In every adversity, challenge or dark cloud, there is an opportunity waiting to be explored, exploited and tapped. Necessity is said to be the mother of invention, the primary driving force for finding solutions to challenges that were otherwise depicted as intractable. But it takes the discerning mind, willing, ready to learn lessons, engage in extensive dialogue, draw the right conclusions to say “never again” to mischief and situations that will claim lives and property and disrupt the natural order and harmony of society.
This discourse is set in the context of the opportunities to be taken away from the recent loss of lives and property arising from the herdsmen attacks and killing of farmers in parts of the country. We should not in any way be happy or glorify what has happened. It is bad for society, its laws, economic progress and development. It is against the natural laws of God that no one should take a life which they did not create or have the power to bring back if they regret their action. Since what happened cannot be reversed, it is what the living take away from it that matters. The first takeaway is that the crisis provides the opportunity for our derelict security and intelligence forces to plan and unveil new ideas that will nip such attacks in the bud. It makes no sense to assure and reassure people who have lost their loved ones after mass murder. What makes sense is to report to Nigerians that plots of mass murder have been unveiled, those behind them arrested and prosecuted and security reinforced in the neighbourhood.
The second opportunity is that considering the claims and counterclaims and the disparate voices, it is now time for us as Nigerians of different ethnic and religious persuasions, living in different states and locations and possibly, nurturing different ethics and morals to come together, go into dialogue and fashion out a conducive way of governance and structures that will be fair to all, or at least, that captures the imagination of the a majority without in any way infringing on the rights of the minorities. Thus, President Muhammadu Buhari needs to understand that his New Year address to Nigerians, where he denied the need for restructuring, is not supported by the facts and dynamics of modern Nigerian society. We either sit down and discuss and peacefully agree on governance mechanisms or we may soon be on one another’s throats and this time round, no one can guarantee that it will end in the so-called One Nigeria.
Anyone who follows the media actively will see that Nigerians have started talking. But the talk is not yet a dialogue and organised with rules that will lead to decisions. They are words of anger and frustration emerging from the different groups and camps. And there seems to be no rules in the talks when you consider such claims from a certain Prof. Umar Labdo Muhammad of the Faculty of Humanities, Northwest University, Kano that Benue State belongs to the Fulani by right of conquest. This is a historical fallacy and it is not supported by any historical or factual situation. At the same time, it is a grievous insult on persons who have lost loved ones and lacks fellow feeling. Incidentally, while the security agencies have not gone for him, they are attempting to arrest a preacher who asked his followers not to vote for the President come 2019 if he put himself for a reelection. Therefore, the talks should not be allowed to degenerate but become channelled to fruition. It also makes no sense for the state to seek, in a discriminatory manner, to enforce imaginary laws about hate or inciting speech. National and state security should not be interpreted to mean regime security in as much as individuals have not committed offences known to our legal and constitutional jurisprudence.
The third opportunity is the livelihood challenge which has not been treated with the urgency which it deserves. Yes, herdsmen need to feed their cattle and pastures and water seem to be in short supply. They are moving South in search of pastures and water. But there is abundance of land in the North-East and North-West of Nigeria. However, the only thing is that large stretches of the land have been impaired by desertification and drought. But this has not always been so. The federal, state and local governments did little or nothing to adapt, mitigate and fight back negative climate change when it was advancing into those territories. The tree planting campaigns, such as the Great Green Wall projects, etc. were simply for the fun of it and no one took them seriously in terms of accountability for results and value for money. Some countries like Israel converted desert lands into green lush farms that support lives and livelihoods. Therefore, now is the time to push back the desert, vegetate the land, plant more trees and get communities sustainably involved in the mitigation and adaptation measures. It will take time to yield fruits but a journey of a thousand miles starts with one bold step.
Nigerians need to be reminded that there are even very large portions of land in states like Niger which have moderate rates of desertification and have water as well which could be used for ranches to settle the herdsmen. Niger State, for instance, has a land area which is more than double the size of the entire five states of the South-East and its population density is quite low. Thus, asking states, for instance, in the South-East for land will yield no positive fruit because the land is not available in the first instance. Ranching should be done in the states where these herdsmen originate from. Anyone who wants further land in any other state should privately negotiate and acquire the land like other businessmen and women do. The idea of cattle colonies that will be established in other states, if some compromised governors are coaxed into acquiring private land in their states for the purpose, will only create more tension and conflict in Nigeria. Any state governor who acquires private lands for this purpose will face the legal challenge of justifying what public purpose is served by this arrangement.
The third opportunity leads to the fourth. The value chain of cattle rearing cannot be fully exploited in the current approach of nomadism. The yield in terms of meat and milk and even hides and skin under the present arrangement is so little when compared to other countries where cows are ranched. The economic opportunity arises which if harnessed will improve the livelihoods of the herdsmen who will now live a settled life, create more employment, add more value to the economy in increased products, taxation, etc. Thus, this should be seen as opportunity to improve the economy.
At the end of the day, if the opportunities are harnessed, it will be a win-win for all.