The Horizon By Kayode Komolafe firstname.lastname@example.org 0805 500 1974
The most popular response from Nigeria to the shithole insult from the United States President Donald Trump is, perhaps, the one that goes like this: Trump’s statement hurts, but he is telling the truth about the African condition. For this group of critics, that is the moral of the unfortunate story. An attempt is being made to infuse some logic into an insane statement.
In dismissing the case for immigrants from Africa, Haiti, El Salvador and other places Trump reportedly asked: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Despite some attempts to deny the story, some American congressmen who were at the meeting have insisted they heard Trump say so. In any case, that Trump is an incurable racist and irredeemable bigot is hardly deniable. Besides, what is the moral fibre of Mr. Trump, who is now providing the clues for some commentators to criticise the African condition? Only eight months ago, in a rare pursuit of the public good 27 American psychiatrists and mental health experts questioned the mental state of their president. Their concerns have been put together in a book entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. In fact, a few days ago, one of these professionally courageous experts actually briefed the congress on the mental state of Mr. Trump. While Trump is still probably a philosopher-king in the Nigerian social media, decent Americans are embarrassed about the sort of statements their president has been making in the last one year. At the close of last year, the American ambassador in Panama, Mr. John Feeley, felt “honour-bound” to resign his appointment because he could no longer stand by Trump’s policies in the South America. That is the president whose ignorant statement is now inspiring a cohort of critics in this land strangely imbued with an orgy of self-flagellation.
An unrepentant racist president employed insults in articulating his government’s anti-immigrants policies. In response some commentators in Nigeria, the largest African country, are incredibly admitting that they actually live in shitholes all in the name of criticising poor governance and underdevelopment. That’s the real tragedy thrown up by Trump’s abuse, which many rational persons must have elected to ignore just as Trumpspeak. The hidden moral of the story could be found in this confounding response from Nigeria. There is absolutely nothing to rationalise in Trump’s insults. So the matter becomes doubly tragic when the targets of the insult now attempt to locate some logic in a purely vulgar statement.
The point at issue is an intangible one; it is actually the premium placed on the dignity of the human person and the right and duty of every human being to insist on the respect of that human attribute whether in poor or rich circumstance. The Trump-has-a- point line is riddled with a high dose of Afropessimism. It’s symptomatic of a moral collapse, manifesting in a loss of self-respect. A person should demand respect for his human dignity from another in any situation he finds himself. That is why the response from decent quarters of the world has been a condemnation of Trump without reservation. The United Nations Commission for Human Rights has spoken for the decent people on the planet in this respect. The African Union has also upheld the legacy of its forebears by demanding a “retraction and apology” from the White House. At the national level, the official and non-official responses have been varied and very instructive on the consciousness about human dignity. When you compare the official and unofficial responses from big Nigeria to the ones from small Botswana, this consciousness becomes more striking. The government of Botswana swiftly denounced Trump and asserted the dignity of its people. Nigeria officially took its time to respond. Only two days ago a response came in a statement from Abuja. The Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the United States of America in Abuja, Ambassador David Young, reportedly told Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama that “the derogatory remark allegedly made by the US President Donald Trump against Africans was neither here nor there owing to the different versions” of the reports of the meeting in which Trump made the statement. So the “veracity” of the statement should be doubted, according to Ambassador Young, who said America would continue “to hold the people of Nigeria in very high regard…” Well, diplomats at both sides of the game are entitled to their styles.
In the past, Nigeria’s style would be different. The contemporary Abuja diplomatic style could not, of course, be compared with that of 42 years ago when General Murtala Mohammed delivered the famous “Africa Has Come of Age” speech in a summit of Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in response to the moves by America to influence the Nigerian position on the decolonisation process in southern Africa. Mohammed called a letter from the United States President Gerald Ford at the eve of the OAU meeting a “gross insult.” Mohammed made the bold statement to the acclaim of other African leaders at the meeting. That was leadership acting with dignity of purpose.
To be sure, Nigerians and other Africans should criticise the African condition as combatively as they could until the problems are solved. It is legitimate to express anger about poverty, joblessness, ignorance and disease plaguing the landscape of Africa’s political economy. It is also a duty to do so. It is even more politically important to join in the efforts take democratic steps to transform the condition. Yes, the Nigerian reality is defined by poor power supply, bad roads and less than decent housing. Yet, nothing in the Nigerian condition makes it a shithole. In other words, all the negative indices of development that define the economy, society and polity could be deprecated in the sharpest tone without unwittingly drawing inspiration from Trump. Trump was not making any intelligent critique of the unacceptable underdevelopment of Africa; he was just exhibiting his bad manners by insulting peoples of African descent. He is making no sense at all. It is, therefore, an expression of loss of self-respect and hope for any Nigerian to rationalise a collective insult to Africa.
