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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Dino And The Cows Of Abuja By Azu Ishiekwene

I’m looking for a knife, a very long and sharp one. I’m not possessed with murderous rage over the recession. The Central Bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, has said the worst is over and I believe him.
I’m just a law-abiding citizen in the Federal Capital Territory and all I wish to do is to carry out, to the letter, a recent order by the chairman of the Senate committee on the FCT, Dino Melaye.

At a meeting with the FCT minister on Monday, Melaye offered the final solution to the menace of cattle grazing in the city. He said that if herdsmen would not keep their cows off the main streets and the city centre, then all lawful residents must take up their knives and teach the cows and the herdsmen that Abuja is not George Orwell’s 'Animal Farm'.

When I told a close friend that I needed to arm myself to comply with Dino’s instruction, he said I needed, first of all, to ascertain the distinguished senator’s state of mind at the time he gave that instruction. I’m not a shrink, I replied, I’m just a law-abiding citizen eager to obey the law.

Obviously determined neither to help me nor to let me be, the fellow added that I needed to be sure which Dino was giving the instruction before getting my knife. Dino Melaye, he insisted, is one of the most profoundly transformed and transforming political species in Nigeria’s recent political history. You have to know which Dino you’re mapping, to be sure.

There was Dino the Rep. Nine years ago, this Dino was one of the ring leaders in the House of Representatives ranged against Speaker Dimeji Bankole over allegations of improper contract awards. He fought Bankole to the bitter end and even though both of them failed reelection, the former Speaker will not forget Dino in a hurry.

There was also Dino the activist and founder of the Ant-Corruption Network. When the Jonathan administration was still trying to figure out the difference between corruption and stealing, this Dino founded an NGO that claimed zero-tolerance for corruption.

During the fuel price hike riots of January 2012, Dino staged endless days of sit-ins at the Eagle Square in Abuja without worrying about cows or herdsmen. He was too weary and hopeless to notice. In fact, at the time, a casual onlooker might not have spotted any difference between him and herdsmen. Dino endured heat, harmattan and rough handling by anti-riot policemen, as a bona fide activist. That was then.

He even teamed up with the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners to draw the country’s and global attention to the disgraceful negligence of the girls and their families by the government at that time. That once upon a Dino gave former aviation minister, Stella Oduah, hell for buying two bulletproof cars for over a quarter of a billion naira.

In 2015, however, after Dino the activist transformed into Dino the senator on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, his mutation defied mapping. His gross sense of humour about serious national issues, his shabby treatment of facts on the floor of the Senate, his tasteless joke about Governor Adams Oshiomhole not marrying a “made-in-Nigeria” wife and his spat with Senator Oluremi Tinubu were mild manifestations of wayward cells.

His friends on social media have a difficult time keeping up with his collection of exotic cars and his outrageous sense of fashion. You wonder why a senator from one of Nigeria’s poorest constituencies has to go to such extraordinary lengths to seek personal attention.

But that’s the Dino of today. He flaunts his political power and gets just as much high from it as he does from the wine branded in his name.

When he asks Abuja residents to sharpen their knives for stray cows, he thinks it’s a joke. Or perhaps he thinks he’s doing us a favour since the stray cows will never get near any of his new Mercedes Benz vintage collections anyway.

Whatever it is, Dino cannot pretend that he does not know that violent clashes between herdsmen and communities have claimed over 700 lives. Why should knife wielding even come up at all? I’m aghast that the contribution of a senator of the Federal Republic to solving an already serious problem is a call for more violence.

The herdsmen grazing cows on the streets of Abuja are rarely the owners. It doesn’t absolve them of liability for any damage or justify trespass. But neither will fining these hirelings end the problem. Often, the herd owners are wealthy and influential figures, mostly politicians like Dino. Just as he doesn’t care about feeding us with the smoke from his garage and the trash from his closet, the herd owners don’t care if their cows trample over the city.

Yet, the distinguished senator might just be surprised to find that if Abuja residents were to choose between the menace of the straying cows and the nuisance that he has become in the recent years, they would have no hesitation choosing the former.

Instead of asking citizens to get knives and go after the cows, the sensible thing would be to locate the largest herd owners in and around the city through formal and informal networks and collectively find a way to remove the menace. It won’t be easy, because Abuja’s main concrete jungle was greedily excised by displacing the original owners of the land who were mostly farmers and pastoralists.

But the built up part of the city is still a small fraction of the total land area, with plenty of potential grazing sites on the fringes. With a bit of brainwork, Abuja can truly be a model for how the rest of the country could tackle the menace of violent herdsmen.

To call for unilateral slaying of cows or for fines of up to N50,000 to be imposed on the herdsmen does not require thinking. Anyone with Dino’s current testosterone level can do that. The harder part is to find a solution that does not grab the headlines but goes to the heart of the problem.

Can Dino raise his game?

Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the Board of the Paris-based Global Editors Network.

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