Friday, March 21, 2014

THE FULANI HERDSMAN IN NIGERIA: QUESTIONS, CHALLENGES, ALLEGATIONS.


An Exclusive Elnathan John Interview.  

Many questions have been asked about the Fulani in general and Fulani pastoralists in particular. The media perception of Fulani herdsmen is often one of murderous marauding bandits who kill at will.  Very often, journalists and reporters attribute violent attacks on villages and farming communities in especially (North) Central Nigeria to ‘Fulani herdsmen’. The Fulani story is hardly ever in mainstream Nigerian media. I sought to find out the Fulani side of this story. In this exclusive interview, Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq. discusses the Fulani perception as well as the challenges of Fulani pastoralists. He also responds to allegations of attacks. 

Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq. is the National Legal Adviser of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and the Acting Secretary General of Confederation of Traditional Herders Organization in Africa (CORET). 


Thank you for granting this interview. Before we begin, what is Miyetti Allah?
Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria is an organization of Cattle Breeders in Nigeria. It was registered as an NGO but is now more of a Livestock Producers’ Organization. The board of trustees consist five emirs. The Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano, Emir of Katsina, the Emir of Zazzau, and the Lamido of Adamawa. It was registered as a charitable organization in 1986 and it has been in existence for close to 28 years now.

I am sure you have been reading reports of alleged Fulani Herders attacking farming communities and villages. How do you feel about the media perception of the Fulani?
One of the herculean tasks we face as people, who are active in the livestock sector, is the issue of media perception of pastoralists. It is not something that is peculiar to Nigeria alone. In East Africa they face the same kind of challenges. The media view their mode of production as backward and outdated, the people who are into the production as uncivilized, as people who are violent, as people who are prone to attacking people for no reason without viewing what are the underlying causes that really bring about these issues of conflict. Particularly at the Miyetti Allah level, and the board of trustees, we have always considered farmers and pastoralists as cousins in terms of trade. But with time factors ordinarily that shouldn’t have been there, have infiltrated into the relationship. The issues are developmental challenges like the issues of whether damages to crop or farming along cattle routes or the issues of access to pasture or access to market, these are the kind of things that Pastoralist and Farmers face and they have been there as old as history itself. If you look at what happened in the Bible between Cain and Abel, it is part of the things that you have between farmers and pastoralists. So the media perception has not been good. The latest I heard was pastoralists using helicopters to attack people or pastoralists damaging oil rigs in Bayelsa. People create myths and sensationalize things that are not even there and gloss over the real things. 

What would you say is the greatest challenge for pastoralists in Nigeria?
One cannot say there is one single challenge. The greatest challenges for pastoralists in Nigeria are about three or four issues. One, the issue of access to pasture, two, the issue of access to water, the issue of veterinary drugs, the issue of land tenure, the issue of marginalization even by government particularly those who are involved in the agric sector. 

How would you respond to people in farming communities who see the physical effects of attacks by alleged Fulani herdsmen whether as reprisals or otherwise?
There are people who try to take advantage of this crisis. We don’t rule out the fact of cultural challenges. You see, you cannot isolate these issues of violence from what is happening internationally, because some people will come particularly migrant or transhumant pastoralists who don’t even appreciate the culture and understanding of people around the host communities…

Sorry to interrupt you, but who are migrant and transhumant pastoralists?
Transhumant pastoralists are people who move from dry areas to wet areas for seasonal grazing and then they move back. So, over the years, cultural affinities have developed between these people but of recent, because of desert encroachment, because of lack of water, particularly in the Sahel region, they are pastoralists who move into these areas, particularly into Central Nigeria for grazing. They don’t understand the culture and traditions of the people. So if you have damage, sometimes you cannot rule out these violent attacks. We have of recent come to understand that there are people who move into these areas and cause this kind of trouble particularly bandits and cattle rustlers.

Do you mean these people come from outside Nigerian territory?
Sometimes outside Nigeria and sometimes within Nigeria. Don’t rule out pastoralists whose herds had been decimated through violence or harsh environment. We have had documented incidences of pastoralists who are into jthis kind of trouble making because they want to rustle the cattle of their fellow brothers to sell for cash and sometimes other ethnic groups rustling for meat, cash or revenge...

We have heard the term “cattle rustling” being used a lot in relation to the crises. What is this cattle rustling? Who does it?
Cattle rustling simply like armed robbery. Someone coming to snatch your cattle at gun point or through some other means of violence.  There is a huge market for it and there is a huge syndicate. Recent investigations by our organizations had revealed that it is done by a syndicate that involves persons in both in North and Southern Nigeria. There are people who fund these criminal activities because Livestock can easily be transmitted to cash.  

Do you think these cattle rustling syndicates have links outside Nigeria?
Probably yes, but most rustled livestock end up in Nigerian Markets. The cattle we have in Nigeria are indigenous breeds. If a Fulani man sees cows from Niger, he will know it. If I see a cow from Chad, I will know it. If I see a cow from Burkina Faso, I will know it. Some of the non indigenous breed that you see cannot stand the rigors that some of our herds stand in terms of movements across the terrain and resistance to disease. For each environment there are set of cows for that area. Most of the cows that are being snatched are indigenous cows belonging to local breeders. Most of the people who snatch these cows are indigenous to Nigeria or non Nigerians who are very familiar with our terrain.  


