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Opinions of Thursday, 21 October 2021

Columnist: Jide Oluwajuyitan

Ungoverned spaces and battle for grazing lands

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

If only we would love others as we love ourselves as Christ, the social crusader and the greatest teacher the world has ever known commanded, the earth, which according to Pope Francis “is the only paradise we know”, but today controlled by only one per cent of its extremely rich inhabitants would have been a world without conflict and strife. And if only Nigerians would subscribe to Yoruba “Afenifere” catchphrase, literarily translated as wanting ‘the best you want for yourself for others’ which best approximates the above Christ’s injunction, our youths who today know only violence will be witnesses to an organized society which defined our nation before independence.

Unfortunately, efforts by Awo and his group to export ‘Afenifere’ policies including free education that has today positioned the old southwest as the most educated part of Africa to the north which according to Trevor Clark, the biographer of Tafawa Balewa, A Right Honourable Gentleman, was 70 years behind the south in western education at independence, was roundly rejected by northern leaders who demanded to know what gave Awo and his group the impression the north wanted the same thing as the West. When Awo warned that Uthman Dan Fodio would protest in his grave at the legacy the northern leaders would be bequeathing to their youths, northern leaders, according to Trevor Clark, declared Awo’s reference to their grand-father, a sacrilege and an affront for which he must be made to pay a price. He was later slammed with 10 years imprisonment for among other things, an entry in his diary that he dreamt he was a prime minister.

The late Olanihun Ajayi, a founding member of Afenifere socio-cultural group, in his last work titled Nigeria: Political Power Imbalance – The Bane and Chain Down of Nigeria’s Progress and Development focuses on how some segment of the country not only rejected progressive ideas but tried to nationalize their self-inflicted miseries. Consequently, instead of deploying resources towards building capacity, northern leaders became preoccupied with dragging down the south to its own level through various social engineering efforts including quota system and federal character policies.

In 2019, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) listed Zamfara with “300 public primary schools manned by a single teacher each while many others in remote rural have no teachers” which managed to produce only 16 candidates with five credits at GCE O/level in 2017 along such states as Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Kebbi, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba as having eight million out-of-school children.

But rather than employ teachers, hypocritical northern Sharia leaders who forgot Islamic religion was the foundation of western civilization would rather employ Hisbah corps (Kano as at 2010 had 9,000) who go around raiding bars or destroying trucks selling or conveying alcoholic beverages, arresting ladies adjudged not properly dressed or wearing sunglasses and preventing women passengers from riding in the same tri-cycle with men.

But perhaps Olanihun Ajayi’s thesis needs no further validation than the on-going unproductive ‘open grazing’ battle between northern and southern political leaders. Herdsmen and their sponsors rejected modernization of their pastoral business because they claim open grazing is a Fulani culture which they rightly claim is protected by the nation’s constitution. In 2010, northern lawmakers during a heated debate at the National Assembly warned of the dire consequences of rejecting the proposed open grazing bill. In 2015, Miyyetti Allah threatened violence and actually visited violence against states that passed anti-open grazing laws.

But while the battle raged, merchants of violence and their sponsors forgot the north controls almost 80 per cent of the country’s landed area, one-third of which was designated special government reserved areas. Such reserved forests include Sambisa, covering an area of 60,000 square kilometres, twice the size of the southern part of Nigeria according to Professor Dikwa; Falgore Forest in Kano State, Kamuku or Birnin Gwari Forest in Kaduna State, Rugu Forest in Katsina, Kuyambana Forest, Zamfara and Alewa Forest. Others include Zugurma Forest in Niger State, Lame Bura Forest in Bauchi State and of course, Dajin Rugu Forest where the kidnapped Emir of Bugundu, Hassan Attahiru who regained freedom last Monday was kept for 32 days.

While a section of the country that occupies nearly 80 per cent of the country’s landmass was at war over grazing land with those holding about 20%, a situation described by Ohaneze as ‘provocative and suspicious’, these mostly ungoverned reserved forests became enclaves of banditry, cattle rustlers and killer herdsmen. It was from there marauding criminals move out periodically to unleash terror on innocent people.

Counting the cost allowing criminals to take over ungoverned reserved forests to Zamfara, Abdullahi Shinkafi, the state Secretary to the Government during a recent Gusau town hall meeting organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said the state government has spent some N17 billion in the past seven years on fighting banditry. Breaking down the cost, he explained: “In 2011, we provided 457 vehicles for security agencies; in 2012, we provided 2,250 vehicles; in 2014, 77 vehicles and 50 vehicles each in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Other prices according to him include “over 3,000 deaths, destruction of over 2,000 homes, burning of over 500 cars and kidnapping of over 500 people for ransom”.

Kaduna, Katsina Sokoto and Borno states where ungoverned territories were seized by criminal herdsmen, bandits and cattle rustlers must have no doubt shared Zamfara’s painful experience. Sadly, the likes of Shehu Garba, Abubakar Malami and Kaduna’s Nasir El Rufai and Bauchi’s Bala Mohammed and other Fulani irredentists in Buhari’s government, by unleashing vicious attack on Governor Akeredolu of Ondo State for signing an anti-open grazing law to rid his state’s reserved forests of bandits and killer herdsmen, want Ondo and other southern states to share the Zamfara experience.

Besides the kidnapping of Olu Falae, the killings of Chief Fasoranti’s daughter and Dr Fatai Aborode who left his lecturing job in Scotland to start a farm in his Ibarapa community of Oyo State, they probably want a replication of mass abduction of children for ransom, surrendering of Southwest’s reserved forests and farms to Fulani herdsmen from Mauritania, Libya or Niger the way it happened in the north to ensure northern miseries spread to the south. They will also probably not be satisfied until they see a replication of dangerous Abuja-Kaduna and Birnin Gwari highways in the southwest.

It is by now obvious to Nigerians that Shehu Garba, Malami and El Rufai who often pretend to speak for Buhari when they in fact speak for the tendencies they represent in Buhari’s government, do not love others as they love themselves. It is hoped they will emulate Katsina’s Masari by supporting government efforts at liberating confiscated ungoverned territories from bandits and terrorists and use same to establish ranches which will promote the development of associated industries such as dairy, leather and shoe industries.

It is also hoped they would stop opposing the demand by the 36 federating states for state and community policing which has the potential to prevent communities from being alienated from their land as against their preference for federal police who because they have no stakes, often allegedly look the other way or take sides as invincible AK-47-wielding criminal herdsmen sack communities after communities.