Early in 1988 I was persuaded to try my luck with farming by my friend and colleague, now late Abu Tapidi. His father in-law lived around Ngurore, a village in the precincts of Yola, the Adamawa State capital. Through him we rented a large parcel of land which we shared with other friends who also invested in the enterprise.
We cleared the land then waited for the rains. When they came, we ploughed and then planted maize seedlings. At the appropriate time we applied fertilizers and watched happily as our farms developed. Then came a most disturbing report from our farm supervisor that some Fulani herdsmen had invaded the farm with their cattle and caused extensive damage.
After an inspection of the damaged farm, we followed the advice of the farm supervisor and reported the problem to the Ardo, the local leader of the Fulani herdsmen in the neighborhood. As it turned out, it was a most wise move. If we had gone to the police, they would have demanded bribes. The Fulani herdsmen themselves avoided having encounters with the police for the same reason – bribery.
It was a good decision to have engaged a local farm supervisor because he was on hand when the herdsmen invaded the farms and he could positively identify the group. After our report to the Ardo, a meeting was arranged with the herdsmen and we tabled our complaints. The herdsmen were full of regrets for the damage they caused us and then went into discussions, switching off from Hausa, which I understand to the Fulfulde language, which I don’t.
After what looked like an endless discussion, they switched back to Hausa. We were told the herd that had caused the damage on our farms had been identified and that the owner would be responsible for compensating us for the damage. We were then told to quantify our damage into Naira and Kobo which we did. Another round of endless haggling ensued at the end of which a solution was worked out. The owner of the rampaging cattle had agreed to pay for our losses but he had no cash. We were to wait for the next market day at Ngurore for him to sell one cow and then pay us. We agreed and left.
As we drove back to Yola, I asked Abu Tapidi about the man who was to settle our losses. All through the negotiations, I noticed that he was angry, wore a melancholic look on his face and argued endlessly. It was then that I knew what his predicament was. First, he agreed that we suffered losses and needed to be compensated. But he was not convinced that it was his cattle which were herded by a young lad of between nine to twelve years that had caused the damage. Most of the negotiations at our meeting with the herdsmen and their Ardo was done in Hausa. Unfortunately, the man did not speak the Hausa language and all that transpired during the negotiations had to be translated to him in Fulfulde. He believed there was a conspiracy against him by his fellow Fulani herdsmen who could speak Hausa to criminalize and shortchange him. From what Abu Tapidi who spoke a smattering of Fulfulde could understand, the man felt there was a gang up against him because of his inability to speak Hausa.
It was a pathetic situation. But he kept his word. His failure to do so would have led to more losses on his part. The Ardo had ruled based on the evidence of his fellow herdsmen that he was guilty. If he refused to honor the gentleman’s agreement, he would have been dragged to the police where he would most likely be detained, pay bribes and suffer more losses than just one cow. It was on that day that I saw for the first time what the loss of one cow means to a Fulani herdsman. The pain on his face was just beyond description.
Last week as I visited Yola to condole with the family of my friend, brother and most reliable comrade, Abdulahi No Sweat, memories of this incidence and many others swept through my mind. I could not just believe how Adamawa and Nigeria has changed for the worst within such a short period in our life time. Problems between herdsmen and sedentary farmers of today cannot be resolved the way we did it in Ngurore in 1988. There has been a lot of bloodshed and loss of life and property in Adamawa, just like in her sister state of Taraba. Benue, Nassarawa, Plateau and Kaduna states are burning because problems between herdsmen and sedentary farmers defy solutions.
At the home of Abdullahi No Sweat, his widowed wife Inna – a fine Fulani lady – whose marriage to No Sweat saw me playing a significant role in 1988, who speaks perfect Tiv language and who spent her honeymoon in my remote Tiv village was heartbroken to see me. Still, she managed to crack some jokes after the shock of our meeting me was over.
I devoted a whole day of my stay in Yola determined to see old friends. I saw many, mostly my Fulani friends. By evening, I was at the home of Professor Jibril Aminu a Fulani and old school mate of Abdulahi No Sweat at the Adamawa Provincial School in Yola way back in the 50’s. We broke his fast together with a three-course meal at his Jimeta home. I have done that with him and No Sweat on several occasions in the past at his house in the Aso Rock Villa neighborhood.
As we discussed what to do to assist the young family our mutual friend No Sweat left behind, the fact of our common humanity as Tiv and Fulani began to dawn on me. It also dawned on me how governments’ incompetence and failure to appreciate and solve problems in an objective way could lead to wastage of human life, property and finally failure of state.