Many people have called on the Fulani to settle, to have ranches instead of this nomadic way of life...
Let me tell you, I refer to the period between 1960 and 1966 as the golden era of Nigeria. That time it was as if our leaders had a vision that we are going to be what we are today, that one day farmers and herdsmen will go for each other’s throats in a very violent manner. That was why the defunct Northern Nigeria Government created 417 grazing areas dotted across the entire 19 states of the then Northern Nigeria. Of recent, Ogun and Oyo have also created grazing areas. Now by the time you furnish these grazing areas with the basic requirements, why will a pastoralist move? Why is he moving? He is moving in search of pasture. He is moving in search of water. He is moving to escape Livestock and Human diseases. He is moving to escape from conflict. By the time you provide an area that is secure and you provide amenities there, why won’t he settle? And these areas are there. One of these model grazing areas is the Kachia grazing area. The Kaduna State government created the Kachia Grazing Area and people have settled there. Apart from that the Kaduna State government created what you call the Farmers-Herdsmen Dispute Resolution Committees and these committees were given powers of magisterial powers. Ordinarily, if they were the Committees were created, empowered and functioning, most of the conflicts that you see would not have occurred. So if the grazing areas are resuscitated given functional facilities and secured facilities, pastoralists will definitely settle. The movements by Pastoralist have their own hazards especially the violent conflicts, livestock losses, livestock and human diseases. 

So you do not think there are any pastoralists who may have an attachment to nomadic life and may be reluctant to let go of that way of life?
It is difficult. There is transformation process and I believe most pastoralist will want to adopt. The nomadism is influenced by certain factors as earlier stated, if you address them, sedentrization will happen. Let us assume the pastoralist who is moving from Mai'adua in Katsina state on the borders with Niger, he will drive his cows to Lokoja, then towards the end of May when cropping is starting, he will move back. By the time you give him the facilities, you know he will stay. Investigations have revealed they want to settle. It is not as if it is a cultural attachment and the man wants to move. He is forced to move by necessity. 

What do you think the role of the State Government is in trying to end this conflict?
The state governments under the Nigerian constitution own the land. It is not the federal government that owns land. The Land Use Act vests land in the state governors. And even before the Land Use Act, the lands that were reserved for grazing were there. Why can’t the state governors develop one or two or three of these areas? There are model grazing areas that had worked. If you go to some of these model grazing areas you will find vet clinics, you will find hospitals, you will find schools, you will find normal human life and they are contented. Why can they model it after these areas? We would want to know what is their budget for agriculture and what percentage of it is allocated Livestock and Livestock Producers because we depend on livestock is vital part of our economy. It is not by coming to Abuja to say we are the Chief Security Officers of our states and we want guns. What we are saying is there are development challenges in your states that you can use your resources to address. You cannot transform livestock breeding to importing bulls and heifers from Brazil or Denmark or Netherlands that are not suitable for our environment or that can only be kept very rich or exotic breeders, if properly harnessed our Local breeds can give us all we need in terms of meat and dairy products. 

 
There is a crisis brewing in Benue between herdsmen and farmers. What in your opinion is the problem in Benue?
It is multifaceted. Some of them are saying it is Fulani herdsmen, some of them are saying it is soldiers, some of them are saying it is bandits. One cannot really isolate what is happening in Benue as strictly as Herdsmen/Farmers clashes.  But from our experiences working in Benue state, we have called on the state government to address the pastoralist issues. If you have address the issues that breed conflicts between Herders and Farmers, then you will have isolated [from] these generalizations that we have. You can now say, now you wanted an area for to graze your cows, you wanted water, you wanted vet clinics, you wanted education, we have reserved this area for you, please go and do you occupation. Pastoralists are not asking for title but on access and reservation to avoid conflicts and violence. But if you look at the history of Benue and that Taraba axis you will see the inter-communal conflicts that are there and the alliances that had formed around inter-communal conflicts with shifting alliances along the fault-lines as the situation requires….this has been the case since 2001. Let me tell you why it happens like that. It because sometimes your enemy’s enemy is your friend and since the alliances are around the land question, it depends on who the “enemy” is, at a given point.  So it is inter-communal strife that is peculiar to those areas. 

Some people from Benue have asserted in the media that Fulani people want to grab land and hold onto it in Benue… 
No Fulani Herder wants to grab land. The Fulani man is interested in pasture. The Fulani man is interested in grazing his cows. If you go to these areas, you will see the Herders don’t care much about owning land, who doesn’t even know what government Certificate of Occupancy is. The man does not even have electricity, he does not have pipe borne water, he does not even have a clinic that if his child is sick he can take to and conventional schools for his children. Now you are talking about this person wanting to grab land for political purposes. It is absolutely absurd. What is the man looking for? We have isolated the issues that the ordinary Fulani who is having cows wants. He is not educated like me who will want a certificate of occupancy over a piece of land. Or he will not be a rancher who will want to apply to the state government to give him a certificate of occupancy over 3,000 hectares of land. In fact if there are people who are grabbing land, it is the elites who are grabbing land and they are causing pressure on poor Farmers and Herders. By the time the state governor allocates land, big elites will drop barbed wires, pole wires then fencing huge chunks of land and that is pressure on the small holders and it is one of the things that cause conflicts between Herders and Farmers.  



