Looking At Farmers-Herdsmen Crisis Through The Eyes Of A Christian

By Isaac Asabor
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If there is any national issue at the moment that has kept everyone thinking, and looking for solution, it is unarguably that of the lingering farmers-herders crisis. Ostensibly heeding to Albert Einstein’s advice that says, “The problem is to know what the problem is”, it will not be considered to be an exaggeration in this context to say that the issue has being looked at from psychological, social, philosophical, constitutional or legal point of view, and even from economic point of view. Unfortunately, I doubt if the issue has thoroughly being looked at from religious perspective. If it has not being looked at from religious standpoint as it ought to, then, the reason cannot be farfetched as religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments.

However, as Christians, it is expedient to ask in this context if what farmers in the Southern part of Nigeria; who are majorly Christians, are passing through in the hands of herdsmen demands them to seek justice on the grounds of biblical laws. Again, is there a difference between biblical justice and social justice? Permit me to say that the foregoing question became compelling when seen from the perspective of the fact that in the face of contemporary legal provisions that it is extremely difficult for a farmer in the Christendom whose crops was eaten up by the Cattles of a herdsman to press for justice. He cannot even press for justice despite the scriptural injunction in Exodus chapter 22 verse 5 that says, “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed, and lets loose his animal, and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard”.

Be that as it may, the herdsmen, who equally have their own religion, and wants the laws that applies to their religion to be respected even when they don’t respect that of others as well have failed to realize that using force or fraud to exploit the vulnerable is evil. The fact that we all have the collective conscience that imbued us with the sense of right and wrong, a conviction that oppressors should be punished and the weak protected. This conscience, more often than not compel Christians to seek for justice within the context of their faith but the extant law does not recognize that Christians seek justice on the strength of scriptural laws.

It is expedient at this juncture to say that justice in its simplest form, means to set things right. Yet, how do we know what is right? Who defines “right”? Is it society-at-large or the culture we live in? Is there a moral law that we inherently know among ourselves that applies to others, our “fellow Nigerians” and we deliberately refused respect such moral law because we seem to delude ourselves that we have an “Oga-at-the-top”?

Against the foregoing, it is expedient to say that a biblical example on how the rights or the laws of others should be respected was demonstrated by Joseph in the Bible. The Bible has it that Joseph let Pharoah know that his family had arrived to present them to him. He took five of his brothers to meet Pharoah, and Pharoah asked them what they do. They said they were shepherds. In chapter 46, Joseph had already told his brothers that whenever Pharoah asks them what they do that they should say they are shepherds, because the Egyptians find shepherds to be an abomination. This way the Egyptians would leave them alone.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient to say that it is good for herdsmen to respect what other people religion expects from them. The reason for the foregoing view cannot be farfetched as it is a good cornerstone on which to build human relationships. When one views the slaughter and suffering caused by religious intolerance down all the history of man and into modern times, one can see that intolerance is a very non-survival activity. As Christians in the Southern part of the country, scriptural injunction in Exodus chapter 22 verse 5 demands that, “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed, and lets loose his animal, and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard”. Then, in the face of this law, which I believe most non-Christians, particularly the educated ones know about, the crops in the farmlands of the Southerners are daily eaten up by Cattles, and surprisingly, no one is talking.

It is even paradoxical that the sustained grazing of farmlands by Cattles that are been herded by each passing day has unarguably led to food insecurity in the Southern part of the country as farmers are afraid to go to their farms. Like strategy of war, they now threatened to cut off food supply to the South irrespective of the fact that the ones that are frustrating Southern farmers from engaging in subsistence farming as they were wont to. There is no denying the fact that the foregoing opinion is in all its ramifications valid as herdsmen attacks on farmers and farmlands, especially in the Northcentral states of Benue, Taraba, Kogi and entire South-South that harbours great and successful farmers makes one to smell a rat.

Be that as it may, it suffices in this context to say that in the Christendom that the Bible in 1 Kings 21:1-22 which is about the story of Naboth’s vineyard challenges the concept of justice in the lingering imbroglio between farmers in the Southern part of Nigeria and herders from the Northern part who have the predilection of trespassing into the lands that do not belong to them. It introduces God’s justice for the affirmation of life, a measure beyond the economic logic of King Ahab in the name of efficiency and productivity. The scripture can also guide us in dealing with current issues of injustice in the country and in discerning how to live out God’s justice to safeguard life.

To express the biblical narrative in this context, it is expedient to say that King Ahab of Samaria forcefully took Ahab’s Vineyard from him without recourse to justice. Ahab authoritatively demanded from him thus: “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money”. But Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance. Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city.

Her action led to Naboth being stoned to dead. As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

That Ahab and Jezebel consequently paid the price of their collective sins is a story for another day, particularly to those who are not in the Christendom. And it suffices to say that it was a bitter lesson.

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