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Mr. Ojo and the herdsmen

January was a special month in Mambilla tribe. Apart from it marking the beginning of a new Gregorian calendar year, it was a very busy month for the people of Mambilla tribe. It was the month that ushered in the new harvest for corn and cassava in the farms. It was the month that middlemen and traders flocked the tribe to seal deals for agricultural products. It was the season where new deals were closed and harvesting contracts were signed. It was always likened to the month of restoration, the month of hope. What made it even more special was the fact that after Christmas celebrations, when pockets were empty, January came next followed by harvest and sales of farm produce to generate the much needed income.

Mr. Ojo had been waiting for this month. He took a ride on his motorcycle to his farm. He examined the maize cobs. Initially he was torn between harvesting the cobs and storing it, 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, you could store the cobs and sell them five months later and make exceeding profits. Mr. Ojo was in need of cash. In as much 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, Mr. Solanke had visited him and they had toured the farm, a good sized five hectares farm. They had sealed the deal for 1 million Mambilla Rands(MR). Mr. Solanke had paid the initial 50% deposit of 500K MR to Mr. Ojo. Mr. Ojo had gotten his team ready for the harvest.

Mambilla tribe have always had nomads who travelled around the country with their flock, grazing. The northern regions could be particularly hot and parched during the summer months. Grass and food were a challenge for the cattle rearers, hence they took their flocks down south looking for food. They travelled in packs and they spent their entire life on the road. Some children were born on transit, their ladies were impregnated on transit, they raised their children on transit and they lived a transient life all their lives.  Their animals reproduced on transit and they sold their cattle on transit, made money in transit and died in transit. They were a nuisance of course to the communities they passed through but not dangerous enough to want to stop them from being members of the country. Ordinarily, they would always look for an 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 he considered bizzare. 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? These made headline news. Communities gathered and strategized 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.

When you listened to the news and heard of so many bizarre stuff, one was forced to wonder, if what was heard could be real. However, the impact of what you heard never dawned on you until it happened to you.

Mr.Ojo would always retrace to his living room at 9pm to listen to the national news. It was becoming a recurrent news item now. These Mambilla herdsmen, how they were destroying farmlands with their cattles and killing members of communities who tried to resist their encroachment to 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 that guarded local communities had rifles and these nomads had AK 47 assault rifles. You couldn’t withstand such power. It dawned on Mambilla country 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 and outside forces. Who would bell the cat?

Harvest in Mr. Ojo’s farm was to commence the next two days. He was waiting patiently for the harvest to be completed so that he would collect the balance of his money. He had plans for that cash. Everybody knew that the farmer’s best moment was when that cash entered his hand, when he would walk to the barn to take some food for his household. These were glorious moments for the farmer.

“In my opinion, I think we should form a vigilante group 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 they would 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 in the association of farmers council and it was agreed 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.

It gave them a temporary sense of security and peace but Mr. Ojo who had been monitoring the news knew that if the herdsmen should come their way, they were ill prepared for them.

The morning before the harvest Mr. Ojo went for one last round of inspection to his farm. He was speechless at what he saw. His farm was ravaged. There was cattle poo everywhere. All the maize cobs that were waiting to be harvested were eaten down 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. 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. From the chief’s court, they went to file a report at the police station.

“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.”

Did he hear the investigating officer right? Who on earth does that? How do you capture a cow and bring it to the station?

Devastation was written on the faces of all the farmers who were affected. This was their toil and sweat, their time and money investment being shredded to pieces overnight.

They had a meeting in the palace of the chief. The chief priest was invited to attend from his shrine. A decision was made.

Forty eight hours later, the herdsmen were located in 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 herdsmen were de-weaponised.  Petrol was poured on the animals and the animals were roasted in their sleep. The herdsmen woke up to see their animals on fire. Members of Mambilla tribe stood in a circle around them. The herdsmen reached for their AK 47 rifles. They were all gone and the Mambilla youth stood gazing at them with their AK 47 rifles.

 

Uwem Mbot Umana©2019

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