The colonial government had protected grazing areas especially in Northern Nigeria. What happened to these grazing areas?
Subsequent governments did not to develop them. Subsequent governments neglected them. Also because we [subsequently] had oil, all the focus shifted to Federal Allocations either in Lagos (then) or Abuja now.  At that time the basic lifeline of our economy was agriculture. So the colonial government and the first generation of our leaders were interested in developing agriculture. After the civil war, there was so much oil and everybody could go to Lagos or Abuja and get billions of naira, the interest in developing agriculture especially livestock diminished. We are begging our leaders please use these Federal Allocations to develop agriculture, use it to develop livestock breeding.  Instead of buying private jets, instead of buying exotic mansions in Dubai and Abuja, please could you spare some of it to address the issue of conflict between farmers and herdsmen. Because these are people who ordinarily should be brothers but because of development and economic pressures they are now fighting. I have always argued that the rural farmer and the rural herdsman are first cousins and they should come together to challenge our the elites who are grabbing land, put pressure on our leaders to develop agriculture which of course includes livestock breeding, help farmers and breeders instead of fanning the embers of discord and putting more fuel to the on the conflicts. 

Recently, almost a hundred villagers were murdered in Katsina by alleged Fulani herdsmen. What do you think happened there?
The Katsina state government referred to it as cattle rustlers and bandits and that is what it is. Because no genuine person who has an occupation, who has a means of living will go out and kill women, kill children and kill the elderly for no reason, it doesn’t happen. You have bandits everywhere. You can have Fulani bandits, you can have Hausa bandits you can have any kind of bandit. Criminal activity does not know of tribe. But by the time you begin to isolate crime and attach it to a particular ethnic group, it means you are profiling that ethnic group and opening them to the danger of being tagged violent and you are making any person of that ethnic stock a potential criminal and that is the problem that we face. Even the criminal justice system fails to address this issue. Fulani herdsmen now being randomly detained by the army and police for long periods without being charged to court. After long periods of detentions they are released after the authorities said they found out that they were innocent people. This kind of thing breeds resentment to authorities. 


Links have been drawn between the proliferation of light arms around the Sahel and the Fulani, alleging that herdsmen have been arming themselves and so pose a threat within Nigeria. What is your response to this?
The era when you used to have a stick to herd your cows and a small cutlass to cut leaves or trees for forage by your cows is begging to pass. Now there are armed bandits who are roaming around with AK-47’s and machine guns. If you want to protect your herd, what will you do? Will you still carry your stick and follow the man? If you provide security, nobody will resort to arming himself. Nobody!

There are also quite serious security concerns in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna State around issues of cattle rustling and armed robbery. What really is going on in Birnin Gwari?
Parts of Birnin Gwari area had become like a criminal den. In an interview granted by the Emir of Birnin Gwari to Weekly Trust, he mentioned it: there are areas that no law enforcement officer dares venture into, in the forest around Birnin Gwari. The criminal gangs there have entire enclaves, they have generators, satellite dishes… they operate there and nobody dares go there. That is what the Emir of Birnin Gwari said. And he said in that area both famers and pastoralists are suffering. In an interview, I asked the Miyetti Allah Chairman of Birnin Gwari Local Government he told me before there used to be about 10 trailer loads of cows that will leave Birnin Gwari market every week. Now they cannot get even a single trailer load. Almost all the entire herds around that area have been stolen. In fact that belt – the belt from Birnin Gwari, through Funtua, Faskari, parts of Zamfara going to Anchau -  that is like a no man’s land, for cattle rustlers and cattle bandits. Every cow there has been stolen including cows belonging to generals and top civil servants, talk less of small herdsmen whose names you don’t hear. 

In Kaduna, there have been several attacks and massacres by what again was referred to in the media as attacks by Fulani herdsmen. Only a few days ago, 100 people were killed in the southern part of the state…
That crisis is unfortunate. I have personally interviewed an officer in charge of that area about what is happening, and he told me there is so much arms and ammunition in that area. 

Which area are you referring to specifically?
I am referring to the area around Kaura, Riyom, Ganawuri, those hilly areas in southern Kaduna and central plateau state. There are so much arms and ammunition and so many bandits in the area, again, you don’t know who it is. 

