Of Policy and Prejudice

THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE,   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE, kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com  


“We will not escape from thinking about ourselves and our society in identity terms…
Identity can be used to divide, but it can also be used to integrate
– Francis Fukuyama in his 2018 book, Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition

It is a measure of the degeneration in the public sphere that what should ordinarily be a robust policy debate has been turned into peddling of prejudice and confusion. Instead of a national conversation aimed at solving a real socio-economic problem, what is on display is sheer ethnic profiling and demonisation of an ethnic group. In the process a political crisis is brewing and this may further compound the social problems of insecurity and economic issues of development.

The first blame should go to the federal government for poor policy articulation and dangerous political insensitivity. Three years ago, the problem was the inexcusable tardiness of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in offering a policy response to the problem. Now that a policy is being put together at last, the package suffers from severe disarticulation.

Come to think of it, amidst the heat generated by the policy in the last one week, two different responses have emanated from Aso Rock. One statement admits that indeed the establishment of Ruga Settlements is part of the policy. It puts the matter, inter-alia, like this:” The Federal Government is planning this in order to curb open grazing of animals that continue to pose security threats to farmers and herders.

” The overall benefit to the nation includes a drastic reduction in conflicts between herders and farmers.
” A boost in animal protection complete with a value chain that will increase the quality and hygiene of livestock in terms of beef and milk production, increased quality of feeding and access to animal care and private sector participation in commercial pasture production by way of investments.”

If you ignore the unwarranted tirades against some state governments in this statement, it is significantly different from another one that disowns a letter “supposedly from the office of the Vice President” in respect of the Ruga settlements. According to the second statement, what is afoot really at the policy level is a “National Livestock Transformation Plan…” which “should not be confused” with the establishment of Ruga settlements. Meanwhile the idea of Ruga settlements has offended the socio-political sensibilities of not a few persons.

This seeming confusion issuing from the presidency should teach a lesson: political sociology and economic history should not be ignored in formulating and articulating a policy of this nature.
The other day, the use of the phrase, “cattle colonies,” in explaining what the government was planning drew the ire of the public. Today, the substance of the policy is submerged in headlines denouncing the “Fulani settlements” on other people’s lands.
Maybe the trouble could have been avoided if the plan had been simply communicated as ranching which interested states may voluntarily embrace as part of their agricultural policies.

After all, it is a simple economic logic that to produce enough beef for local consumption and even export, ranches need not be established in all local government areas of Nigeria. Countries that export animal protein to Nigeria do not have livestock production in every inch of their territories. With an efficient transport system, the beef produced in a Bauchi ranch could be consumed fresh in Lagos.

Agriculture is on the concurrent list. A national agricultural policy in a federation could only be successfully implemented in a political atmosphere in which the federal government enjoys the cooperation of the state governments. The livestock transformation plan is no exception to this golden rule of federalism. The situation is even made worse by the natural factor of ecological pressures on the Sahel region which make access to arable land and water more competitive for farmers.

Those who argue that governments have no business with ranching being a private business are missing the point. The role of the federal government and the interested state governments in ranching would not be different from the roles that governments have played in encouraging cassava or rice production.
What is more, the matter of ranching has been tabled before the National Economic Council. As lawyers would say, it is settled in law that even the federal government would need the permission of the governor to use land in any state. The governors in whom the lands in the respective states are vested are the majority in this important council. It was reported long time ago that about 12 states indicated interest in the establishment of ranches.

The Chairman of the Governor’s Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, said recently that subscription to the ranching plan is voluntary as it should be in a federation. A few days ago, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau state said Buhari is not imposing Ruga settlements on his or any other state. Although Bauchi State governor Senator Bala Mohammed is of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), his state is embracing the programmes contained in the policy. And who says that if Fayemi is interested in encouraging ranching as part of animal production programmes in Ekiti state, the ranch must be an exclusive Fulani settlement? There is no law or national policy that it should be so.

In this controversy that is generating more heat than light, the point is not made enough that ranching as a solution (and not a problem) has been successfully practised in other countries and that international organisations such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are prepared to give technical support in implementing the policy in Nigeria. Some foreign companies are gearing up for investment in the programmes.

In any case, the establishment of a ranch anywhere in Nigeria today would not be an unprecedented act. An old postage 5 Kobo stamp printed sometime in the 1970s has been circulating in the social media to remind persons on all sides of the debate that ranching has been part of the nation’s economic history. On the stamp is the picture of a herder and his cattle in a ranch. In a recent intervention to the debate, the public was reminded recently by the people’s lawyer Femi Falana that the government of the old western region established ranches in the Akoko area of the present Ondo State while the governments in east and northern regions had ranches in Obudu (Cross River) and Mokwa (Niger) respectively.

