Not My Herdsmen, By Ose Oyamendan

Not My Herdsmen, By Ose Oyamendan

It’s confusing because the herdsmen of my childhood only carried long sticks and concealed knives. I’m told they now carry AK-47s, like warriors in some devastated countries in the Middle East. And, that makes me wonder – who are these herdsmen? They definitely are not my herdsmen, the herdsmen of my youth.

I’m reading tales of herdsmen, tales that feels like sermons from the devil’s altar. These are not your night time reading. With each gory picture and video, I feel like we’ve been temporarily transported to someone else’s hell.

The tales have left my jaws permanently slack like a punch-drunk boxer. I’m stunned because I know these herdsmen. We were friends who passed each other in the fields or waved at each other from the train on the way to school. As a high school kid, I always looked forward to seeing them the moment the train rolls out of the station in Ibadan on the long trek up North. Some people had the northern star, we had had the herdsmen. They were both constant, one in the skies, the other in the field.

In boarding house, we sometimes played truant during afternoon siesta. We will prop the bed with pillows and clothes and cover it with a bed sheet as if it’s a human at sleep. Then we will wander into the fields and savour our freedom for an hour or so. That was where I encountered my first herdsmen. It was around the Harmattan season, one of those lazy afternoons when the bitter night winds hover just behind the hills. That was when I met my first herdsmen up close and personal.

They were a mystery to me. They moved around in batches. In class, we had been told that they migrated all the way from the North in search of food for the cattle. Back then we thought the North started somewhere between Sokoto and Maiduguri. But a Youth Corper who taught in the school confided in us that when it comes to herdsmen, the North of Nigeria stretched far into Chad, Niger, Mali and most likely farther!

I loved the herdsmen. They had kids my age. I envied them because I would have loved a bit of a nomadic life but here I was trapped in a prison called boarding school, and just to confirm our state of imprisonment, we had assigned uniforms too.

They do not speak English and I do not speak Fulfude. But, we communicated. The older herdsman offered us a cheese delicacy that was a delight, in comparison to the drab pap and bean cake we had for breakfast earlier. For several weeks, we would go into the fields and watch group after group of herdsmen drift past.

I loved their nomadic life but I used to feel bad for the kids my age. The nomadic life could not have been an easy one. When we did the school mini marathons, my legs would be sore for a whole week. How could these kids my age walk thousands of miles, through different terrains, for several months a year? There has to be a better way.

I knew those boys would prefer to be home or near home, around people who understand their language, ate their food and shared a communal bond with them. I knew they would like to go to school. I knew they would like to sit at the feet of a cleric, learn the holy book, go back home to their mother’s cooking, then lay under the moonlight to count the stars. I was only 10 but I knew life had to be better. Now that I am much older, I know what that was – a failure of leadership. In all my travels outside Africa, I’ve never seen herdsmen walking for thousands of miles to graze. So, why in Nigeria, the self-styled leader of the black race?

But, back to my first meeting with herdsmen. They do not speak English and I do not speak Fulfude. But, we communicated. The older herdsman offered us a cheese delicacy that was a delight, in comparison to the drab pap and bean cake we had for breakfast earlier. For several weeks, we would go into the fields and watch group after group of herdsmen drift past. Sometimes we played with the cattle. We will slap their thighs and sign songs that they will be in our belly come the next Eid or Christmas.

I’m told that if I do that today I’d be shot. It’s confusing because the herdsmen of my childhood only carried long sticks and concealed knives. I’m told they now carry AK-47s, like warriors in some devastated countries in the Middle East. And, that makes me wonder – who are these herdsmen? They definitely are not my herdsmen, the herdsmen of my youth. What changed in the last thirty years that has turned the loving herdsmen in search of a living into plunderers and terrorists?

Whatever it is, the people need answers and not politics or inaction. The people are already suffering and dying from poverty, bad roads and poor administration. Why add the herdsmen’s menace to the list?

The kid herdsmen of my youth will be men now, most likely the elder herdsmen. I can’t seem to imagine them with Ak-47. You gotta ask, what turns an innocent boy into an adult terrorist? What went wrong and where? I have racked my brain for answers and I can’t find any. I would be hard on myself but then I remember the federal government with all its might doesn’t seem to have an answer either.

It’s 2018, politics is in the air. The elephants are stomping across the nation and the poor folks are suffering. The case of the people and the herdsmen just ups the ante. But, must Nigerian leaders always look at things from the all-empty or all-full glass of political calculations? Isn’t it time to really dig into what went wrong and how it can be fixed? If we can’t go forward, why not go back to a time of peace, a time when these same herdsmen will politely ask if they can drink water from your well?

Or. Maybe its time the government tells us what kinds of herdsmen go about carrying AK-47. Or, why in a country with laws and law enforcers, are ordinary citizens allowed to carry weapon around as if they live in a failed state? Are they fleeing Boko Haram militants or the Libyan militiamen who found themselves with too many weapons after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi?

Whatever it is, the people need answers and not politics or inaction. The people are already suffering and dying from poverty, bad roads and poor administration. Why add the herdsmen’s menace to the list?

Please follow me: @iam_ose

Culled from Premium Times. 

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