It is interesting that 46 years after General Yakubu Jack Gowon was toppled as our military Head of State, Nigeria still retains the hope of the Black Race as the first Black power. No country is richer than us in terms of natural and human resources. No one has the fortune of having two of Africa’s mightiest rivers, the Niger and Benue, traverse through its estate. Sudan may be larger, the Democratic Republic of Congo may have more natural resources, Angola may have more oil deposit, but no country combines the sheer size, the pulsating energy and the riotous recklessness of Nigeria. Now we may even be careless enough to go to war over cattle!
When Gowon was in power, Nigeria had money. We were the target market for most European and American manufacturers. The middle-class was burgeoning and money was made literarily by the click of your fingers. Volkswagen of Germany and Peugeot of France came and set up assembly lines here. In succeeding years, we had American Ford Motors, Rovers from the United Kingdom and Mercedes-Benz from Germany also came among others. The associated companies for the manufacture of tyres; Michelin in Port Harcourt, Dunlop in Lagos, Bereck Batteries in Lagos, Union Batteries in Ibadan, Toyo Glass in Ibadan and many other supporting industries followed suit.
But you cannot be a super power if you don’t have your own iron and steel industry. Therefore, the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, USSR, was given the contract to build for us the largest iron manufacturing complex in Africa, and one of the largest in the world. It would have its own airstrip, an underground city complete with all the complex processes for steel extraction and manufacturing. It would have its own rail line to link up with steel plants in Aladja, Delta State, Katsina in Katsina State and Osogbo in Osun State. Thousands of young Nigerians were sent to the USSR to train as engineers so that the process can be fully domesticated.
Then in 1979, General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to elected President Shehu Aliyu Shagari. Shagari preferred a slower pace to Obasanjo’s frenetic speed in doing the project. The main steel plant project was stalled while Shagari concentrated on building the new town where the workers would live. The then ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, saw the Ajaokuta project as a giant pork barrel from which it could feed its members. Top party men got civil contracts to build the new steel town complete with amenities. The main project was never completed. It is still now completed. Since President Obasanjo came back in 1999, the Federal Government has been threatened to complete the project, but up till now, Ajaokuta has not roared to life. The steel rolling mills in Osogbo, Katsina and Aladja are also silent, a telling rebuke to a nation that missed its way to greatness.
We also once had the largest publishing and printing industry in Africa. At a time, the Daily Times group was circulating millions of copies every week. The daily was doing more than 300,000 and the Sunday Times was doing more than 400,000 copies. The irreverent Lagos Weekend was doing more than 500,000 copies. Many of the regional newspapers like the Daily Sketch, Standard, Chronicle, Herald, New Nigerian, Observer, Tide and Triumph, were circulating hundreds of copies daily. Privately owned newspapers like the Tribune and the Punch were not left out. Then Nigeria had a reading public.
To underscore our taste, the Federal Government decided to build two giant paper mills. One at Oku Iboku in Akwa Ibom State. The second one was at Iwopin in Ogun State. Note that these industries were built in the heart of the jungle so that paper mills can get their raw materials right from the forest in their neigbourhood. Now billions of dollars later, the mills are silent. The forest is still there in Ogun and Akwa Ibom State and so are the paper mills, virtually completed and severely abandoned.
There is no reckoning about all these giant projects. No public probes. No apportioning of blames. A group of public officers can preside over the loss of billions of dollars of public fund and they would still go home with generous pensions and large share from the pork barrel. Therefore, no one is to be blamed for the loss of the Ajaokuta Steel Plant, for the collapse of the Volkswagen, Peugeot and other vehicle assembly plants, for the loss of the Nigerian National Shipping Lines, the Nigerian Airways and many others. And all of these happened in a society where a herdsman can kill very quickly to avenge the loss of a cow.
To now imagine that a country once described as the First Black Power by Newsweek magazine is now balanced precariously on the horn of a cow.
There are three categories of the cow trouble. One is the normal herdsman who occasionally leads his cattle into his neigbour’s farm and the cattle eat in one day the farmer’s yearly labour. The second group is the de-commissioned herdsman who has now found new vocation in robbery and kidnapping. The third category is the decommissioned herdsman who may be working for ISIS or Boko Haram. Apparently now, every Nigerian now has a cow tale, some of these tales are gory and bestial.
None of the three scenarios above is tolerable or funny. The governors, who are in charge of the land according to the Land Use Act, must decide quickly where the herders could take their cattle. They must also take steps to positively identify those who are legitimate herdsmen (and women) and provide them with necessary identity card with the help of their local leaders, (in Ekiti, it is the Seriki Hausa). All unregistered herders and decommissioned herdsmen must be quickly identified and handed over to the police. This is also the primary job of the Amotekun security outfit in all the Yoruba states.
The question that is begging for an answer is what really happened to the ranches that were built before and during the First Republic? What happened to Iwo, Shaki, Agege, Ikun, Jos, Obudu and other ranches? What happened to the animals kept on these ranches? Who sold them? Who ate them? It is clear now that ranching is no longer a government business, for the government has shown itself to be spectacularly incompetent in handling any business, but we still need to know what happened to the ranches. Ekiti State government, in conjunction with a private company, has resuscitated the Ikun Cattle Ranch and Cross River State Government has found other uses for the Obudu Cattle Ranch.
There is no doubt that the Fulani herdsmen crisis is of major consequences for Nigeria. There is no other Nigerian ethnic group that would go to another ethnic group territory and claim the ownership of their land except the Fulani. To imagine that they are even killing in Oyo State and other parts of Nigeria to retain ownership and control of illegally seized territories! Such brazing criminality cannot be tolerated nor can it endure. Therefore, each state government must wise up to the crisis and rise up to the occasion. This crisis is also foretelling a session of famine in the nearest future. When farmers cannot go to the farm because of fear, we know there would be no food for the people.
Nigeria now has more Nigerians living as refugees in Nigeria than we had during the Civil War. Many states now have Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp. And there is no end in sight to the crisis. What would surprise many people is the brazen effrontery of the Fulani headsmen and the Miyetti Allah group backing their terrorist activities. It is interesting that the Fulani herdsmen who for generation were always armed with the shepherd staff, now have access to automatic machine guns. They have used these weapons against farmers without consequences in many instances. They have backers in high places apparently and what have they really done wrong compared to those who managed the Ajaokuta Steel construction or who helped to ruin the Nigeria Airways and shut down the Iwopin Paper Mill?
Once three robbers were brought before Alexander the Great. They were accused of pillaging some villages. The three robbers and their gang were more ferocious than the most fearsome rogue herdsmen. Alexander asked for their defence.
“Your Majesty,” one of them said. “We are only imitating Your Majesty. While you pillage many kingdoms and seize the crowns of many princes and kings, we only attack some villages.”
Alexander replied: “Let me reflect.”
Dare Babarinsa is a journalist and author and was one of the founders of Tell magazine where he served as Executive Director for 15years until his retirement in 2005. He currently runs Gaskia Media LTD.