Herdsmen – A short story told around Nigeria’s marauding herdsmenWritten by Odimegwu Onwumere
There had not been such illnesses in the history of Konto Community, a history spanning over one thousand five hundred centuries, as it was experiencing in recent times. The community was rife with acute bronchitis, asthma attacks, and other respiratory illnesses. Apart from these illnesses, unpredictable rainfalls were everyday occurrence. There were continuous rise in temperature, water supply shortages, agriculture and food decline, erosion taking over landscapes, and many other environmental anomalies. These started when herdsmen from Bito, in the Nomadic Region, came to the community with their goats, sheep and cows for the purpose of grazing. The name of the Bito herdsmen’s leader was Babu. Konto Community was in the Southern Region. Both regions were in a country called Zelmuna.
Zelmuna favoured Bito over Konto Community in the sharing of power, justice and fairness. Konto Community was overgrazed and frightened. Its women were raped and maimed in the farm. Some of the Konto men that faced the herdsmen in the farms, telling them to stop their cows from eating up their crops, were killed or left with machete cuts. The Konto people were afraid.
The herdsmen burnt the bushes during dry season for the purpose of triggering new vegetation. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases saturated the atmosphere, contributing to the unnatural warming of Konto Community with grave consequences. The community became increasingly inhabitable. The bush burning destroyed economic trees and dislocated the ecosystem. The animals became imperiled species.
Before this time, forests in Konto Community were left uncultivated for four years and without burning. But this healthy practice was no more since the Bito herdsmen came. The soil which was replenished by the practice of shifting cultivation in the past became infertile. The Ministry of Environment, society leaders, health officers, forest guards and other stakeholders got fed up. They, too, were threatened and killed by the Bito herdsmen, when they frowned at the bush burning. Bito herdsmen became a big threat.
Ebi, an environmentalist from Konto Community condemned the activities of the herdsmen. He maintained that they contributed immensely to the climate change that was destroying the environment. He wrote a lot of articles as regards to this issue, but the authorities did not pay heed to his words. Ebi saw the authorities as Bito herdsmen’s accomplices.
Whenever the Konto Community complained, the Bito herdsmen would attack them and would kill scores of Konto people and leave many houses torched. The authorities would not do anything. The herdsmen usually attacked Konto Community in the wee hours, when good men should be in the land of dreams. The once peaceful Konto Community hence lost its serenity.
Babu did not like Ebi, because he disturbed their consciences with the truth he kept saying.
The youths of Konto were furious. They detested what Babu and his group were doing. Whenever they regrouped for a battle against the herdsmen after any attack, the police would arrest them. This did not go down well with them given that Konto Community had made several complaints to the police: That the herdsmen moved around with their animals, well armed with machetes, AK-47 and other dangerous armaments. The herdsmen also kidnapped villagers. The police never arrested any herdsman and had never shown up in any of the attacks. They never came to the rescue of the distressed people of Konto.
There was a raging animosity going on between the two tribes, although the Konto people had to pretend to be at peace with the herdsmen. They were actually looking for urgent remedial actions to take. The herdsmen made them to be experiencing poor land use planning, inter-communal wars, bush burning, unemployment and poverty. Their socio-economy was destroyed by the herdsmen. They experienced high temperatures and tremendous dryness. Their land suffered the impacts of loss of many species of flora and fauna. Ebi wanted this to stop. But there was no willing government agency to aid him. Babu wanted him dead. Many assassination attempts were made on his life, but he escaped.
Konto people were dying of hunger. The population of their livestock was diminishing while the herdsmen’s were becoming too many. Everywhere one turned were cows, goats and sheep, heaping faeces indiscriminately, followed by unprecedented ants and insects that patronized the huge deposit of fecal matter. Pollution was rife in the community.
The Bito herdsmen moved their cows from one village in Konto Community to another. They did not fear. They now owned the land. No one could protest as these animals fed not only on grass, but, also, on crops such as cassava, being the mainstay of the economy of the Konto people. A bag of garri sold for X3, 000 previously, but after the invasion of the herdsmen, it sold for X9, 000. Cows destroyed practically everything the people planted. Cost of living was on the increase.
Ebi was deeply pained. He could see the end of this madness. It spelt doom for his community. He told his people that they had to initiate stringent measures to checkmate the activities of the herdsmen. He wanted environmental laws to be enacted against the herdsmen’s practices. While he was thoughtful of how to stop the herdsmen, Babu led his people into a game reserve in Konto, reserved as sacred. When Ebi confronted them, they threatened him and he ran away.
