I read a great piece titled “What is Your Opposition to the Cattle Colonies?” on Facebook awhile back (can’t find it anymore, sorry). It presented some very valid arguments tackling the most commonly expressed issues surrounding the federal government’s proposal to set up what they term “cattle colonies” for herders. However, it did not address my number one issue which is simply, at what point did we stop talking about mass murder and start discussing economics and politics?
A classic propaganda technique, when caught in the wrong, is to muddy the waters in whatever way you can. This technique is so good that you can actually admit wrongdoing but, if you cloud up the issue well enough, you can get away without taking a hit. America’s President Donald Trump is a fine example of this; throughout his campaign he faced accusations of racism, Islamophobia, sexual harassment, etc, but he was always able to provide enough doubt in the minds of his supporters that they could continue to support him with a clear conscience. He also included the tactic of catchy little phrases that people could repeat over and again until they sounded perfect.
And so in Nigeria; dozens, scores, hundreds, even thousands of people including harmless little children, are mercilessly shot and hacked to death, entire communities razed to the ground, and yet somehow they have us here arguing amongst ourselves as to whether cattle should be in colonies, ranches or reserves. Bloody brilliant.
Don’t get me wrong; figuring out ways to reduce conflict between those who grow crops and those who rear animals that eat crops is definitely a part of the solution as well as being important for national food security. But that is probably why it is being used to muddy the waters; precisely because it is relevant, pertinent and very debatable. But there are also other parts of the solution including addressing the effects of climate change, rekindling the Great Green Wall initiative, disarming both herdsmen and communities (really, only you and I aren’t armed), ensuring that non-Nigerians are properly documented and obey the laws, and much else too. But comprehensive solutions are not sexy. It is much easier and much more politically expedient to twist matters around and coin catchy phrases that have nothing at all to do with the issues. So, for a free lesson, here are a few types of fallacies, along with recent examples.
Fallacies International Top Four Players
First up we have the logical fallacy, tu quoque (pronounced two-kwo-kee), which literally translates as “you too”; a tactic to avoid having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser. It is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. Here’s an example; 73 people are killed in Benue state, with the governor lamenting that the security agencies had “abandoned” the state, and so the federal government as well as the alleged perpetrators decide to blame the killings on the anti-grazing law in the state, thus forcing the governor back on the defensive. In this way, the actual killings and the inability/unwillingness of the federal government and her security forces to prevent them are no longer the subject of the debate, rather it has become the governor and his state’s law.
As an aside, those in positions of government need to be less personally ambitious and more responsible in their handling of such matters. I say this because the federal government, when putting forward its “cattle colonies” idea, announced that 16 states of the federation had agreed to donate land to the project. Shortly after there came a list of states of which my state, Plateau, was amongst. There was then an outburst of anger from the people of the state who, it must be mentioned, have suffered countless attacks (actually the attacks could be counted, but the government will simply not have itself and its incapabilities so exposed) by the so-called Fulani herdsmen. The Plateau state governor then put out a statement that he never agreed to anything of the such, and so the populace calmed down. Shortly after, federal government statements on the matter of cattle colonies mentioned 13 states, no longer 16.
Fallacy number 2, with this definition from yourlogicalfallacyis.com, is called Begging the Question:
“You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise. This logically incoherent argument often arises in situations where people have an assumption that is very ingrained, and therefore taken in their minds as a given. Circular reasoning is bad mostly because it’s not very good.”
Examples can be found in the statements of the Inspector-General of Police, when he referred to the murders as “communal clashes”, as well as the Minister of Defence, when he declared, right after exiting a security council meeting, that the alleged blocking of grazing routes as well as the anti-grazing law were directly responsible for the mass killing. It just shows that when you already have a preconceived idea in your head, it is very easy for your own mind to trick you into seeing everything as a confirmation of that idea.
And that is why, Mr President, Nigerians are flabbergasted that your security council is made up almost completely of people from a small section of the country, because you can’t make soup with only one ingredient. Finish.
Another interesting one is the black-or-white fallacy:
“You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist. Also known as the false dilemma, this insidious tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument, but under closer scrutiny it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than the either/or choice that is presented. Binary, black-or-white thinking doesn’t allow for the many different variables, conditions and contexts in which there would exist more than just the two possibilities put forth. It frames the argument misleadingly and obscures rational, honest debate.”
I particularly like this one, and tend to use it a lot when negotiating with children because it narrows down all the arguments to just two options, chosen by me. In this case, an example would be that the issue of mass killings and community destruction comes down to a simple question; should we put cows in colonies or ranches? I suspect the word “colony” was deliberately selected in order to spice up the debate, using our historical aversion to such a term as a means of heating up the argument since emotional content tends to make humans less rational in thinking.
Finally we have the False Cause fallacy where a real or perceived relationship between things is taken to mean that one is the cause of the other. The argument for cattle colonies/ranching/grazing reserves is a good example of this. I have not seen or heard of a comprehensive study of the violence that has been meted out unto states in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria that strengthens the idea that herdsmen not having grazing routes anymore is the major cause of the killings. Maybe the federal government has done such a study, I do not know. Maybe everyone is right (like they always are) and once you provide a place for herdsmen to tend their cows everything will be alright again. Maybe highly-placed officials, like a governor I once heard about, have secured firm assurances that the killings will stop if some compensation money is paid. But maybe, just maybe, the alleged lack of grazing routes is correlating with the violence, not causing it. It might be helping to escalate the violence, sure, but possibly it is not the be-all and end-all of the killings that have been going on because, if you ask someone else, they might argue that the real cause is the torrential flow of assault weapons and trained, battle-hardened fighters into the country. Because, without these two, I really doubt that 73 people would have been murdered in cold blood as they left their church’s New Year’s day thanksgiving.
But we are left with fallacies because we are being led away from honest fact-finding and truth. The federal government and its propaganda team have muddied the waters to the point that I do not even know what we are talking about anymore. Are we discussing stopping mass murder or not? Because if we were, I would assume we would be talking about locating and prosecuting perpetrators, disarmament procedures and compensating victims. Or are we discussing the inability of Nigeria’s security agencies to thwart attacks even when given a 24-hour tip-off? Because if that were the topic, I would talk about the security architecture, vigilantes, state police and community defence. But as long as we are talking about cows, I am not interested. Heck, I don’t even like beef. So you all can argue about colonies, ranches, reserves and open grazing until the cows come home, I am simply not interested.