Presenter Kadaria Ahmed struggled to moderate a discussion on the Fulani herdsmen pandemic last night on Channels TV’s “The Core”. The programme started on the wrong footing with its title: “Crises between farmers and herdsmen”.
There has been a deliberate attempt from official sources in Nigeria to label the crises in terms of “clashes” between both parties as if they are both equally liable. But the issue is clearly one in which one side is the obvious aggressor and in which the solution clearly lies in putting an end to the invasion of farms by roaming herdsmen and their cattle. If the herdsmen don’t travel from miles away to destroy crops, there’d be no crisis nor clashes with farmers. So they should stop doing so, and official sources in Nigeria and journalists such as those at Channels TV should stop painting a clear case of aggression and land invasion euphemistically as “farmers/herdsmen clashes”.
Watch the programme:
A failure to describe the crises properly and put it in the right context meant the rest of the programme went downhill from there, with guests such as agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh and academic Saleh Momale, who chose to obfuscate the issue and spread the blame all round in order to deflect attention from the real causes of the violence and the real culprits.
Ogbeh went on about how climate change contributed to the problem, with desertification also meaning that areas for cattle to graze were reducing drastically. This had forced herdsmen to move further south in search of grass and water. He also described how Nigeria’s population had increased, meaning less land for grazing and cities such as Abuja arising in areas previously available for grazing. This did nothing to address why it was essential to maintain ancient grazing practices of roaming around with hundreds of cattle. It did nothing to address the fact that such practices were now a threat to public safety and resulting in deaths in their thousands. Not to mention the fact that Ogbeh, as agriculture minister, is meant to be championing the development of that sector. He didn’t seem to bother about squaring his government’s apparent condoning of the violence from the herdsmen with the destruction of farms in many parts of north-central Nigeria – an area known as the “food basket of the nation”. Many farming communities have abandoned their homes and now live in internally displaced persons camps. This is how Ogbeh and his government are boosting the agriculture sector.
Instead Ogbeh chose to claim that other forms of farming had benefited from government support, but livestock farming was being neglected. This deflection tactic was also taken up by Momale, who spent a lot of time blaming politicians and “ethnic champions” and others he alleged have not studied the issue properly – such as the media.
Even when the discussion stumbled on the question of who was benefiting economically from the very expensive business of breeding cattle, it was sloppily sidestepped by Ahmed and her guests. It was only with about 30 minutes left that one guest, Ier Jonathan-Ichaver, who had wasted her slot earlier on irrelevance, started talking about the business and political elite owners of the cattle. These are the people that should be investigated to address the crux of the problem. They have decided to not invest in costly ranches for their cows and chosen the cheaper option of using the entire country as grazing lands.
Further investigation of the rich and powerful cattle owners would reveal why the herdsmen are heavily-armed, why the killers are hardly ever caught and prosecuted (it was even revealed on the programme that a state’s attorney-general ordered the police to release some suspects in custody on the flimsy ground that there was going to be a commission of inquiry into the crisis). Such an investigation would also reveal why the Nigerian government has chosen to intervene to support private business such as cattle breeding with land for ranches. This is a form of corruption – making public resources available for private benefit.
Even when the issue of the sources of weapons used by the herdsmen was raised, Ogbeh claimed that the guns came from Libya (his government has form in attributing Nigerian problems to foreign sources – the herdsmen were at different points claimed to be foreign or sponsored by Isis). Rather than pursue further the line of questioning about the sources of arms, Ahmed instead asked her assistant inspector-general of police guest, who was a complete waste of space and airtime, why the police were not “getting hold” of the weapons. Momale chose to get on his high horse with “the blame game must stop”.
In the end, a two-hour programme on the Fulani herdsmen crisis ran out of time with precious little in terms of insight. This was television for misinformation. It was a terrible disservice to the thousands that have lost lives, limbs and livelihoods from the violence.