It was Mahatma Ghandi who once declared that we can “judge the morality of a nation by the way the society treats its animals”. In another instance, he modified this by saying “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. When one views the attitude of our people today to the vast array of animals that surround us, either as domestic or those in the wild, or those hitherto domestic but have been made to appear wild, destroying peoples’ crop farms by their aggressive gun wielding herders, it is easy to imagine that Ghandi may have x-rayed us with his apt sayings. Tribute to a gallant dog named “Teacher” who died in Maiduguri earlier in the year wrestling with a suicide bomber to save the lives of several Nigerians.
Over the years, by our practices, we have not collectively demonstrated the right attitudes to our animals, whether in conservation, as livestock in commercial entities or pets in companionship and Nigeria is certainly the loser for it. For instance, it is cruelty that we ever had permitted our livestock to wander about through hundreds, possibly thousands of kilometers for whatever reasons that include the search for green lush grasses to feed on. For those animals that we have seen cramped and transported like the camel in a Mercedes car’s booth, and several articulated vehicles, along our roads, it is always a pitiable sight to behold, with overcrowded donkeys, cattle, sheep and goats inside trailers that were never built to fit such purpose. As a result, some of the animals that could not survive the endurance test of standing for days, in transit get trampled upon by the stronger ones and they die. Despite the decomposition, they will be heartlessly auctioned to some waiting butchers at the point of disembarking, who would then pass the unwholesome carcasses onto the unsuspecting public to consume.
Poultry has its own man’s cruelty story as well, suffering terribly, moving from farms to the live bird markets. In some cases, they are tied with their heads dangling from the bunch. For those that would have felt better in cages, overcrowding would have rendered the crates useless. It is not uncommon to see Okada riders also displaying uncommon bravery dangerously carrying bulls of no mean sizes on top of the narrow fuel tanks in front of them; I had a personal experience on camera of a biker along the airport road in Abuja. Some of them tie sizeable pigs on wooden planks, which they stretched out precariously at the back of their motorcycles; I have seen several dogs that were tied together with ropes on their necks and legs on top of a motorcycle being taken to a “404 joint” where dog meat is served as delicacy.
The current vicious nightmare of herdsmen fighting and killing crop farmers and invading their communities to burn their homes and rape innocent women and their daughters is part of the prices we are already paying for our docility, in not instituting structures to dissuade people from the wickedness that has become the lot against animals in this country. If we had borrowed or imported the right attitudes from other climes, then we should not be debating whether cattle ranching is suitable for us to adopt or not in this 21st century. These herder-farmer clashes have become the greatest threat to the peaceful coexistence amongst the various tribes in Nigeria, be it in the Middle belt, the South-East, South-West, South-South and in the North West where cattle rustling seems to be their own peculiar challenge. It has been listed as a major inarticulate premise to support the agitation of those seeking to secede from Nigeria. In Ekiti, the governor was provoked that the gun-totting herders attacked a community in his domain, and considered the rigmarole of legislation as too windy and tortuous, so he declared by fiat that any cattle seen wandering about in the villages should be ‘conquered’ and feasted freely on as “stomach infrastructure”, a parlance familiar with his agenda for his people.
There is even a more frightening, not seriously talked about implication of food insecurity or a likely famine in a few years to come, that will not be traced to climatic reasons. But it will arise from the supremacy of the sophisticated weapons that are being paraded by militant herders who would have chased away prospective and aged farmers of today from the sustainable arable farming in the hitherto traditionally recognized food basket zones of this massively populated country. This is a real threat that must be nipped in the bud as soon as possible, if the surest opportunity left for Nigeria’s economy to grow from a mono product through youth farming is an objective of government.
In the Business School at the University of Ilorin in the early nineties, where I pursued my Master of Business Administration, we were taught the concept of MBO, Management by Objective as a personnel management technique. first popularized by Peter Drucker, It was a likely question you could predetermine and you would have a sure banker, almost an expo during the examination. The gist in MBO is that managers and other employees work together to agree on a set of goals, score and monitor the attainment for a specified period of time. This was considered a better model over Management by wandering around (MBWA), that involves managers wandering around in an unstructured manner, to assess their employees performances in their assignments. What our teachers failed to tell us then was this other model that is the exclusive preserve of the aristocratic masters of our gun wielding herders who are not interested in MBO or MBWA. It is Management by Wakabout (MBW). Here instead of the owners doing the walking about, it is the employee herders or their armed protective groups who go up and down without borders shooting their ways through. Their collective resource is so huge as to make even some nations in the West green with envy. The price estimate of average cattle has gone up from N45, 000 to about N75, 000, hence we are talking of a cattle industry with a more than seven billion Naira potentials, judging from the cattle population of 12 million based on the last census carried out in 1991 by RIMS. This critical resource has been left to wander about aimlessly, in the name of searching for grasses to eat in a manner similar to the Almanjiri syndrome of the north. MBW defies all economic logics, We could forgive ourselves that we promoted the practice in the past with the official toga of creation of cattle routes, establishment of grazing reserves and all such things that modern methods abhor.
