one cow consumes more than a thousand birds, where will you get the feed for your livestock when people are hungry? Ranching is a complicated thing. I am against it as we are yet to attain the capacity to successfully manage it.

To the argument that cows can be bred in the north and transported by rail down here for consumption, my response remains that we lack functional rail system and refrigerated vehicles for distributing processed meat. The way forward is marrying our circumstances to businesses Nigerians traditionally do.

Climatic/Environmental Factors

Water shortage in Lake Chad, occasioned by desertification and climate change, is a huge factor in the farmer/herdsman clash. A disproportionate number of cows are forced to move south in search of water and pasture. Southern agrarian communities, suffering from their own food shortage as a result of oil spills and soil erosion, are naturally hostile to the large influx of livestock that often destroy their farms. A fight is inescapable.

The solution is for government to urgently reverse the shrinking Lake Chad as a way of checking the number of south-bound cows. Green enrichment of areas already devastated by the Sahara Desert is a priority. Here in the south, lands contaminated by oil spills of the past fifty years must be restored.

Alternate Protein Sources

Ndigbo have need for other sources of protein indigenous to us. These include goat rearing, fishery, piggery, snail farming, etc. Successfully done, the north can even buy them as substitute to cows. When cows are the sole source of protein, the pressure on cow rearing becomes unbearable translating to farmer/herder conflict.

Fulani not Violent

Fulanis are not as violent as they have been presented. I come from Elele in the Ikwerre LGA of Rivers State and we have lived peacefully with them for about 150 years. They are a friendly people. I hasten to say this because stereotyping and labelling have led to the worst form of Holocaust. I fear hatred. We must reduce profiling and labelling in plural Nigeria not to create a genocidal situation.

Bear in mind that not every Fulani is a herdsman and not every herdsman is a Fulani. To commentators in the habit of tagging Fulanis as violent, my response is that not every Fulani is violent and not every herdsman carries Ak 47 riffle, kills and rapes. Likewise, when you talk about cheats in business, not every Igbo businessman is a cheat and all cheats are not Igbo businessmen.

In "Why I Went into Cattle Rearing-Enugu female herder," Vanguard, 16th December 2020, Mrs Ekene Obayi, a university graduate and Igbo herdswoman from Nguru in the Nsukka LGA, has this to say of Fulani herdsmen: "There was a day three of my cows mixed up with that of the Fulani herdsmen at Obimo, also in Nsukka Council Area. Because I gave them marks, it was easy to sort them out. However, one of the herdsmen gave me a cow to appreciate my efforts, He told me that their women don't join them in rearing the animals because it is tedious and energy sapping exercise. That was how we became friends. Sometimes I buy cows from them if I run out of stock."

Mrs Obayi received support from the much maligned Fulani herdsmen who never made noise about their generosity. She rears her cows under what I call a controlled or organised grazing. Given the right condition, Ndigbo stand to benefit a lot from these same Fulani herdsmen.

We must deal with a criminal as a criminal while playing down his ethnicity and religion. There are Christian and Muslim criminals. Five years ago, beheadings took place in Ikwerreland. The culprits were Ikwerres and not Fulanis. People were also decapitated in other parts of Igboland by their fellow Igbos. So you cannot say that all crimes are committed by one section of the country. I oppose profiling and labelling on the strong ground that they led to the murder of six million Jews in Europe.

Tutsis were also tagged and murdered. It is possible that some Tutsis did wrong; but did all Tutsis sit down and decide to kill Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana? The answer is no. Were Tutsi children less than five years also part of the alleged conspiracy? The answer is no. Did Tutsis who were blind, deaf and dump also part of the conspiracy? The answer is no. But when the killings began, more physically challenged Tutsis, children, women and the elderly perished while healthy adults escaped.

Peaceful Coexistence

What Nigeria needs at these trying moments is peaceful coexistence and not restructuring. Nigerians must understand that there is no perfect society and this includes the US we constantly refer to. For instance, America exploited slave labour for over four hundred years to build itself. America also annihilated native Americans; so it is imperfect.

People have called for another political conference. But that would be very distracting less than two years to the general elections of 2023. Besides, there's nothing new another conference can address that has not been discussed. What we need is for all Nigerians to condemn terrorism in all its ramifications.

We must purge Nigeria of corruption, which has nothing to do with ethnicity or religion. Muslims, Christians and traditionalists have ruined their people through corruption. We have seen robbery and outright confiscation of government lands. Those in power partition and confiscate lands for themselves and their cronies. That is not radically different from the colonial script to scramble and partition Africa under Otto von Bismarck in Berlin between 1884 and 1885.

With the collapse of Libya, the escape of arms into countries south of the Sudan and Sahel is frightening. Any crisis that engulfs Nigeria will turn us into Somalia with different militias controlling different towns. I can assure you that none will win the war. The Fulani will not win it. The Igbo will not win it. And the Yoruba will also not win it. The whole place would be destroyed and Nigeria reduced to the rape capital of the world.

With our get-rich-quick mindset, where people believe in blood money, even though it is not true, Nigerians will start killing people for ritual. Genocidal war will become the order of the day. So we must be careful because the global outlook does not sympathize with Africans. Who sympathized with Tutsis during the Rwanda Genocide of 1994?

Revolution is a double-edged sword. The revolutionary must be careful the sword he sets out to kill with is not turned against him. When revolution is not a product of detailed study it always backfires. Instead of change what will emerge is anarchy. In anarchy, nothing is preserved. Values, decency, ethos, etc, are all ruined. Humanity and the essence of human are destroyed in the absence of a leader you can hold accountable. That is my fear.

Conclusion

On 31st March1953, Anthony Enahoro of the Action Group, AG, moved his Self-Government in 1956 Motion in the House of Representatives. Ahmadu Bello of the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, countered Enahoro with his own Self-Government as Soon as Practicable Motion. For rejecting Enahoro's motion, Bello and other northern leaders were pilloried and booed by crowds all the way to Ibadan.

On 15th May of that year, Samuel Akintola arrived Kano to mobilize Nigerians to support Enahoro's motion. That was the opportunity the disgruntled North was waiting for to return insults and anti-South riots broke out. More Igbos than Yorubas were hacked to death by northerners.

In 1993, the northern-born Ibrahim Babangida annulled a presidential election presumably won by the Yoruba-born Moshood Abiola. Earnest Shonekon, another Yoruba, was made interim president instead. In response to the perceived role played by Arthur Nzeribe, an Igbo, in the annulment, Yorubas asked Igbos to vacate the West. Igbo businesses worth billions of naira were destroyed even though northerners were never attacked. In the stampede called "Oso Abiola," many Igbos died running back to Igboland.

I mean to make two points: One, the principle of attack is that you leave the faraway enemy and descend on the one nearest to you. Ndigbo bear the brunt of every upheaval because our physical investments, which can easily be burnt, are not in Igboland but in the North and South West.

And two, what pattern of history clearly shows in the above instances is that if the claims and contestations over restructuring and open grazing lead to major crises, Igbos and their businesses would be targeted across the country. We must be very careful.

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