By Vincent Akanmode
Former head of state, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, began his military administration in 1985 by throwing the nation into a debate on the propriety or otherwise of Nigeria taking a loan dangled before it by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) otherwise known as World Bank. Majority of Nigerians who contributed to the debate were of the opinion that the nation should not take the loan because given the conditions on which the loan was premised, it was nothing but poisonous bait from which Nigeria may never recover.
In those days Babangida’s identity as ‘Maradona’ or ‘evil genius’ was yet to unfold and the philosophy of his government as one that would rotate on the pivot of chicanery was yet hidden from the public eye. So, Nigerians, in infantile innocence or ignorance, took the debate with all the seriousness they could muster, with a clear majority telling Babangida that the loan should be avoided like leprosy. Unknown to them, the administration had gone behind to take the loan, agreeing to such conditions as the introduction of structural adjustment programme (SAP), second-tier foreign exchange market (SFEM) and other arcane policies that heralded the crash of the high-value naira against other world’s major currencies.
The self-styled evil genius would later seek to justify his action by declaring that there was no alternative to the IMF loan. I recall that one of the strident voices against Babangida’s declaration then was Sam Aluko, the inimitable professor of Economics who responded that there was nothing in life without an alternative, includes life itself, whose alternative he said is death.
More than three and a half decades after the great IMF debate, it would seem that the nation is ripe for another one on account of the crisis that has been provoked by the activities of bandits and killer herdsmen, particularly the confrontations between them and farmers in different parts of the country, as well as the threat by cattle breeders during the week that they would stop supplying cattle to markets in the southern part of the country if herdsmen were further threatened with eviction in any part of the country they chose to graze their cattle.
Speaking at a press conference in Abuja on Monday, the National President of the Amalagamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN), Muhammad Tahir, said the association would have no choice but to withdraw its services if the Federal Government failed to address its grievances before Wednesday, February 24, 2021.
With the expiration of AUFCDN’s ultimatum, Nigerians in the southern part of the country face the grim prospect of being starved of beef, a delicacy that cattle dealers think is organically linked to the survival of southern Nigeria. Considering that the security crisis that has bedeviled the country in recent times is centred mostly on movement of cows, the natural question would be whether it is worth the while for Nigerians to continue their association with the animal or the consumption of its meat. Put differently, will southern Nigeria cease to exist in the absence of cows or cow meat?
Of course, I know what the late Aluko’s response would likely be as a Yoruba man if he were confronted with the poser, for a Yoruba adage says ‘a o ni tori pe afe je’ran ki a pe maalu ni boda (you don’t have to call a cow ‘Uncle’ because you want to eat meat)’. I also doubt if any Igbo man or woman would revere the beast as ‘Master’ because they want to eat beef. This is particularly so because they can count on many alternatives to cow meat, among which fish, chicken, snail, shrimps, pork and even bush meat are numbered; a fact that is probably lost on AUFCDN, the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria and other bodies related to cattle rearing, who are in the habit of threatening the nation with a strike action at the slightest provocation.
If beef is so indispensable to human survival as cattle dealers in the country would have us believe, there would be few lives left in India where Hindus, who make up nearly 80 per cent of the country’s population of 1.3 billion people, regard the cow as a sacred animal and its meat a taboo. And to come nearer home, there are vegetarians even in Nigeria who would not touch meat with a pole, much less consume it. Health experts are always reminding us of the dangers that inhere in the consumption of red meat of which beef is a major source. Red meat (beef, pork and lamb), they say, has more saturated (bad) fat than chicken, fish and vegetable proteins like beans, hence it raises blood cholesterol and worsens heart disease.
The foregoing are ample standpoints from which inferences can be drawn by protagonists and antagonists of cow meat once President Muhammadu Buhari gives the nod for a national debate.