With climate change and population growth and the culture of the cattle rearers, if you have 50 cows and they eat grass, any route to your water point, they will follow it, it doesn’t matter whose farm it was…The first republic set of leadership was the most responsible leadership we ever had. I asked the minister of agriculture to get a gazette of the early 60s which delineated the cattle routes where they used meagre resources then to put earth dams, wind mills even sanitary department…So, any cattle rearer that allowed his cattle to go to somebody’s farm is arrested, taken before the court, the farmer is called to submit his bill and if he can’t pay, the cattle are sold, but subsequent leaders, VVIPs (very very important persons) they encroached on the cattle routes, they took over the cattle rearing areas…So, I tried and explained to him this has got nothing to do with ethnicity or religion. It is a cultural thing which the respective leadership was failing the nation—President Muhammadu Buhari
PRESIDENT Buhari’s closing remarks at the recent Ministers Retreat in Abuja re-enacts the importance of the saying that every moment in politics has a significance. At a retreat in which the president used his opening remarks to call on his ministers to defend actions of the government as aggressively as possible, he also used the end of the retreat to appeal to the country’s elites to be less aggressive in criticizing his government and for elites to see the difference his government has made in the last five years, despite two recessions within the five years of his rule. Of interest for this column today is the story of President Buhari’s response to President Trump’s question about the killing of Christians in Nigeria before and during 1918 when the two leaders met in Washington.
The gist of President Buhari’s response to President Trump is that whatever killings must have happened in Nigeria had nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, but just with culture. It will be hard for sociologists to accept President Buhari’s distancing of culture from ethnicity or religion, but that is not the focus for today’s piece.
Buhari’s explanation to Trump on the centrality of culture to the killing of farmers by herdsmen recognizes the role of what many pundits have referred to as culture war or conflict in most of the cleavages in Nigeria—political, social, and economic. But what is significant about this recognition of conflict of worldviews in the country is not limited to farmers-herdsmen interactions. Nigerians themselves—farmers, herdsmen, drivers, fishermen, and others have acknowledged that cultural differences can impact positively or negatively on the country, depending on how effective government’s management of cultural diversity has been.
Relatedly, Nigerians have drawn attention on many fronts to the adverse effects of holding on to a worldview or lifestyle that can threaten the stability of the country. For example, there have been complaints about the appointments made by President Buhari himself. This includes the fact that all security agencies have been given by the president to people from the north during the first and second terms. Even in his second term, the two ministries in charge of agriculture were given to people from the north, even when there are two types of agriculture in the country–dryland and wetland agriculture. Many cultural groups have also complained about failure of the current government to bring anybody to book for violating citizens’ right to life and property, despite acknowledgment of security agencies that many of such violators of the rights of Nigerians are even foreigners who look Nigerian.
Many Nigerians have interpreted Buhari’s appointments as an illustration of acts of internal colonialism. More recently, citizens are also worrying about Buhari’s government’s preoccupation with Water Resources Bill, Ruga Programme, and Grazing colonies. The last these programmes are believed by critics to be new attempts to re-create the grazing corridors started by British colonialists over 75 years ago.
Given that every cultural group in a federation has the right to practice its own culture without prejudice to other cultural groups, the challenge before the president in the remaining three years includes nurturing cross-cultural understanding that will prevent any cultural group from seeing the culture of any one group of people as the norm and the culture of others within the federation as deviance. It is, therefore, the role of government in a multicultural federation to prevent differences in culture or worldview to ruin many advantages that should in normal circumstances accompany cultural diversity.
While the culture of over 200 cultures may not be easy to change into the culture of one specific group, it is still feasible for the Buhari government to respond to the challenge of reducing conflict between cultures—Islamic, Christian, Animist as well as to the other two raised by President Buhari–Climate change and Population growth.
Climate change is a global matter and Nigeria seems to be cooperating with other countries on this issue and needs to remain enthusiastic about giving attention to environmental assessment for all projects—public and private. Furthermore, the government’s renewable energy initiative needs more attention than it is currently receiving. Several years ago, the federal government announced that about 40 federal universities would soon be provided with solar power. This promise is yet to be fulfilled. At a time that animal virus is believed to have created covid-19 pandemic, it is no longer advisable for government to allow pastoralists to allow their animals to have unregulated access to streams and rivers across the country. All ruminants should be restricted to ranches to prevent water contamination.
Moreover, there is need for policies that can take advantage of technologies that can prevent further environmental degradation. Some of such technologies had been used to turn deserts into thriving communities. Dubai is one such example and Las Vegas is another. The challenge facing Nigeria may not be to get stuck to pre-colonial occupations but to modernize traditional vocations like cattle production, by using science and technology to facilitate cattle production without sentencing cattle farmers to a nomadic life in the 21st century. For example, recycling rain water and de-salinizing salt water for transfer to users wherever they are can reduce culture conflict more effectively than ignoring the risks of herdsmen following their cattle to anywhere there is a sign of water, without worrying about the feelings of farmers on the way to such water.
Controlling population growth requires more investment in public education from the government. The effect that 12 years of compulsory public education can have on years of reproduction in the country, as it does in many other countries with emphasis on public education for boys and girls, cannot but be substantial. Moves by several governors to end Almajiri system is a good beginning for population control. But free and compulsory public education for children between 5 and 17 years of age ought to start across the country once the pandemic permits. Nothing says that Nigeria should allow the projection by external agencies about Nigeria having 400 million people by 2050 become a reality.
Lawmakers, now in the process of amending the 1999 Constitution blamed for failing to provide a constitution that is conducive to preventing avoidable culture conflicts, ought to listen to citizens on demands for a better constitution for a federation of diverse cultures.