Igbo Herdsmen? By Vitus Ozoke - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Igbo Herdsmen? By Vitus Ozoke


I think we can all agree that when it comes to the business of buying and selling in Nigeria, the Igbo are the most entrepreneurial. The Igbo dominate in every area of buying and selling in Nigeria and Africa. You just name it - auto parts (both new and old), cars (both new and used), electronics, fashion, electricals, sports equipment, provisions, fabrics, hardware. We dominate.

And it doesn't matter how dirty and greasy the accompanying activities of the business are, we are in. As a matter of fact, the dirtier and greasier the business, the more the sense of dignity for the Igbo. We have age-long proverbs that serve as philosophical anchors for that. Aka aja-aja na-ebute onu mmanu-mmanu (soily greasy hands result in delicious yummy mouths). That is my Igbo people.

We don't shy away from any business because it is hard, neither do we abandon the opportunity of an income because our hands and clothes get dirty and greasy. In the era of pit toilets (laterins), before modern sewer system, the Igbo worked as sewage disposers (night soil men). We carried other people's fecal shit in buckets. It doesn't get any dirtier than that. So, the Igbo will do virtually anything to make money and put food on the table, clothes on the back of, and roof over the head of their wives and children.

But why aren't the Igbo into cattle rustling? Why are the Igbo not herdsmen? Why have my people conceded the monopoly of cow rustling to the Fulani? These questions have become important because of the raging RUGA settlement conflict that is threatening to plunge the country into another civil war. 

Well, there are two ways to look at it. There are two ways to look at cow herding. One way is to see herding as a way of life. The other way is to see it as business. It is this insightful distinction that has not been properly embraced by the federal government; yet, it is in that distinction that a possible solution to RUGA lies.

As a way of life, cattle herding is something the Igbo will never do. Herding is completely antithetical to Igbo concept and culture. Herding requires a nomadic lifestyle. The Igbo will never be nomads. The Igbo are comfort and pleasure-driven people. We believe in the concept of home and homestead. 

Even when the logic and logistics of business drive us from our ancestral homes, we come into our new settlement with a sense of permanency. If the Igbo were ever to herd cows, they would have to make hotel arrangements when they wandered afar from home. We are not genomed to compete with bugs and wild animals in their natural habitats. We love life; we love to live lives of comfort and pleasure; so, herding and its nomadic implications are out of the question for the Igbo. 

As business, however, cow money is something I can see the Igbo interested in. The Igbo will be interested in making a living out of cows. Like the best in the business of buying and selling that they are, the Igbo will like to go into cow commerce. And if and when the Igbo go into cow business, they will not need RUGA settlement. They will engage it with a different business model. The igbo will go into cow business the same way they have gone into yam business. 

Yams are produced up north, but Igbo yam traders bring them down south in truckloads, and make good profits. But there is a difference between cows and yams. With yams, you don't need to feed them until they are sold. With cows, you feed them until they are sold, and feeding them doesn't come cheap. You will have to ranch them or herd them afield, something the Igbo, by their nature, will never do. So the only sensible and viable option for the Igbo in a potential cow business is to slaughter the cows and keep the meat refrigerated until sold. That is how it is done in every civilized society. What is also done in every civilized society is that electricity is kept running 24 hours of the day. 

If Nigeria had a reliable electricity system, the Igbo would go into cold room business. They would travel up north, buy the cows in truckloads from the Fulani, bring them down south, slaughter them in their abattoirs, deep freeze them in cold rooms, and sell to consumers. When the Igbo get involved in cow business, there will be no further need for Fulani herdsmen in Igbo land. And knowing the Igbo, they will open up shops even in Fulani towns up north. 

Therefore, rather than waste billions of Naira in RUGA settlement program, and risk the inter-ethnic crisis it is sure to trigger, the Buhari government should tackle Nigeria's perennial problem of electricity. RUGA may just be one more collateral consequence of a failed power sector.

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