My heart bleeds each time I hear of the barbaric atrocities committed by the Fulani herdsmen. Virtually no day passes without such horrifying news, at least since the past couple of years. Communities all over the country have had a taste of this bitter pill. But, more recently, the attention of those barbarians seems to be more focused on communities in Central Nigeria, where there is apparently a grand genocidal design.
The Buhari government has shown an abysmal lack of interest in proffering a solution and punishing the perpetrators. It has rather shown a discernible sympathy for, if not an outright complicity with, the villains. We hear reliable stories of the Nigerian military protecting the villains and sometimes helping to punish the victims further.
But even more disturbing is the fact that we have, as a people, lost the capacity for a collective vicarious sacrifice, the collective empathy that spurs a people to protest evil by rejecting the gratification that is directly or indirectly associated with such evil. This is the point of the present write-up! Each time herdsmen strike, all we do is to issue empty condemnatory statements, sermonize, point accusing fingers, and even politicize. We get empty rhetoric from bishops, priests and pastors; politicians issue condemnatory statements, interest groups point accusing fingers; self-styled activists carry placards – and that ends there. The next day, herdsmen strike again, and we issue another round of statements and empty rhetoric. I find it rather baffling that no one has ever come up with a template of collective action that will force the Fulani cattle business empire to its knees. In subsequent writings, I shall flesh out the idea of alternative sources of meat that could undermine the Fulani cattle business monopoly, at least in Igboland.
Suffice it at the moment to restrict myself to the idea of a protest abstinence from meat or, at any rate, cutting back heavily on our meat intake. [Just for the purposes of this write-up, I use the term “meat” to include Fulani cows, sheep, goats and other items from their livestock farms]. This is a campaign I would like Christians (who have largely born the brunt of these killings) and all people of good will to embrace. But before I proceed, I wish to suggest that anyone who does not take up this challenge of abstinence, either wholly or partly, might as well consider himself or herself a hypocrite and, in a sense, an accomplice. In principle, such a fellow has lost the moral right to complain about the Fulani herdsmen.
Come to think of it: a total of about 700 or 800 herds of cow are slaughtered at the various slaughter houses and abattoirs in Imo State alone on a daily basis. You might multiply this by five to get a rough idea of how much is consumed in the entire Igboland on a daily basis. These abattoirs and slaughter houses serve the restaurants, hotels, bars, suya spots, families, parish rectories, churches, schools and institutions around. From the above figures, there is no gainsaying that the Fulani cattle business is heavily patronized and sustained by Ndigbo, who seem to have an incurable addiction or, preferably, usa (as Owerri people call it) for meat from the Fulani farm. Despite all the health warnings against the consumption of red meat, our people seem stuck to the mentality that the consumption of meat (especially beef) is an evidence of good living and luxury. The sole determinant of a ‘successful’ occasion is whether people have a surfeit of meat and drinks – hence the slogan/question, “o gbakwaraanunammanya?”. As long as this culture continues, we are invariably playing into the hands of terrorist herdsmen; in fact, we might all very well be seen as terror accomplices.
Some might argue that there is no direct and necessary connection between cattle business, beef consumption and the killings. While I concede that there might be a wider expansionist and religious agenda behind the killings, one cannot dispute the fact they are largely carried out within the framework and pretenses of the Fulani cattle business. Hence, to patronize the cattle business is to patronize death! Let’s face the fact: you don’t expect the Fulani cattle cartel to voluntarily abandon a business that generates billions on weekly basis. But this system of blood money can be massively undermined without any physical confrontation, if each and every one of us is ready to make the little sacrifice I wish to propose.
I, therefore, propose a routine boycott – partial or complete – of the meat that comes from this business, for it is stained with blood. But, since there is hardly any other source of meat, the Fulani having monopolized the supply, it perhaps means in practical terms that we might have to routinely abstain from meat in order to protest the killings. As has been earlier said, we can’t pretend to hate the killings while at the same time gifting the murderous business with billions of Naira on a weekly basis.
Times like this call for vicarious sacrifice! For, each piece of meat we refuse to take, each wrap of suya we deny ourselves, is a solidarity protest for those who have lost their lives so that cows and goats might feed fat. Conversely, each wrap of suya or even the piece of meat we take at meals promotes the evil. If we continue to feed fat on meat from the Fulani farms, we are like the hideous pagan idols that would not take the nectar but from the skull of the slain.
We all celebrate the non-violent resistance of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr. There is no better situation to emulate them than this. We cannot be idealizing these men of principle but at the same time find it difficult to sacrifice as little as ‘cubes’ of meat for a just cause. Some have gone to a ridiculous extent of poisoning the Fulani cattle; others have even confronted the Fulani physically. In my opinion, poisoning cattle is morally reprehensible and confronting the Fulani is rather dangerous. But the method that is here being proposed is at once ethical and safe. You won’t get arrested for fasting; indeed no one is. It is rather ironical that we are all too ready to confront the Fulani in physical combat but cannot risk confronting our usa (addiction, inordinate appetite) for meat from their cattle.
Now, I do not pretend to have worked out the details of the boycott or, better put, abstinence. Nor have I figured out who will be at the vanguard of this campaign and the specific forms it might take. However, I do know for sure that no help can ever come from the politicians in this regard. A bunch of people who fall over themselves to curry the political favors of the Fulani cannot support such an initiative. They would not want to jeopardize their political career, since the Fulani call the shots in Nigeria.
I can only guess, intuitively, that the Church (especially the Catholic Church, as one of the few credible institutions in the country) could provide a good leadership in this campaign.To a reasonable extent, the Catholic Church has been the voice of the voiceless in Nigeria. At critical moments, the church has risen up in defense of social justice. The church has called for public prayers, organized rosary processions and protest marches on various occasions. It has the followership but, most importantly, the credibility. Hence, it already has the machinery to lead such a campaign. All that is required is to complement rosary processions with boycott/abstinence (total or partial) of Fulani cattle produce. Perhaps this is the last bit of sacrifice needed to arouse God to arrest the situation.
All that is needed is to create the awareness. I so much trust that the creativity of our people will again bring itself to bear on this whole campaign. For instance, some might organize it on a weekly basis, while others may prefer to stipulate certain days of the month for it. Individuals, families, church groups/sodalities, etc. can coordinate theirs as they see fit. And if we succeed in elevating the total/partial abstinence from meat to a level of a ‘spirituality,’ we would be driving the final nails in the coffin of the blood-soaked cattle business. Whatever form the ‘spirituality’ takes, the important thing is for the herdsmen and their sponsors to see the correlation between their evil activities and the downturn in their financial fortunes.
Fr. Mark-Donald Ude, C.S.Sp. (Wrote from Leuven, Belgium)
PhD Student and FWO Research Fellow Philosophy, KU Leuven