How does the average farmer or observer separate between these bandits and the regular herdsmen?
Thank you very much. Fulani’s have clans that graze their herds. Identify the clans around your area. Everybody knows them, the traditional community leaders knows them. If you are having visitors, know where they are coming from, when are they going and when they are coming next. It is because, after 1976, traditional rulers or community leaders have been isolated or neglected in the justice system and government administration.  Identify who are the clans around this area. Identify the clans moving in to your area. Conduct livestock census. Have a mapping strategy. You know the breed of cows coming into your area. Create an early warning system like ‘If you are coming please could you send and emissary’ as it used to happen. That is what happened when I was growing up as a child. If my father wanted to send his cow to the valleys on the Mambilla Plateau for grazing, before hand he would call the community elders, they would come up and meet him. They would sit down and agree, ‘when are you harvesting your crops, when am I going to send my cows’. That time money was not important. Cows were important. They would say perhaps, we are having a festival, and you will give us two cows. He would move his cows, they would graze peacefully and come up. We have never encountered [conflict].
Of recent, all these things have fallen apart because of certain factors that some of the state governments that are in the areas that are prone to this crisis have refused to address. States in the far north should address the issues of desertification, the issue of movement of herds; let us have a mapping strategy- herds that are moving southward, Katsina can tell Kaduna, so and so herds are coming in. Sokoto can tell Kebbi. Kebbi can tell Niger. Bauchi can tell Plateau. It has happened and is happening. Earmark the stock routes. The stock routes have been earmarked by the National Livestock Project Division (NLPD) under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. They have the maps and the survey plans.  They have earmarked the stock routes.  The stock routes are there. Ask the community leaders to emphasize on the need to allow free passage to a grazing areas area. By the time you do this you are addressing the issues. But by the time you block cattle paths, you don’t expect to cows fly over the blocked routes. If you block access to water you don’t expect the cows to fly and jump into the stream drink water and then fly back.
The ECOWAS had earmarked transhumant corridors in West Africa. They have what is called the International Veterinary Certificate to ensure vaccination, disease monitoring and control.  These are the earmarked routes that herders are supposed to follow. Every country has a responsibility to ensure that their herds follow those routes. The problem you have is within the host countries; particularly Nigeria which is a signatory to the ECOWAS Transhumant Protocol that allows for movement of herds from ECOWAS countries into Nigeria is that routes fizzle out once you are within the country. They are blocked by farming activities, development of population centers and other activities like road construction and others.  Whereas ECOWAS has demarcated corridors that these cattle will come in through, once they come into Nigeria they fizzle out. Why utilize the NLPD maps to trace these corridors and open them up? Nigeria has the capacity to do it, why can we do it?  Look at the human and material loss we suffer due to this neglect. 

How many functional grazing grounds are there now in Nigeria?
I am not sure but they are not more than 15. But the created areas, both gazetted and ungazetted those are there in our laws, they are 417. Not [counting] the ones created by Ogun and Oyo. Oyo is a model. What Oyo did is, they created grazing areas, and then created access to market, linked herders to a Milk Producing Company, the Milk Producing Company will come and buy raw milk from pastoralist women and give them money, thereby eliminating middle men. The pastoralists fatten their cows in security and can go and sell to the market and it has worked. In Kaduna too the NLDP had developed a cooperative association that buy milk and empower Pastoralist women.  if it is working in Oyo and Kaduna, and even parts of Abuja at Paikonkore, why can’t Katsina do the same? Why can’t Zamfara do the same and the other states not mentioned?  Why? In Oyo and parts of Kaduna we have seen the economic potential of sedentarisation- settling pastoralists in an area and then creating access to markets. Then we also need greater involvement of Stake Holders in the sector in developing the Grazing Areas. We need active involvement of the National Commission for Nomadic Education, The National Livestock Development Project (NLDP) of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, The National Veterinary Research Institute Vom, the National Animal Production Research Institute, ABU Zaria, the State Governments, the Local Governments, Traditional and Community Leaders, the ECOWAS Commission, Development Partners and all other actors. 

What of the challenges of the farmers who have been affected by this crisis? What would you say to farmers who have lost family and livelihood?
It is very very unfortunate. Like I have always said, between pastoralists and farmers, we are cousins. We ought not to fight each other. We have a common challenge. What is the common challenge? It is governments neglecting poor farmers and herders who are the live line of our food security. If you look at the budget for agriculture, it has been diminishing. Why can’t we use the budget to address the issue to political insecurity, human insecurity, food insecurity, so that rather than being a food importer nation we can be a food exporter nation. I was in Dakar Senegal where we had a meeting of West African farmers. Ironically no Nigerian farmer was there. The argument there, I was surprised that the farmers from Cote D’Ivoire complained that Morocco comes to Cote D’Ivoire buy their bananas takes it back to Rabat and rebrand it as Moroccan bananas and exports it to Europe.  So they want to have access to the European market. These are the kind of things that both farmers and pastoralists should come together to discuss not about fighting, and then the old issue of cow dung manure and fertilization process. I have seen it work. I have seen it in Niger. In the national farm in Azawak region, I saw people coming from Cote D’Ivoire to buy cow dung because there are people in Europe who prefer cocoa fertilized with organic manure than chemical manure and it attracts higher prizes. So they go as far as Niger to buy cow dung to fertilize their farms, why can’t we have such collaborative effort in Nigeria? Talking about crop residue, by the time you harvest, instead of burning the farm residue and then damaging the ecosystem, you can call the pastoralist as we used to have, to come and clear the area, feed on the residue, for a fee. My father used to pay a fee. Why are we quarreling?
Let’s address the issue of neglect of agric by government. People are now talking of value chains and no one is talking about the producer. You are talking about e-wallet. You are asking a poor famer who cannot read and write to send text messages. These are kind of issues farmers and pastoralists should come together to address. What is the political space government is giving to both farmers and pastoralists. If you look at the National Conference taking place there is no representative from the farmer organizations and no representative from the pastoralist organizations. With due respect to my brothers in Civil Society Organizations they have taken 24 slots and they didn’t deem it necessary to give the farmers one seat and the pastoralists one seat. And the Civil Society Organizations are at the front in advocating for good governance and peaceful society. But because farmers and herders are out there in the bush, even their voice, the CSOs tend to forget them. Who is there to represent that sector? None. This is the political marginalization we are talking about.