In 2014, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly approved the release of N100 billion to create mini ranches as part of the solution to the farmers-herdsmen clashes.
Yet, the nitty gritty of the present policy is lost in the bogey of Fulanisation (whatever that means!) and the bugbears of Islamisation.

The poor handling of the clashes between farmers and roaming Fulani herdsmen in various parts country by the government has not helped matters. The memories of the violence of recent years linger as ranching involving Fulani herdsmen is discussed. The reaction especially in the middle belt states to ranching to stop the roaming of Fulani herdsmen should be understood in this context.
However, prejudice is not helpful in discussing the workability of the policy.

Besides, there is the fact that some Fulani elements have been associated with kidnapping and murders in southern parts of the country. The Nigerian state has failed to put an end to the perpetration of these crimes just as it has neither stopped Boko Haram in the north east nor banditry in the northwest. Criminals should be legally dealt with on the basis of their crimes without religious or ethnic labels. No kidnapper shares the ransom extorted from victims with all the members of his ethnic group whether he is Yoruba of Fulani. The ethnic and religious identity is irrelevant for the purpose of justice.

So, a better policy articulation could possibly have engendered a debate towards problem solving.
Yes, you can make a rigorous critique of the federal government agricultural policy of ranching as the solution to the problems arising from the open grazing practised by nomadic herders. But this should be done without criminalising the Fulani ethnic group for the offences of some herdsmen roaming the bush with their cattle or even the kidnapping and murders committed by Fulani elements who have nothing to do with herding.
In absence of an informed debate, hate speech and scare-mongering have taken over the public sphere without minding the terrible consequences.

Instead of debating the socio-economic logic of a policy, religious and ethnic agitation is on the rise. It is a destructive path to take at the moment.

It is, therefore, time the voices of reason became strident.
For instance, Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi commendably rose to the occasion the other day by exposing a fake video of a machete-wielding mob purportedly driving some Fulani herdsmen and their cattle out of his state. He gave the correct context of what actually happened. That is leadership in a crisis situation. Imagine if there was a reciprocal action by some Fulani people in the north!

By the way, it is worth remarking that the productive debate vacuum is partly created by the fact that the some crucial voices are strangely silent. For instance, the positions of the political parties are not heard in the controversy. The plethora of presidential candidates who wanted to lead Nigeria in the last election ought to enrich the debates. After all, they campaigned on a national platform. They should be offering their perspectives on how such a controversial policy could be implemented with a focus on the national purpose. The political parties should be reminded that their jobs were not done with the conclusion of the elections regardless of the results. It is also part of their purpose to continue promoting the logic embodied in their canvassed manifestoes and programmes towards national development.

The tone and tenor of this controversy should worry Buhari especially in the light of the security problems in virtually every part of Nigeria. It may not be asking for too much to suggest to the president to make a direct clarificatory statement to the nation on this matter because of the danger it poses to national integration. The president lost the opportunities to address the question of national unity pointedly on May 29 and June 12.

This is another moment when silence may not be golden.
The controversy has poignantly put on the fore again the distortion of identity politics by the elite. There is a lot obfuscation of the issues at play. When some elements in the southwest, for instance, glibly proclaim Fulani herdsmen as personae non gratae on their lands, they should remember that the same constitution that vests the land on the state governor also guarantees freedom of movement and right of residence and work of Nigerians in any part of the country. The point to be squarely made is that the residents must live and pursue their businesses according the laws of the land. There cannot be a Fulani exception to this rule. Similarly, southerners who have made places in the north home where they pursue their legitimate businesses are protected by the same constitution.

Unfortunately, the government unwittingly set a terrible precedent when some misguided northern youths issued an provocative ultimatum that easterners should quit the north. Those who made such a dangerous statement ought to have been arrested and prosecuted.

The government is grossly mismanaging identity politics; this is exacerbated by the opposing segment of the elite who are yielding leadership to ethnic and religious champions. In the process, the perception of policies is manipulated as some members of the elite toy with the fault lines.

This trend is a sure recipe for anarchy. And there is class dimension to it. In the event of a war, the poor will surely bear the brunt. As Comrade Adams Oshiomhole used to warn as a labour leader, when the poor cross the border of a war-torn country they become refugees while the powerful and rich personalities crossing the same border become political asylum seekers.

The mismanagement of identity politics may not only frustrate a policy; the prejudice in the air could threaten national stability. As a result liberal democracy would be endangered.
As the liberal scholar, Professor Francis Fukuyama, quoted above put it in another context, the Nigerian elite should think more about how to play identity politics for national integration and not otherwise.
For that to happen the public sphere should be rid of hate speech and other toxic expressions of prejudice.