The North and its elders

THE anthropological structure of an average African community is  such that the elderly ones are given a place of respect in the society. In almost all communities, the Council of Elders remains one of the most powerful councils, and decisions taken by the council supersedes that of the king. This structure is not accidental. Africans believe that wisdom comes with age. In our immediate environment, the Nigerian settings, we strongly believe that the experiences which come with age remain priceless commodities. We do not only reverence our elders, we treat them next to the deities. Grey hair, for instance, is emblematic of inherent wisdom.

Respect for grey hair encompasses deferring to them in all situations and on all matters. Merely asking an elder what he or she can do, during a dispute, is enough disrespect to provoke sanctions against an erring younger generation. We neither question elders nor look at them straight in the face. They too maintain the balance by ensuring that in all situations, like Caesar’s wife, they are above board. When in Yoruba land we say, “ese agba re o ya ju oju agba re”- This is the footprints of the elder is far better than this is the face of the elder- what we are saying is that the elderly ones will rather leave anything that will make the younger generation to ask “where is your wisdom?”. Old age and wisdom are Siamese twins.

But that belief is fast eroding. The orientation that the elders will always be just and equitable is fast disappearing. Nowadays, we see more of the faces of the elders than their footprints. While we relied, in the past, on the wisdom of the elders to resolve knotty issues, what we find now is a situation where the elders don’t talk in an elderly manner again. They now compound issues and worsen situations. The recent activity of many notorious herdsmen operating in the Southern part of the country and the position of the Northern Elders’ Forum, NEF, on the matter, clearly indicated or still indicates that it will be to our eternal peril, if we rely on the wisdom of the NEF on this matter of national importance. But for our training in respect and veneration, one is well tempted to call the NEF a non-elderly Elders’ Forum! In the last one week, I have had cause to interact with some elders on the matter and I can say, without equivocation, that the NEF is very unbecoming and very “unelderly” in its position on the activities of their sons, brothers and relations, who are rearing their cattle down South.

I recently sat in an interview with the 83-year old Pa Solomon Adun Asemota, SAN. The senior lawyer reviewed the position of the NEF on the killer herdsmen in the South West and other parts of the South. His submission was and is overwhelming. He submitted that it is the responsibility of the Fulani leadership to call members of the ethnic stock giving it bad names to order. He wondered why the Fulani leadership would expect other ethnic groups to keep accommodating the misbehaviour of the Fulani herders. I could not agree less with him. How on earth NEF expected the rest of the country to continue to accommodate the anti-social behaviours of the herders beats my imagination. Equally of interest to me is the ease with which the NEF is twisting the narrative to make it look like the Fulani are the victims rather than the people whose wives they rape, whose daughters they defile and whose farm lands they despoil with their impunity down South. It is as disturbing as it is nauseating that NEF can lie brazenly about the activities of their kiths and kin who are killing and maiming other people in their homesteads.

What sort of elders behave that way? Why is NEF acting as if the entire Southern Nigeria is up in arms against the North? Why will a council of elders, such as the NEF, deliberately misrepresent facts? Even the most illiterate almajiri in Kano street knows that the directive given by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State to the effect that all herders operating in the state’s forest reserves should come out and register their businesses or leave the forest reserves, has nothing to do with the NEF’s call on the Fulani community  in the Southern part to return to the North if they are forcefully rejected from the communities in which they reside. That is pure mischief and very unfortunate. So NEF would have wished that its killer- sons be given free hand to operate, pillaging the land, killing the people and destroying their hosts’ means of livelihood? The Northern elders expected us to keep running from our fathers’ land because some overpampered and state-protected felons are visiting untold mayhem on the hapless and helpless innocent hosts?  Which type of elders will close their eyes to the age-long atrocities of their relations, but will begin to cry eviction because the people are asking to know who occupies their land? The problem with NEF is not the issue of Akeredolu’s directive. The problem is the fact that this is the first time ever that a “constituted authority”, down South, will openly say enough is enough.

The leadership of the NEF and their backstage government sponsors are jittery now because they know that it can no longer be business as usual. The resort to ethnic blackmail is as a result of the fact that the few powerful individuals up North, who have over the decades, established a stratification of the poorly poor and the richly rich in their domains are going to lose that hold on the destinies of the poor masses. The NEF and its backers know fully well that nobody is asking the mai-suya on the streets of Akure to leave. They know that the Mallam selling his suya at Oja Oba or Isikan Market has no problem with the Akure people. They equally know that nobody has asked the onion, tomatoes and carrot sellers at any of the shasha markets down South to leave. They are aware that the genuine herders, plying their trades peacefully are not affected by the directive. The directive, NEF knows is for the ill-bred killer herdsmen, The Fulani or any Northerner living in the Sabos down South are not the ones the NEF are appearing to protect. No! But while I can easily forgive NEF as a body, I will find it difficult, if not totally impossible, to forgive Paul Unongo and his “deploy soldiers in the South-west to protect Northerners” proposition. If one juxtaposes the clout of the former Minister of Steel and Development alongside the unfortunate interview, where he made the proposition, one cannot but come to the conclusion that Nigeria has been making wrong choices of leaders for a long time. If I may ask the Benue politician, if General Buhari deploys soldiers to the “South-West to protect Northerners”, what will be the modus operandi for the army of conquest he asked for? The soldiers will, at gun stretch, ask farmers to give up their crops to feed the cows? The soldiers will supervise the rape of wives and daughters in the presence of their husbands and fathers and or possibly children and siblings? Do Unongo and his paymasters need to deploy soldiers to the South-West to protect Northerners when Unongo asserted that “the North owns 70 per cent of the entire landmass of the country? Why don’t they just transport the killer herdsmen to the expanse of land and keep them there? What type of an ‘elder statesman’ says “if the North does not get better, the rest of the country will not be any better”? We all knew, from time immemorial that the North is the sick baby of the Federation. This is why we are clamouring for true federalism, restructuring, a new constitution and like Baba Asemota said, “a complete recalibration” of the entity called Nigeria. How now, when a man of letters like Unongo speaks in this manner, what do we expect the almajiri on the streets to do? But we will not fall for the antics of Unongo and his paymasters. NEF can misrepresent the facts and take their killer-brothers away from the South! The time to give every Nigerian, that sense of security is now. The South should keep pushing back. The South should strengthen its resolve to rid its land of these vampires who place zero premiums on the sanctity of human life! Any stranger who cannot abide by the rules of fair play should be compelled to leave! The South should refuse to be blackmailed by the Unongos of this world and their claim of “power is in our hands.”

Any misused power is as useless as those misusing it! Because Unongo heads NEF, he thinks he is more Northerner than the Sultan of Sokoto who openly admitted that seven out of ten kidnappers are Fulani? Unongo is a butterfly that thinks itself a bird. He will have his wings shredded by the winds of his indiscretion. If he is in doubt, he should ask what befell, Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, who was once the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF? Is Unongo closer to the Caliphate than Awoniyi, and who held the sobriquet  Sardauna Keremi little Sardauna? In spite of all that, did Awonyi get the national chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP? Was he not expelled by the party while his Northern family members looked the other way?

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