Is it possible to get cooperation from the Fulani herdsmen as a group to fish out the bandits within their ranks? How would you respond to allegations that the Fulani herdsmen shield fleeing [Fulani] attackers?
(Laughs) It is an African thing. Nobody wants to be seen to be reporting his brother. But it is still unfortunate. The best way forward, is building consultative frameworks between farmers and pastoralists, between ethnic groups that primarily into farming and ethnic groups that are primarily into livestock breeding. I think Federal Government is building such consultative framework. The Federal Government is thinking of a consultative framework that will involve the community leaders, opinion leaders at the community level. What we want is for the state governors to do it. It is not enough to go to the front pages of newspapers to say that they have ordered the police to fish out the bandits. No. Build consultative frameworks. Have a “zaure”, a town hall, meeting where both farmers and pastoralists will sit down and address their common challenges. ECOWAS has now put in that kind of platform where farmers and pastoralists will sit down. In one of the meetings which we attended in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso one of the herdsmen, when asked what the problem of the herdsman was, said “the problem of the herdsman is the farmer”. But by the time we left that meeting, he began to realize that the farmer is not a problem to a pastoralist, rather a farmer is more of an asset to a pastoralist. We want to see this kind of consultative frameworks. By the time we have this, then we can begin to isolate people who exploit these crises for religious purposes, people who exploit these crises for political purposes, people who exploit this crisis to benefit from the havoc that is taking place.

In the short term, what do you think would put a stop to conflicts between farmers and herdsmen?
As a short term measure we need to encourage these consultative frameworks that the federal government is putting in place. The state governors and local governments need to replicate this. It is not only dumping the problem on Abuja. If the governors insist on fiscal federalism they need to build these consultative frameworks. It has worked in several areas. It has worked in Sardauna Local Government of Taraba State. Even in Kaduna we have tried to put together these frameworks and now it is working, isolating what is happening in Kaura, it is working. Governments need to address the development challenges affecting both farmers and pastoralist and harness the economic potentials of our nation. Farmers and Pastoralist should also know that we are our brothers’ keepers; we need each other to survive.  