“You are saboteurs and instruments of destruction!” Ebi shouted at them as he ran. Babu and his group became chief causative factors to the negative climate change that became Konto people’s new reality. The Konto people had not celebrated new yam festival for years due to poor harvest of yam caused by cattle grazing. Yam was the people’s king of crops. It was distinguished in marriage ceremonies, naming ceremonies and funerals. The people did not joke with yam cultivation, but not anymore.
Ebi lamented the neo-colonialism they were facing in the hands of the herdsmen who saw themselves as outlaws. These people destroyed the socio-cultural heritage of the Konto Community and wanted to impose their nomadic lifestyles. The Konto people suffered great consequences and no control of the herdsmen was in sight from the authorities. The herdsmen’s actions of burning bush spread rats, which carried a virus that caused Lassa fever. The bush burning made rats to flood Konto Community. The natural habitat of the rats was burnt, making rodents to sprint into people’s houses. These rats had contact with humans and Ebi tried to point out the dangers in such contacts. Nonetheless, Babu always countered him and said that it was just mere speculation.
After some months of latent animosity, something snapped and the youths of Konto went berserk. They went to the bush and killed over a dozen cows. The battle line was thus drawn between the Bito herdsmen and Konto Community. The later only had Alien Prayers they inherited from their former colonialists called Viga, as a weapon. In the cause of colonialism, they dropped their aboriginal spirituality called Ogwurube. But the Bito herdsmen didn’t. They practiced their original spirituality and also had guns supplied to them by the Zelmuna Government and they did not shy away from fighting.
The people of Konto formed a vigilante group. Aside the Alien Prayers, they also had machetes and planks as weapons. Babu and his group made threats that they must avenge the killing of their cows. From dawn to dusk, the Konto Community kept praying. Ebi asked them to be vigilant always. He told them that praying was good, but ought to be an individual affair in the face of war. Everyone should be at alert, he said. He was not happy that in this time of trouble, they were just praying. Unfortunately, in one of their prayer meetings, Babu and his group attacked them, and scores of Konto people were killed. Many houses were torched and many people wounded. Ebi sniveled like a baby tormented by hunger. Babu laughed at him from a distance. Babu told him that this was just the beginning. Babu saw the cows’ lives to be more valuable than the lives of human beings. There was urgent need to kill Konto people to safeguard his cows. He must burn down houses to expand grazing lands for his cows. He must destroy farms in order to feed his cows. He must damage the biodiversity of the environment for his cows without minding the effects these practices would have on the environment.
The authorities refused to comment on the attacks. The next day, the Bito herdsmen were seen herding their cows, as usual. There was pandemonium in the community. Women protested and the youths who should have regrouped for a fight against the Bito herdsmen were seen with placards, protesting. The placards read, “Enough is enough!” “Tell the herdsmen to leave our land.” Ebi saw the protests as cowardice. Many of the Konto youths even ran as their fowls and dogs would run in any attack. Ebi went under a big oil bean tree and sat down. He was fed up with the behaviour of the youths, but he could not really blame them. How could one expect a people that had only clubs to defend themselves against herdsmen that were armed with all kinds of weapons? Again, his people had lost their fighting prowess to the easy life of the modern era. He vowed not to relent in the struggle to liberate his Konto Community from the grip of the Bito herdsmen. He had no other community to call his than Konto Community. He vowed that the fight must continue even with his very last drop of blood.
Instead of the revenge he wished to see from his people against the herdsmen, he was surprised that some of the youths started relocating to neighbouring towns. The herdsmen were still on a killing spree. Two more persons were killed and ten others left with bullet wounds. There was no single herdsman that has been killed since the fight started. Babu kept on making his threat to Ebi that he would roast him alive one day. Ebi continued to get assassination threats. He knew that his life was in danger. He wrote different letters to the authorities and articles to the press. He wanted his community to be under the watch of security men, yet no one listened. He accused the authorities of abandoning the community to the crazy whims of the erratic herdsmen.
The authorities neglected the clarion calls by Ebi to defend the Konto Community, a people that did not want to take laws into their hands. When the clarion calls by Ebi became too much, the authorities issued press statements condemning the attack. But this was just a lip service. More killings and destruction of property were going on in the Konto Community and the game of conspiratorial silence continued. The Bito herdsmen wanted to take over the Konto Community. Ebi was worried.
