This article has been difficult to write, but at a time that many Nigerians are promoting fear-mongering and sometimes dangerously-irresponsible anti-Hausa-Fulani propaganda, we cannot afford to be silent, or timid. Candid discussion, is, therefore, necessary when it comes to the present state of the Nigerian nation, which when it relates to “settlement” of herdsmen and the subsequent demographic changes raises all sorts of anxieties.
Profound discomfort is necessary, given the weighty existential issues at stake and part of the discomfort is an admittance of some uncomfortable truth. Here is one: herdsmen have been roaming the streets and destroying crops for decades. It is wrong, unacceptable and should stop. But, unfortunately, no Nigerian government at the federal level including Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan did anything to address the menace.
Now, interestingly, Nigerians that lost the 2015 and 2019 elections have turned their anger on the herdsmen to discredit President Buhari, a herdsman, who is damned if does anything to get the herdsmen out of the farms and damned if he does nothing.
We need to be courageous now more than ever, and nothing takes more courage than being honest. Apart from discrediting Buhari’s Presidency, the changing patterns of regional migration as Nigerians from the north move and increasingly seek to settle in the south is driving the anti-Hausa-Fulani backlash. The changing face of Nigerian demographics is driving fear and anti-Islam propaganda in the southeast and south-south.
When it comes to northern Nigerians settling in the south, southerners are afraid. The thought scares the dickens out of southerners who, sensing that a storm is on the way, inevitably try to batten down the hatches by deploying all sorts of tactic and propaganda.
But, as James Baldwin reminds us, people who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insist on remaining in a state of innocence long after innocence is dead turn himself into a monster.
The reality is that the north-south migration is fast reversing the previous south-north migration. Anyone who shuts his eyes and promotes intolerance and isolationism to halt the fast-changing demographics in the south will surely turn him or herself into a monster.
Should the herdsmen be allowed to freely roam the streets and destroy crops in people’s farms? NO. But, just in case you may not have thought of it, you look like a monster when you insist that all the herdsmen in the south must be rounded up and sent back to the north.
It may surprise you to hear it, but I cringe every time I hear these arguments about marching all the herdsmen back to the “north” as a solution. I also cringe at the suggestion that doesn't come with the proper context like pushing for the herders must modernize to ranching in “their states” ONLY and NEVER in the south.
Good luck with that. In less than 4 years, Buhari will leave Aso Rock but the herdsmen-farmer challenges will remain with us.
Determined and daring Nigerians from different regions, for different reasons, will continue to relocate to cities and villages other than their own to reinvent themselves and, in the process, remaking and revitalizing the country. This turnaround has already occurred in some states, most notably Lagos. And now it's about to happen on a national scale.
For example, thousands of Igbo youths will keep streaming north and south every day as they attempt to make it in one corner of Nigeria. Similarly, thousands of youths from the North are now streaming south, to escape the crippling economic hardship that is driving banditry and kidnappings in their “home” states.
As the younger population from northern Nigeria becomes more adventurous and spreads to broader parts of the country, we need forward-looking political and civic leaders and citizens to bridge ethnoreligious divides that are already fueling issues like fear of “Islamization”. Because of this reverse migration, ethnic and religious problems and tensions are emerging in southern Nigeria which is the new receiving states.
It may seem rational that the federal government is doing something to minimize the conflict between farmers and herders. But, unfortunately, “colonization” or “Islamization” strikes at the heart of every plan with a Muslim Fulani as the President. This anxiety and discomfort is the sad reality of our present Nigeria.
I understand that some of us are angry about the changes in our hometown. Really angry. But at the heart of our collective peaceful coexistence in Nigeria is a rethink of how we relate with each other. Within the multicultural, pluralistic society like Nigeria, people should celebrate our diversity, not feel threatened by it.
Just pause and refresh on our venerated Prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. At one point in their checkered journey, they were settlers and refugees. Without their relocation, humanity would have lost the priceless good they brought. The lesson here is that settlement is human and the associated changes present challenges and opportunities.
So, while some Nigerians look at changing demographics and see calamity, I only see opportunity. I see an opportunity for herders to negotiate as a group or individually with states or local communities on the modalities for peaceful coexistence that is symbiotic in nature.
In the path to make Nigeria truly great, therefore, we need to consider the new demographic reality and look to a future that fosters hope and prosperity for all. We should do away with any misguided vision of keeping Nigeria monocultural, as it remains a route that promotes hate and tribalism.
Together, we can.
You can email Churchill at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @churchillnnobi