By Austin Jideofo Uwajamike
A glimmer of hope was handed to the South on May 12, 2021, when the region’s governors finally stood together against the threat posed by Fulani herdsmen across the region head-on. Many Nigerians applauded, and indeed, the governors deserved some praise. But perhaps we should also view their actions with some cynicism for now.
The Fulani cattle issue, without any doubt, is a crisis of the likes Nigeria has not faced before. But so far, all it has done is to exacerbate long-standing problems, predating those governors’ rise to power. It will, therefore, not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. There will be no change of heart in the federal government, signalling a new beginning. The existing inequities in Nigeria, written in and cemented by the constitution, will remain for as long as these same governors can help it.
Why do I say this? Because none of those 17 governors are fools. They all knew what “the problem with Nigeria” was years before they took up office. That is not why most of them got into politics. They have not come to liberate the masses from poverty. Yes, their recent actions benefit the South, and we could do worse than encourage them to do more. However, the ban on open grazing also reeks of self-preservation, and the art of self-preservation is in their blood. They have been practising their Whodini moves for longer than most of us can remember — mainly on the backs and necks of the poor and any honest citizen or rival standing in their way. So let us not be naive — beta for the average Nigerian struggling to make ends meet, no go come yet, left to these men.
Still, Nigeria is changing, whether they like it or not. Those they have been trampling on like mere earth for so long are finally stirring en masse. The so-called ground beneath them no longer seems as inert as it once was.
So, could it be that they felt compelled to act decisively to avoid being caught in a crossfire — between separatists, vigilante groups, Fulani bandits, and unknown gunmen? It is possible because, should the insecurity in the country continue to grow, no one will be safe, not even them. None of them will be able to enjoy all their ill-gotten money from the grave.
In some ways, the growing resentment and anger in the South is reminiscent of 1966–67. The general sentiment of the masses then also meant that had Southeastern leaders not taken decisive action, their own security very possibly would have hung in the balance. There was also the added threat posed by low-ranking Southeastern military officers returning to their homelands, angry and restless, on the back of the anti-Igbo pogroms.
Then, the leadership responded to the overwhelming sentiment of those they served by trying to unite them under a common cause and against an enemy many of their loved ones, friends and colleagues, had fallen victim to. Self-preservation, like now, probably came into play as well. Still, it was a brave decision; some might even say a foolish one, but the intent was undeniably noble.
Today, by contrast, the actions of Southern governors are not as transparent, particularly in the Southeast. On the one hand, they have put party and individual state politics aside and responded admirably with governors of other states to attempt to ban open grazing. The move, in turn, has been well-received. It has quietened growing calls for them to show some backbone and leadership. Yet, on the other hand, members of IPOB and ESEN have reportedly gone into hiding, while what resembles extrajudicial killings by unknown gunmen and soldiers persist in the region.
Could this be another one of these governors’ Whodini moves — designed to divide and placate the population while they root out their enemies from within? Are they trying to assuage swelling resentment, the beginnings of what could eventually lead to real change so that they can continue to prop up a status quo that has benefitted them and a privileged few so handsomely? No one can be sure right now, but what is certain is that the implementation on the ground of the open grazing ban will eventually reveal their motives.