A friend who never misses Platform told me he was excited to learn I would be speaking this morning. I asked, ‘Why do you think Pastor Poju keeps inviting me?’ He replied: “I believe Pastor Poju enjoys those hilarious cow stories that you tell.” He reminded me that in 2019 I narrated the story of the lone cow on which a family depended that had to be pushed off the cliff to die before they could work for their prosperity. I remember the imaginary cow that had created a dependency syndrome and a culture of waste for the proverbial family. Following circumstances beyond their control, the death of that cow which they feared would be a stumbling block to their progress, eventually became their stepping stone to prosperity.

Two years earlier in 2017 on this same Platform, I illustrated my point with the story of an industrious one-legged cow that owed its continued existence to the ‘subversive generousity’ of an owner who was canibalising it alive based on the conclusion that “A cow like that, you don’t eat it all at once.” The unfortunate cow, as I also explained, had a great deal in common with Nigeria. Over the years we also have become victims of serial abuse, particularly by those to whom the nation has given so much.

The more my friend reminded me of the numerous cow stories I have shared on this stage, which perhaps endeared me to Pastor Poju, the more uncomfortable I became. If my relevance here is due to the cow stories I tell, then I would be of no use this morning. Many people must be aware that the most dangerous topic in Nigeria today is Cow. In fact, there are those who believe that the current agitations, and perhaps even the choice of topic for this very session, arose principally because of what Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has most appropriately dubbed our national descent into ‘Cattle Imperialism’. For those who followed last week debate in the Senate, a country where you cannot obtain reliable data on anything has taken it upon itself to create a database for cows!

Let me also say that the politics of cow is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is perhaps in India, especially under the current administration of Narendra Modi, that you understand the true meaning of that famous phrase: Sacred cow. In no fewer than 20 of the 29 states in the country, anyone found guilty of killing a cow can face imprisonment of up to 14 years. So protected are cows in India that the first thing the Utter Pradish Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, introduced upon assuming office in 2017 was a cow ambulance service. The Hindu Monk sees his mandate more in the service of cows than “the indigent population of over 210 million, many living in wretched conditions,” according to a report in the Irish Times. More interesting is that the easiest route to jail in the state is to be suspected of eating beef. Last October, the Allahabad High Court expressed concern that the Uttar Pradesh Cow Slaughter Act, 1955, is being misused to incarcerate innocent people with many languishing in jail. “Whenever any meat is recovered, it is normally shown as cow meat [beef] without getting it examined or analysed by the forensic laboratory,” the court held.

Interestingly, even the United States is not immune from the politics of ‘cow supremacy’. In an opinion piece in the Washington Post last year, Sergi Pecanha interrogated American democracy and the issue of representation, posing the question: ‘Are cows better represented in the Senate than people?’ His inquisition was informed by the fact that nine American states (Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Kansas) are inhabited by more cows than people. Collectively, these nine states have 34.5 million cows and 17 million people. With each state represented by two senators, it means that 17 million Americans from these nine states are being represented by 18 senators. Meanwhile, with 5.1 million cows, California has a population of 39.6 million people. It is of course represented by just two senators. According to Pecanha, this sort of constitutional arrangement makes no sense. “Unless, of course, Senate representation is secretly based on the number of cows, not on people.”

It would seem that wherever and whenever a cow enters the national conversation, the issues involved include inequality, injustice and disproportionality in the distribution of opportunities. In Nigeria today, cow has become both a symbol and metaphor for the mismanagement of our diversity and the disruptions and divisions it has wrought in our body politic. The Nigerian cow is also a victim of the intolerance that defines political interactions, the nepotism in critical appointments that most often breed incompetence in government at practically all levels and the bigotry that you see even among senior public officials.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, before I get ahead of myself, let me make it clear that I am not here today to talk about cow. I don’t want any wahala. But I believe that the background is necessary because where two or three Nigerians are gathered these days, the discussion is most probably about cow. And most often, what they are really interrogating is the political economy of a country that promises so much yet delivers so little. Well, since the ‘troublesome’ Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese who likes ‘shooting elephants’ is here, he may choose to speak on cows. I have decided to pick the title of my presentation from the Bible. Acts Chapter Two, verse 37, is a popular passage about what happened after Apostle Peter had preached a powerful sermon to thousands upon receiving the promised Holy Ghost: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

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