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The politics of the poor man’s pain: Herdsmen, farmers and elite manipulation

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By Tabia Princewill

THE Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido, in a recent interview, stated that the killings were “on both sides”. Far from excusing them or from justifying reprisals by either party, he pointed out that inaccurate reporting of the crisis has created a false narrative of “one sided killings”.

The Emir stated he submitted to government a dossier composed of evidence of the gruesome killing of about 800 Fulanis in Taraba plus the names and addresses of persons known to have participated in these acts as well as “video and audio evidence of senior politicians in Taraba State who were involved”. Allegations of politicians instrumentalising poverty and funding violence are routine in Nigeria. The indigene versus settler conflict, or farmers versus herdsmen, is routed in the competition for scarce resources.


Desertification in the North has pushed herdsmen further south where they are in direct competition with farmers for land.  Efforts, for example, to rescue lake Chad have proven insufficient and much of the funds devoted to this project and others remain unaccounted for. What happened to the water basin authorities?

Where are the ecological funds budgeted for the North and Middle Belt? Corruption continues to be responsible for violent deaths. If we truly understood this, we wouldn’t be so lenient when it comes to judges whose cases were never fully determined, peacefully reintegrating into society as if they were never accused of helping corrupt, murderous individuals escape judgement.

“We are living in a country that has failed to protect the lives of people on all sides and bring culprits to book. Also, in the case of the Fulani there is a deliberate attempt to ethnicise criminality; and politicians, who are total failures, have found the anti-Fulani rhetoric to be the way to get popularity”.

I agree. We need to begin to tell ourselves some hard truths: the North versus South narrative is a political tool and nothing else. It divides us and enables politicians of all tribes to get away with murder and yet more injustice which they sponsor. In fact, some Pentecostal churches today contribute to the hatred between us. The Islamisation of Nigeria narrative (in this case by “land grabbing herdsmen” allegedly empowered by government) is a creation by some parties to encourage resentment of Buhari and his policies.  The combined might of a corrupt political establishment, across tribes and religions, opposes Buhari who unfortunately it seems, is yet to give himself the means to fight back. Ineffectual appointees who seemingly fight each other and betray him more than they appear to carry out “change”, the mismanagement of information by his media team and certain of his own personal traits (the “slowness” Nigerians complain about) have unfortunately given Nigeria’s enemies many tools to work with in addition to the perennial ethnic playbook.

Every day in Nigeria, injustice and violence wreck lives in far off communities. But the stories that make the headlines and the way the narrative is spun, depends (consciously or not on the part of some information managers) on the political agenda of the day.

The Benue flood victims don’t dominate the news because they don’t fit the North versus South narrative politicians and some of their stooges want to paint. We must all be very careful. We are being used as pawns in a game of elite interests which benefits neither the poor nor the middle classes of the North, the South or the Middle Belt. The way the anti-grazing laws are framed, discussed and publicised further deepens the settler versus indigene conflict, and the idea circulating whereby land will be taken away from some to distribute it to others further encourages resentment and the competition for scarce resources mind-set which makes us all enemies in a fight for survival.

The weakest link in governments across Nigeria is often information management. Many of those who get appointments as media aides are neither diplomatic or strategic thinkers: they simply don’t know how to convey government policy in a convincing manner.

Instead, they allow ethno-religious resentment and the memory of past injustice to filter through the cracks of their statements. Without properly explaining policies and including both communities in discussions and resolutions to conflict, one party (or both in this case) feels they are on the losing end, again, because of their religion, tribe, etc.

Failure of governance

The regulation and establishment of ranches is being poorly handled by state governments, leaving a lot to chance and, therefore, allowing some troublesome elements to use the gaps in the policy to their own advantage.

On one hand, the conversation surrounding the anti-grazing law is often filled with hate (in fact the language of the bill is itself problematic) and, therefore, is perceived as an attempt to destroy and vilify not just herdsmen but Fulanis in general.

On the other hand, discussions of the attempts to encourage investments in ranching or to create ranches in the first place, are seen as providing criminals with a free lunch.

The story behind the herdsmen issue is a decades old failure of governance, particularly at state level. As Sanusi put it, “what we see is the failure of political authority, the cynical manipulation of ethnic identity by failed governments and the impotence of our security machinery, instead of being dragged into a debate on whether the Fulani are trying to take over people’s land which is a daft argument. Let us try to bring some intelligence into this discussion on weak governance rather than emotions”.

Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of promoting ethno-religious hate rather than see that many state governments are grossly incompetent. We’ve made it all too easy for Nigeria’s enemies to win.


Nigerian students

A STUDENT group, Alliance of Nigerian Students Against Neo-liberal Attacks, ANSA, complained about the inclusion of Mike Ozekhome (SAN) as a contributor during the Gani Fawehinmi Memorial symposium organised by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.

Let us follow their reasoning by asking, what did Gani Fawhinmi stand for? Did he defend corrupt individuals or those accused of looting government and impoverishing Nigerians or did he stand on the side of the masses who suffer from such abuses?

The group in a statement said: “Mr. Ozekhome, a self acclaimed human rights lawyer, defended Ayodele Fayose, Olisa Metuh, Patience Jonathan and even Bukola Saraki whose National Assembly passed only N50 billion into the education sector and N51 billion into the health sector yet mobilised about N125 billion for 469 members of the house”. The statement says such “anti-poor politicians” and their interests are represented by Mr. Ozekhome and others.

Buhari’s attempt to beam a search light on the judiciary was completely misunderstood, many preferred to side with those accused of corruption. It was also mismanaged and truncated by inter agency rivalry.

But if students, ordinary Nigerians, continue to ask questions about what exactly justice is and whose interests the judiciary represents, then this country stands a chance.


Miyetti Allah

SOME people in Nigeria believe a special ministry should be created for them and eventually, groups bully government into doing so. The Niger Delta Development Comission, NDDC, has not lived up to its mission and purpose: its abandoned projects and missing funds are yet to be dealt with. Yet, some people from the North East are also agitating for a creation of a special ministry to rebuild the area.

Now, cattle herders too are advocating for a livestock ministry to solve their problems. All these cases are proof we don’t yet understand the role state governments should have played in local development and prosperity if not for corruption. No matter how many new government agencies or restructured political entities you create, without curbing corruption, poverty and dysfunction will remain the norm.

The “livestock ministry” should already exist somewhere as a department under the Ministry of agriculture. Where this all will end is anyone’s guess at this point.

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

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