The story is another poignant reminder that long after the more tangible questions of development must have been answered the moral, cultural and intellectual decay might take a while to tackle. In a tenure of four years, a government with a sense of purpose and vision could build some highways, increase power supply, create millions of jobs and invest more in the social sector to raise the quality of education and healthcare delivery without limiting the access of the poor these good things of life. However, it may take more than tenure to change the orientation of a generation that cannot distinguish vulgar insults from reasoned arguments and informed criticisms. Unfortunately, this aspect of the underdevelopment story is not yet hitting the headlines.
Between Farmers and Herdsmen
By Femi Falana
Following the tragic killing of 73 people during the violent attack on Logo and Guma in Benue State January 1, 2018, Chief Paul Unongo, a former minister had accused former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of masterminding the crisis since he is a patron of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. Although Alhaji Abubakar promptly denied the allegation and threatened to institute a libel suit in court the governors of Nasarawa and Plateau states, Governors Tanko Al-Makura and Simon Lalong respectively, have publicly blamed their Benue state colleague, Governor Samuel Ortom for the tragic killing. As far as both governors are concerned, it was the enactment of the Open Grazing Prohibition Law of Benue state, which provoked the violent attack.
But the two chief executives did not explain the basis of the reckless killing of farmers in Benue state before the enactment of the law or the incessant killing of hundreds of farmers by herdsmen in other states of the federation. In fact, after the Benue incident, not less than 10 people have been killed by herdsmen in Kaduna state. Apart from the fact that Kaduna state has no anti grazing law Governor Nasir El-Rufai once announced that he had paid an undisclosed sum of money to the herdsmen to stop further killing of unarmed farmers in the state! Even Governor Ortom has not been left out of the blame game. In his presentation to the visiting Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Security the governor said that the authorities in Abuja should be held liable for the crisis for ignoring several warnings of the impending attack. However, upon realizing the futility of blaming the Benue state government over the tragic incident, Governor Lalong has displayed maturity by apologizing for his comments.
But in his reaction to the tragic incident in Benue State, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamed Sanusi and Patron of Miyeti Allah alleged that over 800 Fulani people were brutally killed by ethnic militias in Taraba state in one weekend last year. In denying the allegation the Taraba state government has said that in the violent clash, which occurred between the Fulani and Mambilla people in Sadauna last year “both sides suffered casualties and the figure of death from both sides put together was nothing close to genocide.” With respect, the revered Emir ought not to have waited for the killing of 73 people in Benue state before crying out over what he has described as “these acts of ethnic cleansing” by some influential people in Taraba state. We ought to have built a nation whereby the killing of every citizen is viewed as an assault on our collective humanity.
On that note, the Taraba state government and the Nigeria Police Force should ensure the prosecution of all persons indicted by the Justice Nuhu Adi commission of inquiry, which investigated the crisis and has since submitted its report to Governor Darius Ishiaku. However, in moments of ethno-religious crises, traditional rulers, political office holders and religious leaders and should desist from making inflammatory statements which are capable of aggravating violence in the society. It is high time the political elite stopped the practice of blaming the victims of injustice in the land. Since the federal government has a legal duty to protect the life and property of every citizen it has failed to put an end to the perennial violent conflicts between farmers and cattle herdsmen which have needlessly claimed many lives and destruction of properties worth several billions of Naira in many states of the federation.
The official negligence of the federal government cannot be justified because, as far back as May 2016, the authorities in Abuja had rightly decided to establish ranches in line with modern practice in civilized countries. The plan was announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chief Audu Ogbe at a public hearing organized by the Senate Committees on Agriculture, and National Security and Intelligence on May 3, 2016. On that occasion, the Minister of State, Agriculture, Honourable Heineken Lokpobiri, who represented Chief Audu Ogbe said that as a result of climate change resulting from global warming and desertification, herdsmen had no option than to migrate southwards to find pastures for their animals, which now faced starvation in the North. Mr. Lokpobiri pointed out that nomadic cattle rearing had become obsolete and this was why ranches were a necessity to provide adequate food to the cattle and forestall unnecessary clashes. He further said that with ranches, the livestock would be healthier, more productive, while the herdsmen would avoid unnecessary attacks and would also be able to give their children opportunity to be educated.
On May 30, 2016, Chief Audu Ogbe justified the decision to establish ranches across the country during the National Summit of Traditional Rulers in Nigeria. In his address at the summit the Minister said that the federal government had dropped the idea of acquiring grazing. He allayed the fears of governors who had thought that land in their states would be compulsory acquired when said “Either way, ranches will not be established on lands extracted from communities, people have to farm in the ranches. In some parts of the North, some governors have given as much as 5,000 hectares of land, some even 10,000 hectares. Our job is to bring the right kind of crops, do the right kind of water source and provide veterinary services because some of these cows have some disease issues. We cannot afford to allow cows and human beings mix the way they are doing now. The essence is to stop the crisis. Too many people have died, there is too much violence in the land, and we can’t go on like that. We can’t boast to the rest of the world that we thrive in killing each other. It is not right.”