Sunday, March 16, 2014

PROTESTS IN A TIME OF LOVE





You will go off Facebook. Not for yourself. You quite enjoy the addiction. Nothing like a good rant and letting a long list of friends contemplate the whodunit, making both stupid and hilarious guesses. Then that presumptuous fellow who takes himself too seriously even in his Photoshop enhanced photo, who thinks he knows you and goes ahead to appoint himself your life coach, writing more paragraphs than you care to read. You laugh. Boredom might make you reply but then Sadiya, your most ardent Facebook supporter never misses an opportunity to write in all caps at someone on your behalf.
You will go off Facebook for Domkat. Kill the weeds so that the flowers may grow. You have never liked him pasting long love poems on your wall anyway. Lately, he has become too radical about politics. He has even, on your Facebook wall for everyone to see, attacked your views about the fuel subsidy in a way that was too uncomfortable to reply to. It might have been easy to just remove him from your friends list but that would cause a big fight. The first time you tried that, was when he was campaigning for Goodluck Jonathan in the Presidential elections and you wrote on your wall that you were not sure you were going to vote because you didn’t know which of them was sincere. He attacked you and said that it was people like you who sat on the fence and watched while bad people got into office. He said that it was selfish not to vote. In short, you were evil for not wanting to vote.  But you felt all the things he didn’t say- he blamed you for the circumstances of your birth, for being the daughter of a former legislator, a politician, for living well. You removed him as friend and in less than an hour he had driven to your office to make a scene, to ask you if you were trying to break up with him.
People feel like you have killed them in real life when you delete them on Facebook, you can’t understand why. He will not understand if you tell him, it’s just Facebook and has nothing to do with your relationship. So, you will make the sacrifice, just tell him you got tired of the whole damn thing and went off Facebook. Too much drama.
He has always been your boyfriend. He has been around so long, he has become like wearing a bra- you can’t imagine life any other way. You both smell alike; wear the same unisex perfume- fruity without being feminine, strong, but not masculine. His old t-shirts fit nicely when you sleep; your clothes in his wardrobe are more than his as his books on your shelves are more than yours. You don’t sneak anymore to sleep over at his place; you don’t lie about it when your mother calls.
The windows of his mother’s house in Kafanchan are unusual, two meters by one meter. You know because you have changed her curtains, gone there yourself to fix it. You couldn’t say that her faded beige curtains looked hideous and made the rooms dark and feel stuffy, so you got her your best satin curtains- something to match her deep blue rug- aquamarine, with deep blue daffodils. His mother and your mother are about the same size- you buy them identical gifts at Easter and Christmas- always some fabric you find in Dubai or Malaysia. You have always wanted them to become friends but you realise after many years of trying, it may never happen. The best they can be is civil to one another. They try. They say hello when they meet at weddings or other public events. It is you who drags his mother out. She would much rather attend to her chickens and catfish in Kafanchan than come to Kaduna or Abuja to attend some event. You can’t trust Domkat to show up with his mother. You can’t trust him to show up period. He hates weddings. You wonder how he will sit through his own. ‘I’ll have to cuff you to the chair,’ you often joke.
Domkat is a comfortable habit. He comes to you naturally. You have learnt him. You know that his tea in the morning must have no sugar; salads must have both mayonnaise and salad cream- they are not substitutes like Pepsi or Coke, it is not either-or. He doesn’t eat chicken. He says he doesn’t like it, but his mother told you why. Lee, his pet chicken which he named after Bruce Lee (because the chicken liked fighting other chickens) was his obsession when he was 12. There were many other chickens in the house and his cousin Sam who had come to live with them was asked to kill a chicken for supper. Domkat had finished his rice and chicken when he realised Lee was missing. He cried, didn’t speak to his cousin for more than a month and swore he would never eat chicken again.
You are not waiting for Domkat to go on one knee and propose. The relationship has gone beyond that. He has told you several times that if you get pregnant, you are moving in. He just needs to resign from his NGO job in Abuja and start the borehole drilling company he has always wanted to do in Kaduna.
‘You can have an office in Abuja as well but I want to live in Kaduna,’ you tell him. Abuja is too sterile for you. A city without a soul. Cold and false. It is what your friends and relatives want for you. There is a house for you in Abuja if you want it and all of daddy’s friends will find it easier to buy your interior items from Dubai and London. Your dad thinks you have the heart of a man but your mum thinks you are just stubborn, head-strong. She thinks you are wasting your time with this Domkat who has been your boyfriend since you had breasts. You don’t tell her that in June he will come and ask formally for your hand in marriage because you want it to be a surprise.
You are returning from Kafanchan with Domkat. It is January 1st and you would not have travelled if you did not have to attend the dinner party at your parent’s house. His phone rings. He shouldn’t be taking a phone call while driving, you whisper gently to him. He takes it anyway. He will apologise later.
‘Fuck!’ he screams and drops the phone in his lap.
‘What’s the swearing for?’ You ask, irritated.
‘The bastard just did it! Can you imagine? They just announced the removal of the subsidy.’
‘Ah, Zums, is that why you are screaming?’
Zums is the pet name you reserve for tense moments like this. Zums is from Zuma, the Hausa word for Honey. It gets him every time, makes him calm down at least for a moment. You know what he is thinking. You think he regrets openly campaigning for this president against the other candidate who he thought was too old, too steeped in the past, too rigid for a modern Nigeria. He feels betrayed. Your father campaigned for this president too because that what he was supposed to do as a party man. That was the only way the contracts would keep coming.
He is breathing heavy and sighing. You cannot understand why he is so worried. He isn’t poor. He can afford to pay one hundred and forty one naira a liter. In fact, you think the removal of the subsidy is quite a good thing. You think it will encourage private investment and create jobs. It is better in the long run, but you dare not say it, because you want to enjoy dinner with your man tonight. No politics. No hating on the government.
A few kilometers outside Abuja, you stop to buy fuel and find that the price has indeed been adjusted. The fuel stations are selling their old stock for the new price announced only hours ago. You rub his arm to calm him down because you know he will lash out at the fuel attendant for adjusting the prices.
‘Let’s just buy it and get to Abuja,’ you tell him.
It is one hundred and fifty naira for a liter, more than what was announced. He makes a phone call to Bala his geologist friend, with whom he is starting his new company.
‘Wallahi, I just bought for one-fifty o. Overnight! This is crazy! They want to kill people in this country.’
‘Tell him I said hi,’ you whisper as veins pop out of his neck.
He complains some more before putting you on the phone. Of all his friends you like Bala the most. The one time you and Domkat had a bad fight and stopped talking for two weeks, it was Bala that called you both and reminded you how long you’d been together and forced Domkat to apologise even though really it was more your fault than his. Bala knew how to calm him down.
It is almost six o’clock when you reach his flat in Jabi. The dinner is for eight but you know daddy’s friends. They start coming at nine. You let him sleep because he knows how to take a quick nap and will wake you even though you too sleep off. It is a nice two bedroom flat on the second floor of a three storied building. Compared to your father’s towering mansion in Maitama, this place is small. But you would rather be here than anywhere else, because really after all his madness, Domkat is the only one who knows you and knows how to make you happy.
As you both lie down, he reaches for you. You push closer and he wraps his arms around you from behind, holds you like a pillow. His bulky arms are firm in the hold but not stifling. You feel warm. You feel safe. You wait for it- the light snoring that will soon begin because he is tired from driving many hours. His warm breath tickles the back of your neck. This is where you belong; this is the best thing you know, the only thing you know.
Sleep doesn’t come to you. Now that it is close, you are afraid of marriage. Your friends tell you it is different, no matter how long you have been together. ‘There is something about those vows that change a man,’ Safiya your cousin, swears. Safiya has come to your house twice with a swollen lip. Each time the initial story had been that she fell in the bathroom, but then she would break down and cry and say what she said or what text message she found from which girl that made her husband hit her. Domkat is too fixed in his ways to change, you think. He is not perfect, you know his flaws. You know he is a bad loser, so you don’t play ludo or race him in the pool- you always win and he always becomes grumpy. He swears when he is upset but always apologises later. He forgets to cover the toothpaste when he brushes his teeth, but that you have learnt to tolerate. He would never hit you; you know this from ten years of ups and downs. You have not caught him or even suspected that he was cheating on you. Sometimes you even worry that he doesn’t look at women at all. Even though you have told yourself it is impossible especially with how he holds you, you dread those Jerry Springer stories of straight husbands turning gay. This marriage will be for your parents and his mother. You are quite comfortable with things the way they are.
He hates these dinners but he is doing it for you. It is your job to prepare him, to remind him to avoid politics, because you know where your parents and most of the guests stand. As you fix his tie, which he is hopeless at doing, you tell him that if he wants you can leave at eleven after you give your mum her gifts. He tells you it’s okay, you can leave whenever you want to. He apologises like you know he would, for his outburst in the car, for swearing. He kisses you, deeply and messes up your lipstick. You don’t care. You close your eyes and breathe.
Uncle Haruna is the first person you meet in the house. It is too late to turn away from this old mischievous ex-Minister of Tourism. You are not sure whether he refuses to acknowledge Domkat or if he truly always forgets who Domkat is.
‘My favorite daughter,’ he calls you and hugs you tighter than you would like.
‘This is Domkat, Uncle,’ you say slowly, ‘my boyfriend.’
‘Aren’t you too old to be having a boyfriend?’
You want a stiff drink at this moment. You rub Domkat’s back with your thumb, wishing he would understand that your Uncle is just being silly.
‘Don’t worry sir, I am working on changing that very soon, with your permission of course.’
‘Ah, smart man,’ Uncle Haruna replies and shakes his hand.
Calmness returns to your heart. You want to take him away and kiss him breathless this minute. He smiles at you. He knows you are proud of him.
The dinner party lasts longer than you expect and you want to stay back to help your mum. Domkat kisses you goodnight in the car park away from the prying eyes of all the Big Men in the house. You know he has pulled off a feat so far and this is the right time to leave, especially now that the loud Special Adviser to the President is around.
You hear about the protests from daddy in the afternoon. He says you should be careful as you drive out. Your mother calls you just as you drive into Domkat’s compound to give you the happy news. Uncle Haruna just got appointed by the President to head a body set up to deal with the fuel subsidy issue.
‘Call your Uncle and congratulate him,’ she tells you.
It is not a suggestion. It is a demand. You dial Uncle Haruna and tell him how excited you are to hear of his appointment. It is a good thing. He deserves it. In turn he begins a long speech about all the palliative measures the government is putting in place to make the fuel price hike bearable. He tells you about the thousands of tricycles they are importing from India, about the committees that have been set up, about the contracts to be awarded. ‘You need to come and put in a bid for one of the contracts,’ he says. ‘Ok Uncle,’ you say wishing he would let you go off the phone.
Domkat is not home. His phone is switched off. Simi, the secretary in his office is at home, but is sure that no one is working today. Bala’s number has been busy for the past thirty minutes. You use your keys to open his flat. The half eaten food and television left on tells you he left in a hurry. The toothpaste is in the bathroom sink, left open, as usual. You send Bala a message, to call you as soon as he can. You clear out the mess he has made in the living room, the food, the dirty socks and t-shirt on the chair.
Bala sends you a message. He is at Police Headquarters where Domkat and a few other protesters are being held. What protesters? You know he was upset about the price hike but he didn’t tell you he was joining any protest. Pulling rank at the Police headquarters is easy for you- your father’s cousin is an Assistant Inspector General in the Crime division. But there will be questions you don’t want to answer, questions you have no answer to. Why was he protesting? Did he have a permit? Did you know he was going to be protesting? Does he realise your family is part of this government?
A senior figure in the opposition has posted bail for all the protesters. You do not like this small balding man because you think he is a hypocrite and only opposing the government because he is no longer there. He knows your entire family- he served as Minister when your father was in the National Assembly. It is impossible to avoid him and you curtsey to greet him like you curtsey to greet all older people. He asks how your father is and why you are here. Your friend is one of the protesters, you tell him.
‘Ah,’ he says and turns to talk to one of the Police Officers.
Domkat looks well but for his eyes that are the colour of the tomatoes you buy at Park ‘n’ Shop. He is smiling. He winks at you and stops to talk to the opposition man. There is bitterness in your mouth as you look at Domkat. You want to drag him out of this place by the ear and give him a good talking to.
No major decisions without discussing first- he knew the drill. He had better have a good explanation for this, you say to yourself as he takes a shower. The electric kettle hisses in the kitchen and you get up to make some Chamomile tea.
He collapses onto the chair with his towel on. He lays his head in your laps. At first you resist, but he turns over and looks at you and you melt like butter in a hot pan. There is penitence in his eyes. He is contrite. You smile a half smile and stroke the side of his head. There is no need for a long talk. He has acknowledged his sins.
‘Zums, don’t scare me like that again, please,’ you say.
He nods and closes his eyes.

