The debate on open grazing in Nigeria


Malami did not compare oranges with oranges. If the Southern Governors had banned cattle herding, he would have a point. But what they banned was open grazing – which is one way of herding cattle. That is like saying you cannot sell spare sparts on the roadside. Or you cannot sell spare parts in the fruits and vegetables market. It is like saying you cannot drive okada in Asokoro or Maitama. You can drive it in Nyanya, but not in Central Area. It is like saying painted taxis cannot come into this estate. Or you cannot set up a disco club in a residential area. Or you cannot have a church with outside speakers inside a GRA.

These are all different ways organizations are regulated for security reasons, and to minimize the risk of conflict. For, you see, no human right is absolute. No. Yours ends where mine begins, mine ends where yours begins. And it is the duty of the State to moderate these fluid boundaries. From Zamfara to Bayelsa, the open grazing of cattle is leaving in its wake a trail of blood. And I believe there are two main reasons the Attorney General struggles to accept this. Firstly, because open grazing is predominantly done by the Fulani – an ethnic group indigenous to his region of the country. Secondly, (and more importantly) because this particular challenge to open grazing is coming from the South. You see? It is like Chelsea playing Tottenham, or Man U playing Man City. A goal is always a bitter pill to swallow, but even worse when it happens in a derby.

I tell you, there are many similarities between ethno-centric people and football fans. They both always cheer for their sides. Yes. No fan will rush into the pitch to argue with the referee that the goal just awarded to his team is actually off-side. No. The more decent ones will not celebrate it too much. They will say to themselves, and their friends from the opposing team, ‘na true, referee no suppose allow that goal, e no see am well, na true’ – but they will, nevertheless, take the goal – thank you very much. This is normal. This is part of what it means to be human – this passion and pride, and natural desire to advance your side. But when that desire progresses to the point where you would rather see the stadium burn down than watch your side lose – then you are no longer a fan, you are now a fanatic. For your love for team has started to threaten the beautiful game itself. You see? When we say tribalism is wrong, this is what we are referring to. Not the passion with which ethnic pride pursues a win, but the lengths to which fanaticism will go – the warnings it will ignore, the rules it will break, the ethics it will push aside – to force one. Like love and obsession, it is a difference of degrees.

For, I tell you, had it been Ganduje that came out publicly to oppose open grazing (has he not?) it would not irritate Malami so. But tell me does the soundness of a fact change depending on the ethnicity or religion of the person who speaks it? This is how tribalism can numb our objectivity. For, suddenly, the Northerner who sees clearly the carnage open grazing is causing in Zamfara will not understand why people are wary of it in Akure. This is how tribalism can numb our humanity. For, suddenly, the Southerner who lets out a loud cry of grief at news of a plane crash in Owerri is indifferent to news of a plane crash in Kaduna. But, tell me, does the sadness of tragedy change depending on the ethnicity or religion of the person to whom it occurs?

No. It is human to share in this grief. For no matter how different we think we are, this is one thing we have in common – death. Like this, the death of another will always remind me of the relentless approach of mine. Like this, the sight of a newly dug grave, or a freshly covered one, must draw the soul into contemplation – no matter how brief. And this is not a bad thing. If it were, the Good Book would not teach us that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting. For Death is the destiny of every man. And, I tell you, there is no true clarity about purpose – no true wisdom about life – that does not begin with this knowledge.

And, so, to the brave and gallant, of every tribe and tongue, who signed up to a job different from every other – and, in the line of duty, paid the supreme price… For the essence of the soldier’s job is death – redemptive death – to leave behind his own children so that you may have the opportunity to watch yours grow. To those without whose sacrifice ISWAP would today be setting up central command in Nasarawa as opposed to northern Bornu… To those who have put their bodies between us and extremism… To the fallen soldier… May God not judge you according to your iniquities. And in the resurrection, lion-heart, may your courage and self-sacrifice in this life count.

For, I tell you, the darkness cast over our lives by fanaticism today cannot be countered by resorting to a deeper darkness ourselves. No. My friend, do not be deceived, the real battle is not between North and South, Christian and Muslim, Igbo and Fulani. No. The real battle is between love and hate, between extremism and tolerance, between meritocracy and privilege, between a dynamic view of culture and a static one, between a vision of society predicated on the innate superiority of one ethno-religious group over the other, and a vision of society that accepts that, ultimately, we all – North and South – are children of God. These are the real sides in this game. I have chosen mine. And like a true fan will always, always cheer for it.

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