Benue Is Cutting Its Nose…

Aliyu U. Tilde.

Today is the cattle market day in Makurdi, one of the biggest in Nigeria. The condition of the market is shown in the pictures attached. Empty. Only some few emancipated Cows can be seen gathered in two or three fence of the markets with no customers to buy.

Speaking to an anonymous cattle dealer in the market, he said the Tivs people in the state have started boycotting cow meat and resorting to pork and goat meat. If it were for health reasons, I would have said they are moving from bad to worse. What a fall! From cow to pig?

But the reason is economic: to stop their dependency on cattle and break the economic backbone of the Fulani after expelling them from the state. The decision may not achieve the desired result, however. It will affect the Tivs and cattle traders more than it will affect the pastoralists.

My source said vehicles transporting cattle on Federal Highways are also intercepted by Tivs to ensure the boycott is effective. Trucks destined to the East take alternative routes through other states.

The cattle business is among the highest revenue earners of local governments in the North. No other local business has the turnover of the cattle market in the region. Agricultural produce is a likely candidate but it is seasonal, making it only a distant second.

Local revenue is also collected on each cow sold in the market and every truckload is charged few thousand naira, officially and unofficially, by collectors. Many state afrigenes and other Nigerians in the state are also dependent on the cattle value chain directly or indirectly. Now all that is thrown away just for the sake of crippling a self-imposed enemy.

One would assume that this strategy may boost the production of goats and pigs in the state, making the Tivs wealthy. My experience tells me it is doubtful. Early in the Jos crisis, the Jos Central Market was destroyed by by an agenda to rid the state of Hausa “settlers”. Of course the traders who included other tribes from outside the state lost enormous wealth there overnight. But while they have since found their feet once more, the Governor failed woefully in his effort to encourage the “indigenes” to take up the challenge of replacing them in trade or farming. Mobilizing individuals on large to take up business is not easy. Clan Business is a culture that is established over generations.

Even a small measure can fail, if the cultural context is missing. When a governor was busy chasing Hausa and Fulani from communities of his state, he established for the state what could be considered a model dairy farm to provide alternative milk in collaboration with Israeli partners. Hundreds of hectares were cleared, Cows were imported from South Africa at the cost of N1 million each, modern agricultural equipment was imported and an entire ultra-modern dairy complex was built., etc. Five years after it took off and just three years after he left office, I was deeply saddened to see it fast becoming desolate. I was so moved that I could not snap a picture of its scene of blown off roofs, scanty and hungry looking cows and unkept environment. I could not because the scene called for sympathy. The milk from the farm has disappeared from the market since. I saw it coming but I was all the same touched to see it arrive.

The Tivs may not prove to be different. Eating cow meat has been their culture for ages. Politics cannot make them abandon it overnight. In fact, their penchant for cow meat has been the beginning of their troubles with pastoralist, not grazing land, before it is overtaken by ethnic cleansers. They consider cows wild animals and has been hunting them from herders for decades now. With deteriorating law enforcement, their attacks on cattle called for resistance from pastoralists who started to fight back in order to protect their wealth the way we fight armed robbers when they attack banks or homes for money. And hell was let loose. Why would pastoralist resist?

The Tivs can win the legal and propaganda battles because they have they have the Governor, House of Assembly, the State judiciary and the state treasury in an era of a complacent presidency. But they cannot win the economic goal of breaking the backbone of the Fulani. It is a culture of over 8,000 years in West Africa.

The Tivs abstention of cow beef will relapse back to its natural position. The difference would be as cows do not graze on Benue soil, they will be forced to buy beef imported from other states especially neighboring Nasarawa.

The crisis will end because the default setting of man is for peace. From Tafawa Balewa, to Plateau and Southern Kaduna, the experience is the same. Everybody becomes tired, including the government, and start to long and call for peace which eventually returns. They cannot continue burning their state, or sleep in the bush and IDP camps, or boycott meat, forever.

The day peace returns to Benue, the Tivs will welcome their long standing culture of meat consumption, and only then would they realize that in preventing them from eating or dealing in cows, Ortom misled them to cutting their nose in order to spite their face.

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
1 February 2018

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