He was just sitting down, watching his community taken over in the face of unquestionable impunity. He recalled some of his family members that had died in the attacks and broke into tears. He held his emotions, remembering that men should not cry, especially in the open. He remembered what his father told him, that in the past, women, the aged and children were not killed in war. But here were the Konto women, the aged and children being massacred on a daily basis. He needed to do something. He decided to take up arms against the herdsmen.
He got arms in an attack by the herdsmen on Konto Community. His success came after he had a dream in which he was advised by his late father to consult his community deity known as Ogwurube, a deity forgotten by the people for a longer time in their pursuit of Alien Prayers. Ogwurube was a God of War in the ancient customs and traditions of the Konto people. Ogwurube had led the ancient Konto people to different wars and they were victorious. The modern Konto people knew about this history, but did not know how to tap from this invaluable resource. They had been conditioned to look down on the traditional worship practices and to revere Ogwurube would be a big problem. They had been marooned by their former colonialists who brainwashed them to see aboriginal spirituality as evil. Yet, the neighbouring communities dreaded them for the victories of their forefathers, oblivious that the Konto people had lost their glory a long time ago, when they abandoned their traditions for the Alien Gods and their ways.
Ogwurube only required that whoever must go to the temple of justice must go with fairness. Ogwurube would not allow any Konto man or woman to be alive if found with a sullied hand. Many of the youths, faced with annihilation, became interested in knowing Ogwurube. Ebi kept working round the clock to bring back the veneration of this God so that they could tap from his immense powers. Every day, he was in the shrine supplicating that he needed justice in their land. He started to regroup some of the youths who now believed in the cultures and traditions of their land as the only way out of their predicament, since the Alien Prayers did not work in their favour. They wanted to connect to their ancestors instead of their long time connection to the ancestors of their former colonialists.
It was obvious to the young men of Konto that the Bito herdsmen were well grounded in their cultures and traditions, accounting for their prowess and victory in battle. Ogwurube told the Konto people that the Bito herdsmen were hypnotizing them with spiritual powers before they were killed. But this would not happen again. Ogwurube took over and became in charge of the community. Ogwurube vowed that the sons and daughters of Konto would never be preys to the rampaging herdsmen anymore.
Ebi recruited more and more youths into the struggle. Any of the youths that enlisted in the group was taken to Ogwurube’s shrine for fortification. Ebi gave a name to the struggle. “Ogwurube Is With Us Against Herdsmen (OIWUAH)” struggle. The youths tested gunshots on each other and the bullets could not penetrate their bodies. OIWUAH members were marveled that they had such great powers in Ogwurube and were chasing shadows in Alien Prayers. Babu and his group became jittery over the new confidence they noticed in the carriage of the Konto people. Babu was worried.
Babu got to know that Ebi had formed OIWUAH and the group was preparing seriously to hound the Bito herdsmen out of the Konto Community. Babu went to the authorities and reported this. Within minutes, security agents that comprised Police, Army, and Navy landed in the Konto Community, something that was not done when Ebi was calling on the authorities to see the atrocities committed by the herdsmen against the community. Ebi became furiously livid, as the security agents arrested Konto women, aged people and children. Many youths were shot at sight, all in the name of protecting the herdsmen to take their cows around Konto Community for grazing.
The battle was no longer between the Konto people and the herdsmen alone, but, also, with the authorities that were obviously unfair. The Konto youths decided that they would not surrender since Ogwurube was with them. More and more youths joined the OIWUAH. They were proud to defend their land. They were even ready to die for Konto posterity. They must be liberated. As they were regrouping, the security agents were busy raping their women in addition to the senseless arrests. Fifty thousand youths joined the OIWUAH.
Some of the Konto people still held onto the Alien Prayers in the community, but not the members of OIWUAH. The Alien Prayers merchants condemned the believers of Ogwurube. The community became divided. Ebi knew that the community was in real danger. A kingdom hardly stands when it is divided against itself. Nevertheless, he must fight. He was back to the effective spiritual ways of his forebears and there was no going back, no matter whatever anyone said. The authorities bribed some Konto people to be revealing the activities of the OIWUAH. The believers in the Alien Prayers were the people bribed. The members of OIWUAH could not collect bribes. Ogwurube frowned at corruption.