In Kaduna, you are struggling with your workers who have not come to work since the strike was announced.
‘I thought there was strike ma,’ Beatrice says when you call.
‘Do you work for government? If you want to strike you had better go and look for another job o. If I don’t see you tomorrow, consider yourself sacked.’
You can’t believe the indiscipline. It is so hard to get honest workers these days, and when you find one like Beatrice, you excuse stunts like this. But the cleaner, that one has to go. You don’t like her cleaning, you don’t like the smell of the moin-moin she eats during break and you hate that she tries to keep your change when you send her for Phone cards.
At the end of February you will travel to Dubai. You are expanding into jewellery and high tech gadgets in March and you will need at least two more people in the store. Safiya has promised to bring you someone.
Even though you no longer follow Domkat on twitter, many of the people you follow are retweeting his tweets. All the tweets you read end with the hash tag ‘OccupyNigeria’. He writes, we will never back down and we demand a reversal to the status quo and we must say no to these capitalist dogs, pawns of the IMF. Now you are worried. You want to call and ask him who ‘we’ is. What will the ‘we’ do if nothing changes? This is something you have to do face to face. Sort this issue out once and for all. Ah, you should have had that long talk the first time. You won’t wait until the weekend to go to Abuja. You need to occupy his head before he thinks of occupying Nigeria.

