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Bushmen and forest people

By Ako Amadi
December 16, 2009
Justify Full

The ultimate insult in Nigeria is to call someone a “bushman,” which is to infer that civilisation just slipped by while the poor, illiterate guy was busy picking his nose.

More recently, this cognomen has become universally applicable to people that others consider arrogant, uncouth and uncultured, despite immense wealth. All of this is not designed to cast aspersions on the dignity of a nomadic hunting people in southwestern Africa, who one supposes answer to “Bushmen” without recoiling at any implied prejudices.

Forests are something else.

The good news is that forest, native and indigenous people are courted by patronising, rich nations at international environmental conferences.

Everyone is enraptured and saddened when they speak of their sufferings at the hands of multinationals that have stolen their land and turned them into plantations and oil wells. Some, like the Masai of East Africa, have already appeared in traditional outfits, replete with loin cloth, intricate beads and hunting spears at the climate conference in Copenhagen, notwithstanding the cold blast of ambient temperatures.

References to exploited and vulnerable peoples are everywhere in the releases from the Danish capital, and, not surprisingly, some groups are happily parading themselves as “indigenous” to Nigeria in the hope of accessing funds targeting the most vulnerable and marginalised of mankind.


Firstly, it is hard to say if vulnerability and ethnicity could be identical in considering climate change impacts in Nigeria.

Let’s take some hypothetical examples. The Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Ijaw are vulnerable to sea level rise, desertification, erosion, and pollution from hydrocarbons respectively. But do these threats single them out for what they are, or are they occurrences within latitudes and ecological systems in which any Nigerians live, irrespective of the fact that tribe and tongue may differ?

Which Nigerian is not indigenous to Nigeria? Are we all Nigerians? Maybe not. Gradations of the term “Nigerian” exist. There are haves and have nots in this republic - millionaires and the vast majority of their compatriots who live on less than a dollar per day. But this country is not Australia or North and South America, where aborigines subsist around a separate traditional, but largely impoverished, life-style in designated reserves on the periphery of affluent societies, away from the dominating European settler populations.

Villagers are not dumb men and women in a village from the Boki. Local governments of Cross River State, for example, are forest people; but perhaps not so their brother who lives in Lagos or Texas. In which case, the latter should ideally not plead their case and collect international cash donations on their behalf without an assured mechanism to deliver to the poorest of the poor back home.

Villagers are not as dumb as city-dwellers think, and they should be empowered to speak for themselves no matter whether the venue is Copenhagen or Abuja.

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