Babu and his group were enjoying the protection of the security agents while the farms and environment of Konto Community and the lives of its people were ruined. When the Konto people who were not members of OIWUAH made a complaint against the ruinous activities, they were killed by the security agents, the same way the Bito herdsmen had been killing them. Over twenty Konto persons were so far killed by the security agents and dozens of them arrested. A combined team of soldiers and Air Force personnel, Police and Navy did not want any Konto person to say pim. They wanted the Konto people to mind themselves and allow the herdsmen’s cows graze. Ebi got increasingly incensed as news of these issues came to him in the shrine. Ogwurube was also irritated and commanded the OIWUAH members to go out for a reprisal attack. They went and started to kill the security agents.
This was against Ebi’s initial wish. If the authorities had maintained a pendulum of justice, it would not have happened. Conversely, the OIWUAH had no option. They were faced with two enemies. The oppression by the security agents had crossed the limits. The members of OIWUAH preferred a respectable death to living like slaves in their own land. They had seen that there was no reprieve with the presence of the security agents, who rather than make peace, chose violence against one side, for the other to live. This added more fuel to the already raging fire. The Konto Community reeked of violence. Ebi wanted to see Babu face-to-face, so that they could fight, but Babu was shielded by the security agents from dawn to dusk.
The victory that the OIWUAH recorded against security agents made more youths to believe in Ogwurube and join the group. The security agents wanted Ebi dead or alive. They believed that the end of OIWUAH will come if they could get their leader. Ebi on getting wind of the plan of the security agents through his people in the community decided that OIWUAH would lay ambush for the security agents. By now, OIWUAH had more ammunition gotten from some security agents they killed and from those that left their guns and ran away in some of the brawls.
An ambush was laid for the security troops by the OIWUAH and a gun battle ensued. Many security agents were killed and others abandoned the battlefield for safety of their dear lives. The OIWUAH recorded few casualties, being those who had flouted the laws of Ogwurube before the ambush. They must have soiled their hands in one way or the other. Items gotten from the fleeing security agents included 4 AK-47 Rifles, 18 FN Rifles, 23 G3 Rifles and some 9 Hand grenades. Babu was still with the security troops. He was running as the security troops fled. Ebi pursued him. When some of the security agents saw that Ebi was after Babu, they opened fire on him, but the bullets were not penetrating his body. He was not firing back, either. He kept chasing Babu. He finally caught up with him after a long chase. He did not want to kill him. He wanted him as a hostage.
Ebi just kept Babu in the OIWUAH camp, Ogwurube's shrine. There, he was well fed and kept comfortable. The only difficulty he had was the freedom he no longer enjoyed. The authorities were not happy with the development – that security agents were ambushed and killed by the OIWUAH. They needed to do something. The OIWUAH were now killing the Bito herdsmen and their cows. Many of the herdsmen were fleeing back to the Nomadic Region with their cows. The Konto Community was in full blown war between the security agents and the OIWUAH. Some of the Konto Alien Prayers warriors condemned what their kinsmen were doing, forgetting how the Bito herdsmen started it all. Ebi did not bother himself about what the Konto Alien Prayers mongers were saying. His joy was that Babu, who once boasted that he would roast him alive, had been caught and was with the OIWUAH.
When the authorities saw that they could not attain victory in this battle that Ogwurube was championing, they initiated a peace talk with the OIWUAH, with a view that the Bito herdsmen would leave the Konto Community. Ebi did not want to give in for the peace talk, remembering the diseases and illnesses that the Bito herdsmen had brought to their community and the brunt of climate change they were bearing, due to the grazing activities. He wanted to fight to finish. Ogwurube warned him not to surrender. But he was thinking about the hunger in Konto Community. He was considering making peace. He believed that since normalcy was returning to the community with many Bito herdsmen fleeing, their farms would yield crops again without being damaged by cows or bush burning. After a period of consultation by the authorities with the OIWUAH members, Ebi flouted the warning by Ogwurube and went for the peace talk.
At the meeting with the authorities, Ebi was apprehended and taken to prison. The news came to the OIWUAH members in the shrine. They became afraid and left the Ogwurube shrine. They would have stayed and continue the fight if they knew how to appease Ogwurube. It was only Ebi that knew how to consult Ogwurube. In their haste, they forgot to take care of Babu. He later escaped, as no one was checkmating him again. When the fleeing Bito herdsmen heard that Ebi was in prison and that the OIWUAH members were scattered, they began to return to Konto Community in full swing with their cows. Konto Community knew that crime was about to explode with the guns in the hands of the youths. But it was even more worrisome to imagine what would become of the town with the return of the Bito herdsmen and the nightmare they represented.