“It is unthinkable that wisdom should be popular.”
Johann Goethe, 1749-1832.
Several mini-wars are raging in Nigeria at once and many more might erupt as news flashes of real and imagined Fulani herdsmen attacks on communities across the country reach us daily. On Monday, January 22, 2018, two reports from Adamawa and Ondo States were published. The killings in Benue and Taraba continue unabated. Farms are destroyed, crops lost and the incentive to plant anew dwindles with each attack. Yet, the Federal Government of Nigeria is not addressing the economic consequences of the widespread conflict.
The Osinbajo Committee, reluctantly appointed by Buhari has been described as “diversionary, unconstitutional, irrelevant” among other derogatory characterizations of it. Let others more qualified tackle those aspects of the monster problem which the FG has created for itself. But, looking at the composition of the Committee, it is clear that President Buhari regards the problem as just political. Packed full with Governors from the states directly involved in the hottest conflicts, the Committee is lacking in any economist who will draw attention to the immediate, short term and long term economic consequences of the mini-wars now ravaging the land. Yet, the implications for food insecurity, deepening poverty and more social instability are as grave as the political damage being done nationwide.
The first step in that regard is for President Buhari to admit to himself and the nation that things have never been as bad as this with regard to the herdsmen – not even under Jonathan. The next step is to establish a small group to attempt to estimate how much we have lost in terms of crops destroyed, planting deferred, farms abandoned and harvests left to rot away. The result of that survey might shock even our usually lethargic President to wake up and start acting before the economic consequences become more pronounced all over Nigeria.
A former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank (their Central Bank), once remarked that “if you allow an intolerable economic situation to persist without solution for too long, suddenly there are no good solutions left”. Nigeria might be reaching that stage when the intractable problem of herdsmen/farmer clashes will evolve into mini-wars between herdsmen and entire communities. Unfortunately, the person who should be leading the search for solutions, President Buhari, is now so totally distrusted by the majority of those involved in the conflicts. Buhari has allowed himself to be boxed into a corner. He is now widely perceived as a strong and subjective advocate of the herdsmen such that the tough solutions that will be required to avert further economic losses cannot possibly come from him and be accepted by those who will be required to make sacrifices for peace to reign.
But, Buhari is the only President we have; and, we cannot wait until May 2019 to start finding lasting solutions to the frequent destruction of farms. He, obviously, cannot imagine the gargantuan damage that the skirmishes are doing to the nation’s food production, our ability to reduce food imports and achieve sustainable food security.
On January 22, 2018, a national daily carried on its front page a story titled “NSA Alerts On 20 Shiploads Of Nigeria-Bound Rice In Cotonou”. Apparently, it has not occurred to the President that when Nigerian farmers cannot plant and harvest crops, foreigners will supply the shortfall. It might not even have occurred to Buhari that his vaunted achievement with regard to supply of fertilizer is an exercise in futility if crops planted are destroyed by herdsmen and their cattle. The people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries might never get to eat them. Farmers’ labours are lost.
Clearly, the Osinbajo Committee, as it stands right now, reminds one of the observation made by the American Wisecracks on Committees. “A Committee is a collection of the unfit, appointed by the unwilling to perform the unnecessary.” State Governors are ordinarily so busy (or should be) and are doubly busy in this political year that they can hardly devote the time required to get to the root of the matter. They certainly cannot blame the President – even if there is incontrovertible evidence to prove his absolute abdication of leadership on this matter and his demonstrated bias at all times.
Each Governor will be guided by what is politically safe to say in his state, not the truth. The VP already is aware of his boss’ position on the issues and will not present a report that will not be acceptable to the President. Obviously, the Osinbajo political committee will lead us nowhere. A Committee to study the economic impact and offer solutions is another matter. It will take into account the economic implications of all the suggestions offered by knowledgeable Nigerians and present us with estimates which will serve as the basis for finding solutions.
That is where Mr Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture comes in.
To be continued