Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
The federal government has reiterated its position that the clashes between herdsmen and farmers are not instigated by religious sentiments, noting that the international community has a very wrong idea about the true position of things in Nigeria.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who made the clarification yesterday when defending the sum of money dedicated to projecting government policies and programmes in the 2018, said his ministry has had the responsibility of correcting the erroneous impression that had denied the government loans from the international community.
Mohammed who was before the Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi-led Committee on Information and National Orientation, Ethics and Values, while justifying the ministry’s huge expenditure on foreign media PR lobby consultancy, said: “Until we went there, generalisation was that what was happening in Nigeria was religious.
‘’I always give them two examples to show that what happens in Nigeria has nothing to do with religion. I give them the example of Kebbi State. One-third of all the inmates in Kebbi prisons today are there as a result of farmer/herdsmen clashes, yet the farmers in Kebbi are Muslims and the herdsmen are Muslims.
“In the case of Zamfara State, where we have lost more lives than Taraba, Plateau and Benue States put together, to rustling and kidnapping, the rustlers are Muslims, the victims are Muslims. So, we needed to put this in perspective.
“What we are dealing is largely environmental. A country of 50 million people 50 years ago, today has a population of 200 million. In 1960 what was our population in Nigeria? 52 million. How many are we today? 180 million; yet, the country has not expanded, on the contrary, it has contracted because we have lost land to desertification.
“We have lost land to flooding and yet 200 million people are supposed to use the same resources of land and water as 50 million people did. We all go there, not just to correct the misinterpretation, but also to tell them the concrete steps the government is taking in this respect.”
He said in 2018 the ministry officials made two trips to the UK and two trips to the US, saying these two trips helped tremendously in actually helping the people in diaspora and foreign governments to understand the real dynamics of the herdsmen and farmers clashes.
He added that until they got there, the impression held by many of them was that thing was Christians/Muslims, North/South, adding that they had to book for interviews with CNN, BBC, Aljezeera, Reuters and AFP.
“I think it is an important part of governance so that; if you cannot mould their opinions, at least it can give them the opportunity of hearing our own side of the story.
“I am sure you have all noticed a lot of very erroneous editorials that have been carried by some highly respected pens like the New York Times, Boston Globe, which do not actually represent the true situation in Nigeria, so we go there, not just for government but to give the correct impression about what goes on in this government,” he explained.