The month of January was always regarded as a special one amongst the people of Mambilla. Apart from the fact that it marked the beginning of a new Gregorian calendar year, it was a very busy month for the people. It was the month that ushered in the new harvest of corn and cassava in the farms. It was the month that middle men and traders flocked the tribe from elsewhere to seal deals for agricultural products. It was the season where new deals were signed and harvesting contracts were sealed. It was always likened to the month of restoration and hope. What made it even more significant was the fact that after expenses were incurred in December during the yuletide season and pockets had become empty, January came next with harvest and sales of farm produce to generate the much needed income to replenish the farmers’ pockets. This was always a welcome development because majority of the people were farmers.
Like every other farmer in Mambilla, Mr. Ojo had been waiting patiently for January harvest. Every morning, he took a ride on his motorcycle to his farm to examine the maize cobs. Initially he was torn between having the cobs harvested as soon as they were matured and selling them outright, and with the idea of storing them up for later sales. During the initial harvest, you don’t make exceeding profits. However if you had a good storage facility to store the cobs, then you could sell the corn five months later and make exceeding profits. Mr. Ojo was in need of cash. Inasmuch as he would have preferred to harvest the corn and store them, he could not afford the five to six months’ wait.
Five days earlier, a renowned trader known as Mr. Solanke had visited him and they had toured his farm, a good sized five hectare farm. They had sealed the deal for 1 million MR. Mr. Solanke had paid the initial 50% deposit of 500,000.00 MR to Mr. Ojo, and Mr. Ojo had gotten his team ready for the harvest. Both parties were excited!
Mambilla tribe has always had the nomads who travelled around the country with their flock grazing. They were supposed to be from the Northern parts of the country. The northern regions could be particularly hot and parched during the summer months. Grass and food could be a challenge for the cattle farmers; hence, they took their flocks down south to look for food. These nomads were unique. They travelled with their families and it seemed as though they spent their entire lifetime on the road. Some of their children were born in transit, their ladies were impregnated in transit, they raised their children in transit and they lived a transit life all their lives. Their animals reproduced in transit and they sold their cattle in transit, made money in transit and died while in transit! They could sometimes be a nuisance to the communities they passed through but not dangerous enough for the entire tribe to want to stop them from being members of the country. Ordinarily, they would always look for open grassland and graze their cattle. They would walk on the main road and trunk A roads, they would constitute a nuisance for road users but everybody sort of got used to them. People knew that the situation could be handled better, but no one raised an alarm loud enough for the issue to be dealt with once and for all.
In the cool of the evening, Mr. Ojo would sit under the shade of the mango tree in his yard and listen to the news on his transistor radio. He would hear things that he would consider bizarre. The trending news item was ‘The nomads were now becoming a danger to some communities.’ The latest incident report was how these nomads went through a community in the middle belt of the Mambilla country and destroyed hectares of farmland. They went into barns and ate up harvested and stored yams. The farmers were devastated and the government was mute. When the community tried to resist, these nomads who were supposed to be harmless people propped up sophisticated weapons and slaughtered members of these communities. Mr. Ojo was perturbed. What was Mambilla turning into? This made headline news for a while and communities gathered to strategize on how to deal with these nomads who used to carry bare sticks before as a tool for directing their cattle. They had daggers and knives but these were for personal use and protection, not to attack people.
Mr.Ojo would always retreat to his living room at 9pm to listen to the national news. It was becoming a recurrent news item now, these Fulani herdsmen, how they were destroying farmlands with their cattle and killing members of the communities who tried to resist their encroachment into their farms. The police could not even contain them. The level of weaponry they had was too sophisticated for the common man. The vigilante group had rifles and these nomads had AK 47 assault rifles. You couldn’t withstand such power. It soon dawned on the people of Mambilla that these men were not just mere nomads but infiltrators. These men were from neighbouring countries coming in to destabilize Mambilla. These nomads were actually terrorists in disguise! The police could not handle them. They were a network funded by some unknown politicians and top brass military personnel. The intelligence showed that these nomads were linked to powerful members of the current government in Mambilla. Who would bail the cat?
The people were wise enough to know that when one listens to the news and hears some bizarre stuff, one is forced to wonder, if what was heard could be real. However, the impact of what you hear never dawns on you till it happens to you. Therefore, the farmers organized a meeting at the village square to deliberate on this matter which had become a source of great concern to them.
“In my opinion, I think we should form a vigilante group for our own community, because watching the news every night these people are a menace and we don’t want to be caught off guard” Mr. Ojo submitted.
“I think we are worrying ourselves too much here. These things are happening in the middle belt, they would not dare try it here” Mr. Lokoja countered.
“It’s not about whether they would dare or not dare it here, like the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’, I support Mr. Ojo’s idea that we should do something before we get caught off guard” Mr. Ade added.
A vote was taken and it was agreed upon that something should be done. The local chief was consulted and within weeks a vigilante group was set up and they had two old rifles bought for them from the purse of the Farmers’ Association Council of Mambila. These gave the farmers some respite, but Mr. Ojo who had been monitoring the news knew that if the herdsmen should come their way, they were ill prepared for them.
Harvest in Mr. Ojo’s farm was fast approaching. He was waiting patiently for the harvest to be completed so he could collect the balance of his money. He had plans for the cash. Everyone knew that the farmer’s best moment was when cash entered his hand and he could walk to the barn to get some food for his household; these were glorious moments for him.
The morning before the harvest, Mr. Ojo had gone for one last round of inspection. He was speechless at what he saw. His farm had been ravaged. There was cattle poo everywhere. All the maize cobs that were waiting to be harvested had been eaten up by the cattle. What happened? What of the vigilante group? Why didn’t they raise an alarm? These were the questions that bothered his mind. He went to see Mr. Ade, but Mr. Ade could not be found. He went to Mr. Lokoja’s house, he wasn’t in either. He rushed to the chief’s palace and found them there. They all had been affected one way or the other, and there was great lamentation in the air. From the chief’s court, they went to file a report at the police station. But the investigating officer was non committal. “If you can catch one of the cows and bring it to the station, then the herdsmen will show up and we can arrest them and press charges” he said.
The farmers couldn’t believe they were hearing the investigating officer right. Who on earth does that? How do you capture a cow and bring it to the station? They were shocked beyond words. Devastation was written on all their faces. This was their toil and sweat, their time, money and investments being plundered overnight.
They had an emergency meeting in the palace of the chief. The chief priest was invited to attend from his shrine, and a decision was made. Forty eight hours later, the herdsmen were tracked down to a little camp, they had set up to tarry the night. The air was impregnated with ozzasu perfume. The herdsmen were all asleep. Their animals were all asleep. The farmers sneaked into their makeshift camp and took all their weapons, and then the farmers poured petrol on the animals and set them on fire!
The air was filled with moo moo cries of the cattle and pervaded with thick smell of roasting meat as the animals were being roasted in their sleep. The herdsmen woke up to see all their animals on fire. Members of the Mambilla tribe stood in a circle around them. They quickly reached for their AK 47 assault rifles, but it was all gone and the Mambilla youth stood gazing at them wedging the herdsmen’s AK 47 rifles and aiming directly at them.