​Farmers’ Protection Force

Despite not being the largest mammals, humans are reputed for having the largest cerebral cortex to brain size ratio, and the least ratio of brain mass to body mass. The slushy mass of fluid and nerves provides humans with our greatest asset—the ability to outthink other living creatures. While some persons use this innate ability to “think out of the box” and creatively push the frontiers of thought, for some persons, even a one-inch-square box is too big a thinking space. 

Recently, Nigeria’s honourable minister for agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, highlighted a proposal to use officers of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) as protection officers for Nigerian farmers. Apparently impressed with Mr. Shem Obafaiye’s much publicised loyalty to the authorities, the minister genuinely believed that the corps, if deployed, would loyally execute their protective role, and give farmers across Nigeria some much needed peace and quiet. 

The proposal to deploy the corps arose from repeated attacks by “Fulani herdsmen” in different states across the nation. Before 2015, the herdsmen had carried out several attacks across the country, howbeit, uncelebrated. However, with Buhari’s ascension to the presidency, the attacks increased in frequency, brutality and media coverage. After several attacks across Nigeria’s food basket region, many farmers left their farms in favour of staying alive. A report by SBM Intelligence linked the rising cost of foodstuffs in Nigeria with the attacks. 

Perhaps, pained by the loss of arable land cum agricultural productivity, Mr. Ogbeh saw the corps as a silver bullet to end tales of farm insecurity in Nigeria. However, some online reports suggested that he mentioned payment by farmers. Trust Nigerians to seize on that “slip” to attack the minister. In his defence, Mr Ogbeh explained that he never said farmers would pay for protection, but that large farm corporations could apply for security operatives from the corps, and pay a “token”. 

Let’s start with the token that is not a payment. It is only in Nigeria that a person would hear or read a sentence, and begin doubting his/her comprehension ability. How does one correlate “there is no payment” with “pay a token”? It would seem that many politicians are skilled at thinking out of the box to confuse Nigerians in clear terms. If only they would divert that creativity to solving Nigeria’s problems. The takeaway from this seeming paradox is that the absence of a payment request does not obstruct payment of a token. After all, the “payment” is not “money”, but a “token”. 

From the minister’s clarification, the token is for large farm corporations. Hence, we may safely infer that they would get preferential treatment, and that small-scale farmers who cannot afford the token would be left in the hands of their gods and their machetes. This neglect of small-scale farmers is obviously a brilliant strategy since due to Nigeria’s lack of mechanization, the bulk of its agricultural activities are carried out by small-scale farmers. Leave the numerous small farmers for the herdsmen, and all will be well. 

Moving away from paying a non-existent payment cum token, let’s look at the sensibility of the proposal. Nigeria covers about 927,000 square kilometres, of which about 38% is used for agricultural activities. The civil defence corps presently oversees the protection of government facilities such as the much attacked petroleum pipelines. Except the corps has an abundance of yet-to-be-deployed officers, one wonders where they would get the manpower to protect farms across the country. Although the minister said he was smoothening the specifics with the ministry of interior, there are enough questions to discredit the rationality of the proposal. Would farmers be escorted to their farms? Would civil defence officers serve as bodyguards while farmers plough the ground and produce tomatoes? Is this the best way to address the security challenges faced by farmers? 

Instead of Ogbeh’s proposed plan, a better strategy would be to address the causes of the insecurity. Fulani herdsmen are not spirits. They are humans who can bleed. In avoiding a confrontation with them, the Buhari administration, through Ogbeh is strengthening the case of those who point to Buhari’s Fulani blood as the reason for the latitude enjoyed by the destructive blood spillers. The government is either drowning in cowardice, or is in bed with the herdsmen. 

After the attack on Nimbo in Enugu State, publicized reports suggested that the police and other security agencies knew about the movement of the attacking herdsmen. While they were still moving from Kogi to Enugu, why didn’t the government authorize an attack against them? For one, they were illegally possessing arms; secondly, they were in a conspiracy to cause injuries and deaths, having earlier sent a warning to their target community. The government had enough evidence to warrant a pre-emptive strike. Yet, they chose to let farmers die on their lands. 

Audu Ogbeh’s plan reeks of an overdose of thoughtlessness. Ranking it as half-baked is even too magnanimous. If he is serious about increasing productivity in the agricultural sector, he should convince his boss to face the rampaging herdsmen with the same vigour with which he indicts corruption. Anything else is an exercise in futile deception. Attack the locusts and the plants would grow. 
Image Credit: arabnews.com

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