This must be the wrong flat because nothing is as you left it one week ago and there are nearly a dozen men, most in the same yellow t-shirt, milling about like ants gathering food, no one even acknowledging you. None of their resolute faces looks familiar. Someone stops finally to ask if you are looking for someone. Written on the front of his too-small t-shirt is ‘Revert to 65 or kill us’. If he knew how badly you wanted to stick your car keys in his chest, puncture those man boobs protruding through the t-shirt, he wouldn’t stand in your way. You push him aside and head for Domkat’s bedroom. As you reach for the door knob, you see inside the second bedroom, three spindly girls, one with low cut hair and a nose ring, the other two with wild, ambitious weaves that have lost their lustre from washing and re-use. They are making placards, talking loudly, laughing. You notice your slippers- the turquoise ones you bought in Malaysia- on the dusty feet of the girl with the nose ring.  You wish leprosy on the girl, but it isn’t time to scream at anyone yet. Now you need to see Domkat. Your chest is heavy and your heart is no longer yours as it pounds against your ribcage.
You open the door and find them engrossed in debate- papers, phones, cameras and two iPads on the bed- him and four others. They are discussing what routes are blocked and what new routes they must use. ‘We need a new Freedom Square,’ Domkat says. In a pile on the ground by the bed, are the same type of cheap yellow t-shirts that they are all wearing, face masks, fez caps and banners.
Two minutes pass before he realises you are there. You glower at him as he excuses himself. You look into his eyes for expression, for shock, for remorse, for guilt. Something. Anything. Nothing. His eyes are blank and all you can see is someone sleep-deprived.
‘Hey,’ he says, ‘sorry the place is upside down.’
You take him by the hand and drag him outside.
‘What is going on here? Who are all these people?’
‘Emm, just some logistic support for the protests.’
‘Do you have to do this?’
‘Babe, what else can I do?’
‘Does it even matter what I think? Do I matter at all here?’
‘My dear, posterity will not forgive us if...’
‘Fuck posterity! I am your fucking posterity!’
He should know that things have gotten out of hand. He should know because you never swear. Your lips are pursed as the tears flow. You look into his eyes for something. He looks away. He takes your hand mechanically.
‘Babe, please understand why I am doing this.’
You wish you could understand. You really do. But you cannot agree with him that protests and banners and arrests are the way to go. With your degree in Economics, you are convinced that deregulation is good for the economy in the long term. How else will private investors ever build refineries if the government puts a cap on the price of fuel? Yes it is bad timing, but it had to be done someday.
You take your hand back, and wipe your tears.
‘I will not come to the Police Station if they arrest you again.’
You do not add that, you think he is not doing this selflessly, for the good of the country; that it is about his ego, that it is selfish and impulsive, that the President is ready, according to Uncle Haruna to have long strikes and a nationwide state of emergency if it comes down to it.

Daddy doesn’t like you driving every week from Kaduna to Abuja and back. He thinks you should get a driver or let him get one for you- he doesn’t mind paying. You agree but insist you need to head back to Kaduna today.
The big bottle of unlabelled wine is the first thing you see when you open the fridge. You can’t remember why it is in the fridge and not the wine bar. Daddy’s friend, the fair one whose name you always forget, brought you the wine from his brother’s vineyard in South Africa. You would have given it away because you have so much, but the clear square bottle is beautiful and reminds you of the chandeliers you saw at a mall in Dubai.
The wine is sweet and full bodied. It makes you tipsy, a nice kind of tipsy, without the headaches that red wine usually gives you. You channel-surf until you fall asleep.

Bala’s call wakes you. It is three o'clock in the morning. He has been calling since yesterday. Since they couldn’t find Domkat in the safe zone after police had tear-gassed the protest and shot into the crowd with rubber bullets. Since the protesters ran over each other in blind confusion. Since they found his body outside the square where the protest began. Since the doctor stopped trying to make him breathe.
It is hard for you to breathe. You drop the call and drink straight from the bottle. The wine is bitter in your mouth. You need to hate him now for doing this to you. You double over and fold your arms over your stomach which is in knots, and scream.