FG, farmers and the proposed payment for security

The Federal Government’s latest proposed solution to the problem of Fulani herdsmen’s perennial attacks on farming communities across the country is ample evidence that, unfortunately, the government has yet to find the right combination of ideas.  Answering correspondents’ questions at the conclusion of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari last week, Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh revealed the Federal Government’s intention to deploy personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to protect farming establishments across the country in exchange for an unstipulated protection fee.

The move, said the minister, was being made in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, and is consistent with the emerging trend in other parts of the world. Said Mr. Ogbeh: “These things are happening in other countries too, where the civil defence corps may have to train a special department to protect huge investors and investment in their farms for a fee, because kidnapping will not stop.” Finally, the Agricultutre Minister reiterated the Federal Government’s determination to build grazing reserves for herdsmen across the country.

Mr. Ogbe clearly hoped to pre-empt criticism of the Federal Government’s latest plan by interjecting that it has precedent in other countries of the world. But that in itself is no justification. The world outside Nigeria is not a pure fount of great, uncontestable ideas, and the country should not be seen to do something simply because it happens to be the tradition in other countries. In any case, if the honorable minister really wants to follow the spirit of the practice in the countries he invoked, why not allow farmers to arm themselves as is the norm in such places?

The long and short is that this latest plan is a bad idea. For one thing, it means that the government is billing farming communities twice for the same service- protecting them from harm as ordinary citizens of the country. Since this is exactly the same service these farmers already secured as tax-paying citizens of the country, the Federal Government is unwittingly redefining its statutory role, and more significantly the social contract between itself and ordinary Nigerians. Is the Nigerian state now a protection racket?

If the Federal Government feels that there isn’t adequate security in farming communities, the right thing to do is to step up security, not to impose a special levy on farmers and farming establishments. There are thousands of farming communities scattered across the country. How exactly does the Federal Government propose to provide special security for each and every one of them, and for how long? We know for a fact that personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps are not trained for the kind of task that the FG is lining them up for. Does this new proposal include a plan to retrain them?

Indeed, while attempting to clear what he called the confusion generated by media reports of his policy statement, the minister stated that the NSCDC officials would only be available on request, and for a token. According to him, “the NSCDC officials will be available on request by big farm corporations, especially those in which the owners live. They can apply for them just as big companies and corporate organisations apply, requesting for security personnel to secure their businesses for a token.”

While this clarification evidently privileges big time farmers and shuts out their less privileged counterparts who have equally been witnessing horrendous attacks by herdsmen, including rape and murder, it still has not provided a concrete justification for farmers having to pay special fees for protection, in addition to the taxes they already pay to the government. Taxes, we insist, are payments made by citizens in return for the services rendered by the state, and the new proposal amounts to double taxation.

Finally, this latest step is yet another reminder that the state in Nigeria still neither fully understands its own statutory limits, nor the proper boundaries of its own power. As we have observed repeatedly, it is not within the Federal Government’s remit to provide grazing land for private cattlemen. In seeking to impose a special levy on already beleaguered farmers, it further exceeds its constitutional bounds bydouble-dipping into the purse of the private citizen.The latest plan is poorly conceived and should be abandoned forthwith.