An understandable outrage has followed the Presidency's latest outlandish remark over the activities of killer herdsmen. In one of the most discomforting shows of the insensitivity of the country's leadership to the people's feelings and plight, government came out the other day to say that it is better for land owners to yield their land for ranching than to be continually killed by marauding herdsmen.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, who made the statement during a television interview, also attempted to trivialize the value of land as an ancestral heritage that must not be wrested from the hands of its owners. "You can only have ancestral attachment when you are alive," said the presidential spokesman. "If you are talking about ancestral attachment, if you are dead, what does the attachment matter?"
Although this manner of speaking truly appears to be redolent of, and seems to confirm, many of the things that Nigerians have for long accused the Muhammadu Buhari leadership of, including complicity in the whole matter of the killings, even orchestrated towards genocide and a hegemonic plan, it is still important to approach this situation with calm and a presence of mind that seeks to analyse, with minimal sentiments, what the issues are.
The first, most fundamental issue is the land. And it is very disappointing, indeed a disaster, when people in positions of authority demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the people they govern, or of humanity in general. The tragedy is even more pronounced when these leaders display an absence of effort, diligence and the attentiveness to the voice of their own people. Heeding the recommendations provided in a recent editorial of this newspaper on the subject of ranching, for example, would have saved the Presidency from this rather unnecessary gaffe. Ranching, it needs to be said again, is a form of agricultural business that, in modern economies, should be private sector-driven. It is not different from poultry rearing, piggery, and cocoa or cassava farming. Simply a private business! And it stands to reason that, even with due regard to an entitlement to government assistance, it must remain wholly the business of its proprietors. The economic argument is unassailable for ranching wherever it can be productively carried out in Nigeria but what bedevils it is the insensitivity of this government. With its lackadaisical attitude to the killings by herdsmen and the insensate utterances of its officials, what should reasonably be a purely business decision and a matter of economics as it is in other climes has taken on the appearance of suspected hegemonic motives and real or imagined fears of domination.
As earlier noted by this newspaper, fundamentally, the ranching matter boils down to land ownership and control. This assumes the utmost sensitivity because all over the world, land is considered the mother of wealth. And, once again, under no condition at all should such a project (government-supported ranching) permanently dispossess, in any way, indigenes of the ownership of their land. It is also important to reiterate that no state governor has the moral, legal, or political authority to allow such injustice. The land must eternally belong to its original owners.
Clearly, however, government has thrown caution and sensitivity to the wind by putting forward what many have adjudged to be a threat-laced ultimatum to land owners across the country. It is also apparent that the presidency, by its disparagement of the notion of ancestral heritage and in a manner reminiscent of the rapaciousness of the Land Use Act, is prepared to deprive the people full ownership of their land.
But let it even be assumed that the majority of Nigerians who accuse the government of complicity and some sinister motives in these killings by the herdsmen are wrong. Let it also stand, for a moment, that rather than being accused of insensitivity in handling the public relations aspect of this matter, the presidency deserves accolades for coming out with what it considers its own candid admonition to its people: "Please, leave your land for these killers; it is better to remain alive with no land than to adamantly hold on to what you will, in any case, lose your life trying to protect." Is this not a subtle admission, or, from the perspective of the citizens, a clear indication, that these prowling and blood-thirsty herders have, or eventually will, overpower the state? Has the government not committed the fatal, self-delegitimising sin of being (or becoming) incapable of carrying out its original and most important duty, which is the protection of citizens' lives? What kind of a government capitulates in the face of, let this phenomenon be called what it is, terrorism?
It must be said without any fear of contradiction that this kind of attitude and manner of speaking, particularly if the Presidency does not desist from it, should lead to a total disavowal of this particular administration in the minds of Nigerians and, ultimately, in an Act of Parliament. Perhaps the government should be dissolved if it has proven, and admitted to be, incapable of protecting the lives and property of its citizens.
Sadly, the language of resignation, of purposeful defeat and surrender has been the mainstay of the Muhammadu Buhari administration's response to this bold herdsmen insurgency. From the rather silly advocacy for the institution of the so-called cattle colonies to this even more asinine remark that the people should save their lives by wilfully surrendering their land to the killers, this government has displayed a rather disturbing tendency to throw appeasement at a band of blood-spilling criminals. Let it be re-asserted as many times as possible that a government that gives up its territorial authority so easily, and encourages or tries to persuade its citizens to do the same, deserves to have its cogency and legitimacy very seriously questioned. What Nigeria needs, at such a time as this, is a leadership that comforts and re-assures, in words and in deeds, not one that foretells dispossession and further killings. The presidency is therefore advised to re-evaluate its position and emerge with a more reassuring posture.