It was vintage Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, aka Jibo. That is, Jibrin Ibrahim of old, not the now more ‘mature’ (or less radical) and more tolerant, fish connoisseur of a Jibrin Ibrahim. The Jibrin Ibrahim of old was the practitioner of blunt and provocative problematisation that earned him the nickname of Jibogram – Jibo’s scale of measurement that turned only on the wheels of its grammage.
It was this pugnacious Jibo that turned up as book reviewer of The root causes of farmers-herders crisis in north central Nigeria, a research report by Dr. Plangshak Musa Suchi and Dr. Yaks Musa of the Department of Sociology at the University of Jos. The result is that unless a different interpretation of the text in question emerges to challenge Jibo’s review of it, the book has been completely re-written in Jibo’s reading of it.
What Jibo was doing is nothing new but perfectly fitting into academic protocol. The meaning or what might be considered the message of a report or publication or book of that nature has almost nothing to do with the intention of the author. The intention an author might have in writing whatever he writes died with the last full stop of the text. It is the readers who decide what a text might mean. Achebe or Shakespeare wrote whatever they wrote but what the audience took away from whatever they wrote can be vastly different from whatever intentions they had.
However, how Jibo’s review too is understood in the Middle Belt, for example, can be a different kettle of fish. That region is sure to overwrite Jibogram by simply categorizing his contentions about the research report as a defense of Hausa-Fulani hegemony. It doesn’t matter that many would not have read a page of the text in question before coming to such conclusion, based on nothing more than that the book was authored by scholars from Plateau State or a university located in the cultural Middle Belt and who must, therefore, be defenders of the Middle Belt. But it is not the Middle Belt alone as some people in the Northwest might be happy that Jibo has demolished a text from imaginary intellectual enemies, even without having read a page of the report. And it goes on like that across Nigeria. That is how impossible informed debate has become in contemporary Nigeria as everything must fall into place along rigid ethno-religious and cultural spaces. Quite a few are there who do not follow this pattern of looking at things but it is generally dangerous to be seen not to champion ethno-religious interests.
It is that rigidity that Angela Odah, country director of Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and sponsors of the research must have been referring to in warning that those who read the history of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda cannot but conclude that Nigeria is also on the eve of that same experience. According to her, Nigeria is sinking but it must not be allowed to sink. It must not be allowed to sink because it is Africa’s hope. For her, it would be such a shame for a country with Nigeria’s potentials to be allowed to collapse. Contending that war serves nobody’s interests, she added that Nigeria could be heading that way “if we decide to be foolish by toeing ethno-religious lines”. For it not to sink is everyone’s responsibility, she argues even while conceding that the political leadership ought to take responsibility for guaranteeing state survival.
Nobody challenged her position. Chairperson of the occasion, Dr. Chido Onumah had opened the occasion with the view that the herder-farmer conflict is everywhere in Nigeria. Ene Obi, country director of ActionAid International is alarmed about the absolute collapse of security in the country, citing tales of excesses in Zamfara, excesses which are never in the media. Professor Jibo began his review by declaring that if there is any crisis that can break Nigeria, it is the herders-farmers entanglement. Where Jibo parted company with the authors in particular is his view that the authors did not situate the research critically enough. And because they didn’t do so, they found purchase for what he might as well have called narratives of dubious endgame.
His first disagreement is the words ‘root cause’ in the title. He chastised the researchers for accepting such a title, (assuming it was given to them like that) because he doesn’t think they should be talking about root cause(s) of a conflict that has spanned centuries. It is an astonishing topic, he actually said.
He didn’t contest the history and sociology of the crisis as developed by the authors: the breakdown of a symbiotic relationship from which both farmers and herders benefitted – manure for improved farming for one and grazing access for the other party. That negotiated accommodation has collapsed, leading to the bloodbath that has, in the statistics of the book, claimed over 60, 000 lives in recent years.
What he contests is the narrative of Fulanisation involving atrocities supported by the state. He took particular interest in the part of the narrative of Fulanis as a people who came into Nigeria from the “Sahel and semi-arid areas of Futa Jallon mountains in West Africa”, (P. 1). He berated any scholarship that could describe the Futa Jallon as such, that being the source of watersheds and source of most of the rivers in the region. And then went on to tear to pieces the idea that Fulanis came from somewhere else. Using the Tiv as his case study, he wondered why that is not emphasised when, according to him, accounts written by Historians of Tiv identity themselves showed that they migrated from South Africa, arriving in Nigeria through Central Africa. “The most uncomfortable truth in Nigeria today is that most constituents migrated recently”, he argues, implying how ridiculous it is to single out the Fulani migration into Nigeria. He asks: Are we doing history or ideology?
On this point, Jibo was lucky no Niger Deltans were in the hall unless they were there but chose to keep quiet. What we learnt in our ethnicity and ethnic violence classes at UI is that their own narrative of origin is that they emerged from the water. If no other ethnic groups have such a narrative of where they came from, then the Ijaws might actually be the only genuine landlords in Nigeria. Jibo was too much on warpath that this humor didn’t come out.
He dismissed the belief that Fulanis are heavily armed, calling it a toxic contention. For him, the correct thing is to say that Nigerian youths are armed. Quoting General Abdulsalami’s figure of six million plus small and light weapons circulating in Nigeria, his point is that the narrative that isolates Fulani armament has not related that to which proportion is in the hands of others.
Broadening out, Jibo declares that the Buhari government has responsibility for the way things deteriorated. His view is not that the Buhari Government started it but that the president’s body language spoke to the perception or believability of the crisis as the outcome of a Fulani conspiracy. Arguing that some people have to answer for the changes in the title of the National Livestock Transformation Programme, (NLTP), Jibo named the two culprits to be President Buhari and Chief Audu Ogbeh, Buhari’s first term minister for Agriculture.
He said Nigeria blew up upon Audu Ogbeh, a Christian, an Idoma from the Middle Belt appearing on television, renaming the NLPT into Cattle Colonies. That pronouncement, he said, was read as something like: the Fulanis are coming”. However, he added how Ogbeh must have done this only at the instance of the president. Meanwhile, the content of the NLTP has remained the same even when the name was changed from NLTP to Cattle Colonies and then Ruga System.
Asserting that these are the kind of things that would come up in the event of serious research, Jibo points out how much of the problem lies in the language game with the titles of the NLTP whose strategic objective is, (was) to settle 10% of the pastoralists in Nigeria.
If he spent the first part of his reviewer’s job on the contextual issues around the book, he focused on the methodological problems of the research as he sees them. That was even more unsparing and devastating. Unlike the natural and physical sciences where methodology or ‘the ways to truth’ are uncomplicated, it is a battle space in the social sciences and uniquely so. It is about the politics of truth. He vigorously questioned the methodology of the approach, only for some others to question him and for him to clarify and then for the authors to speak, making it a great conversation. In the end, what became clear from the methodology segment is that the university system cannot recover unless the Government of Nigeria can entice and pour back that generation of scholars who powered that system in the days preceding the collapse, we labour in vain. Many of them are very much around and still have the energy to, at least, take a course or two in theory and methodology where the worst have happened.
We shall see in part 2 of this report how it played out!