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Herdsmen Democracy As Cattle Dictatorship

It is the dictatorial right of cattle to eat up all farmlands even as the herdsmen insist that it is there democratic duty to be allowed free rein

Herdsmen are the owners of our democracy. These herdsmen define what we see today in Nigeria as democracy. Herdsmen De­mocracy has come to stay for good. It is not the duty of the herdsmen to plant any green things, yet it is their demo­cratic right to eat up all green life and move on. All farms can be eaten up in the general sweep of the herdsmen. After eating up one farm, they move on to the next. The poor farmer counts his costs and somehow re-grows his farm only for the herdsmen to return to eat up the lot yet again. Anybody that challenges the sovereignty of the herdsmen ends up getting kidnapped, or worse. Ask the former Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria, Chief Olu Falae.

Chief Falae who equally served the country as Finance Minister thought he could have a quiet 77th birthday in his farm at Ilado in Akure, Ondo State. Well, Falae proposed only for six herdsmen to dispose by violently kidnapping him.

Falae can be quite an engaging per­sonage from my experience of him over the years as a journalist. I do re­member in his days as the SGF Falae stressing that we should re-interpret the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to mean Steady Advancement to Prosperity (SAP)! Even in the bad days when General Sani Abacha locked him up in Alagbon Close, La­gos, he carried himself with genteel dignity when I set eyes on him there. He equally distinguished himself as the presidential candidate that slugged it out with the military-anointed Gen­eral Olusegun Obasanjo when Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999.

I could therefore not in good con­science imagine Falae as a captive of the herdsmen. Falae’s story deserves to be heard in detail to get the picture of what our “herdsmen democracy” portends.

According to Falae, “There were six of them with three or four guns and
every half an hour or so they will say, ‘Baba we are going to kill you; if you don’t give us money we are going to kill you.’ On Wednesday, one of them came and said: ‘Look we are going to leave here on Thursday morning. Since we cannot leave you here alone, if we don’t get what we want we are going to kill you’. And they said they gave me until 3pm and if at 3pm they don’t get the money they would exe­cute me. I thank God that at 21 minutes to 3pm, one of them came and said, ‘the money don complete’. When the hoodlums came, they slashed me with their cutlasses; they said I was not co­operating. And they dragged me bare­footed into the bush. After dragging me around for about two hours, they stopped somewhere for us to rest and there they asked me to phone my wife and tell her that I have been kidnapped and taken out of Ondo State by car which was a lie. It was about 2.30pm on Monday. We started walking with very few stops until 2am the follow­ing morning. I suspect that I must have covered a minimum of 15km. That morning I did not take anything.

So all day I had no food, no water and I walked close to 15km. How I survived I cannot really remember. I had no food in my stomach, I had no shoes, my clothes were torn to shreds. At some point one of them gave me a rubber slippers. We walked until about 2am. At some point they called for an Okada. At about 2.30am the Okada man took me way down; I had no clue where we were going.”

Falae continues thusly: “Finally they dumped me somewhere, where I was until I was released on Thurs­day. In that place we all slept on the floor on leaves; unfortunately the rain came in the night and I was thorough­ly drenched where I was lying down. One of them brought a small umbrella to cover my head; my head was cov­ered, but the rest of my body was not covered. They offered me bread, but I told them I could not eat it. I demanded for a bottle of coke, which was what I drank every day to have the requisite strength to survive and to continue on the march, because they were perma­nently moving. They were changing locations at two to three times a day. I suspect because they did not want the police to succeed in tracing them. So the following morning they said I should go. One of them took ropes to stitch my buba which was already in tatters, so that it could at least stay on me and I wound not look like a luna­tic while leaving that place. So when I came out of the bush, I was able to find an Okada, a man riding bike, who gave me a lift to Owo. The place was about 10km from Owo town. The place was between Owo and Ifon. And I walked most of the distances between my farm to that place and as the farrow flies, that is about 25km that we had to trek. As I said miraculously I was not tired, I was not hungry and I was not afraid of them at all. Each time they said, ‘Baba we will kill you,’ I will tell them, ‘no, insha Allah, you will not kill me’. I did not break down, but I want to tell you that when I got back home

I became completely exhausted. But I am now 80 percent fit and I know in the next few days I will be up again.”

Having gone this length with Fal­ae’s own words, it is crucial to note that in “herdsmen democracy” cattle are more important than human be­ings. It is the dictatorial right of cat­tle to eat up all farmlands even as the herdsmen insist that it is there demo­cratic duty to be allowed free rein. One of Falae’s kidnappers said the following chilling words to the elder statesman: “Baba, if after you leave us you talk nonsense I will come and catch you again!”

The last words should come from Falae: “By virtue of what God has made me and the status God has given me, it is an insult to our race that a man like me could be abducted by a bunch of hoodlums. Only two of them could speak some English. They were between the ages of 25 and 35. They were Fulani, they spoke Hausa. The cattle-rearers have been giving me a hard time for the past two or three years. Because I have a dam on the farm, so they like to bring their cattle there to drink water, then they eat oth­er people’s crops. This time they ate up my maize farm, two hectares. We took pictures, and it was videoed, the police went there. They were asked to pay compensation, they begged and paid half of what we claimed and we accepted it. That was about two months ago. Whether it was one of them who went to bring his brothers to come and deal ‘with this wicked man’, I don’t know. It is plausible. Ab­solutely plausible. My view is that this is my home. I have not gone to farm in any other person’s territory. This is my home where I was born. I have every right to farm here and live in peace here. So, this is totally unacceptable. I once told the Commissioner of Police that if he cannot protect us and protect my farm, that I will protect myself. There will be self-help if government fails to protect its citizens. I hope that we as a community in Ondo State and in Yoruba land as a whole must go into consultation to ensure that we enhance our protection. We cannot be slaves in our own territory.”


– UZOR MAXIM UZOATU       e-mail: maxim.uzoatu@theunion.com.ng

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