Today, human population has more than doubled in the country, the wrongs we permitted for too long has grown hydra heads into rustling and the satanic carrying of guns as the herders waka about. In a way, the young has grown and the herders of today have advanced in their status from a generation of stick-wielding to gun-wielding. Our complaints today are the products of the acquiescence and docility of the political class of yesteryears who lacked planning for the weak and least vociferous. It is a vicarious liability that we should all be blamed for. When you see them move up and down with these huge income earners, you would think they would ask for cattle markets as they reach new communities, not at all. Their objective is not to sell and make money, in actual fact, only the weak, sick and poisoned or dying ones are offered for sale while the big sized stock are wasted even more, burning energies trekking kilometers in search of green lush pastures. Even the in-breeding production infestation does not help, with a stock of hundreds or thousands in some instances populated by sons, daughters, cousins near and distant all intermingling and breeding the same wanted and unwanted traits as they go about. In those other societies, who were like us in those days of wide gaps in knowledge, things have since changed for the better. They talk ranches in such a sense that livestock contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of their countries are certain and not illusions that we bemuse ourselves with here. They have grown their industry to such an extent, that you have well clad young men and ladies, carrying brief cases jetting from one country to another visiting ranch owners discussing artificial insemination through marketing semen from improved breeds. Demo 3D projections are set up and orders are placed for semen transportation from one part of the world to another. That is to say that in civilized and sane climes, man does the moving, and not the live animals. When animals move, they are in the frozen state of meat to be sold. This is the kind of animal agriculture that this generation of political class must support and encourage our youths to do and which they must bequeath to the next generation as well. We only need the political will and sincerity of purpose of President Muhammadu Buhari to lead this laudable objective, much more than his body language that has not favoured a clampdown on the rampaging gun-totting herdsmen.
Now, let us revisit the Ghandi belief on the societal assessment based on our attitude to the lesser mortals and animals. In our country the more noise you make the brighter your chances of selection for election or appointment into a public office. A lot of examples abound. This criterion is second only to nepotism considerations. Without any doubt, our renewed values must begin to accommodate better regards for the services we can obtain from those silent men who would not make any noise to contribute to our growth and our animals who do not even talk at all. A society which dims the weak is doomed. A few months ago, it was reported, first by the Voice Of America (VOA), Hausa Service, and then in tiny inconspicuous corners of one or two daily newspapers that a dog named “Teacher” by his owner Alhaji Mallum spotted a female suicide bomber as she headed to a crowd savouring the pleasures of a marriage reception in Maiduguri. That extra gift God gave dogs was called to task. Even though not technically trained specifically for detection of weapons, the instinct was there, and the dog ran after the girl-bomber and engaged her in an unusual battle, struggling to unravel what was hidden beneath her flowery gown. As she held her firmly and prevented her from inching forwards, the skirmishes continued a few meters away from the crowded reception, and as the timer ticked away, the bomb detonated killing the suicide bomber and Teacher. The owner, Alhaji wept but was consoled by the fact that scores of humans were saved by the gallantry of the dog he very much cherished.
What Teacher did reminds us of the late heroine of Ebola in Nigeria, Dr. Adadevoh who died from the disease but saved us from Tom Sawyer’s plan to escape from her hospital, which would have been catastrophic. As it is typical of us, no one cared that the dog died, it was not even deserving of a national news item on television. It was reported in only one newspaper off-hand and ‘just by the way’. Not even Alhaji Mallum was invited for lessons to learn, perhaps he gave the dog some trainings in native intelligence that could be adopted for use by other dogs, rather than stereotype our imported technical methods of training the highly expensive alpha dogs that were part of the success stories of Sambisa conquest. Perhaps we did not even know that the Nigerian Army has a sophisticated Dog unit manned by Veterinary doctors in the army and they were deployed extensively during the Boko Haram battles. Who would tell us? We truly need to retool our values and give honours and reward only to deserving people, even when they don’t make noise and appreciate other creations of God like the dog named Teacher. It took the uncommon candour of a Nigerian working for a foreign media, Voice Of America (VOA) as correspondent whose work environment permits it, to bring the reality of what Teacher did to our consciousness. The Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), commemorated this feat in April during the World Veterinary Day by smartly honouring the dog Teacher for heroism with a post-humous plaque and Alhaji Mallum was rewarded with the sum of N100, 000 to enable him purchase a replacement dog that should also be trained in whatever way that brought out the best for humanity in the previous dog. The new dog also had a lifelong health scheme to be funded by NVMA for all veterinary needs. This is the right way to go. For doing this, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association was named along with thirty other national associations for outstanding activities’ awards at the recently held 33rd World Veterinary Association Congress at Incheon, South Korea on August 30, 2017.
Dr. Gani Enahoro is the World Veterinary Association (WVA) Councilor for Africa, Vice President African veterinary Association and Past National President, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA).
This post was adapted from Vanguard Nigeria