Having decided to establish ranches the federal government announced that it was determined to disarm the herdsmen. The decision had been announced by the Agriculture Minister, Chief Ogbe in an extensive interview published in the May 4, 2016 edition of the Vanguard newspaper when he said “The army, the police should find them wherever they are now and take the guns from them as the first step. They carry AK47s on the necks, they tie them around the bellies of the cows, and they must be disarmed immediately. But since the federal government has neither established the ranches not disarmed the herdsmen the reign of terror has continued in Benue, Taraba and many other states. Instead of apologizing to the nation for such official negligence the federal government has turned round to compound the crisis by announcing the decision to drop ranches for cattle colonies. Since the volte-face is based on the objection of a few powerful cattle owners the federal government has been accused of insincerity in addressing the crisis.
But the federal government is merely playing on words, as there is no difference between ranches and cattle colonies. In fact, the arguments of Chief Ogbe for ranches and cattle colonies are the same. In defending the new policy, Chief Ogbe said that “The federal government is planning a programme called cattle colonies, not ranches but colonies, where at least 5000 hectares of land would be made available, adequate water and adequate pasture would be made available. We also want to stop cattle from roaming the streets, farms and other areas, as they will henceforth be provided with water and adequate security by the rangers, adequate pasture milk collection and even security against rustlers to enable them live normal life. This has been successfully done in India, Ethiopia and even Brazil.” What Chief Ogbe did not say is that cattle colonies are called ranches in India, Ethiopia and Brazil!
Since the establishment of ranches is in the national interest and in the interest of cattle owners and breeders the federal government should restrain Chief Ogbe from confusing the Nigerian people with his pet project of cattle colonies. Having concluded arrangements to establish ranches the federal government should go ahead and convince the members of the Miyetti Allah to embrace the concept. This should not be a difficult assignment since powerful cattle owners and the patrons of Miyetti Allah have endorsed the concept of ranches. For instance, in his passionate defence of the Meyati Allah, Emir Sanusi has blamed the crisis on “failure of political authority, the cynical manipulation of ethnic identity by failed governments and the impotence of our security machinery”. More importantly, the Emir did not hesitate to declare support for all efforts to attract investment into cattle rearing. According to him, “This is global best practice. Capital is put into development of ranches and grazing areas, herdsmen settle. Their cattle are healthier and fatter, they sell their milk products and beef, their children go to school and they are economically much better off. This is what we all want.”
The federal government should immediately enter into dialogue with the patrons and leaders of the Miyetti Allah to work out the logistics for establishing ranches in the states with large-scale livestock. It has to be made abundantly clear to the members of the Miyetti Allah that the freedom of movement of herdsmen and their cattle is circumscribed by the rights of farmers to life and property. Furthermore, that no one is authorized to bear weapons and that the killing of any unarmed person in any part of the country is punishable with death. However, not a few people have questioned the wisdom in involving the federal government in the establishment of ranches. But Chief Ogbe has stoutly defended the involvement of the federal government in the establishment of ranches when he said that, “We have spent money on cocoa, rice, groundnut, we have spent money on tomato and other fruits, palm oil, we are doing researches on these and nobody has really done much for the herdsmen and we have forgotten.”
However, until the Miyetti Allah recently announced that it had decided to launch reprisal attacks in Benue and other states wherever the Fulani people are attacked the federal government had given the impression that the armed herdsmen were nationals of Senegal, Mali, Niger and Libya. But whether the herdsmen are Nigerians or foreigners it is indisputable, as Professor Biodun Jeyifo has observed, that this is the first time in the history of Nigeria that any armed group has been allowed to possess arms and ammunition and attack law abiding citizens without any challenge from the neo-colonial State. Of course, the Buhari regime is right in saying that the herdsmen were not disarmed by previous regimes. But having crushed other armed groups in the country the Buhari administration cannot justify the decision to treat the armed herdsmen like sacred cows.
Therefore, it is high time the armed herdsmen were disarmed by the federal government. At the same time, the much-delayed ranches should be established while all feuding communities are reconciled. With ranches and abattoirs established in a few states, meat would be prepared in large scale and distributed throughout the country and possibly exported. That is what has been done in Botswana, which are the largest producer and exporter of meat in Africa. That southern African country of 2.2 million people with a cattle population of over 3 million has successfully stopped violent clashes between farmers and cattle herdsmen. Once ranches and abattoirs are established in Nigeria, all controversial anti grazing laws would become spent while Governor Ayo Fayose would not have any basis to risk the lives of the hunters in Ekiti state by mobilizing and equipping them with local guns to confront AK 47-bearing herdsmen!
*Mr. Falana is Senior Advocate of Nigeria