We live in dangerous times where the social media, despite its numerous benefit is used to sell wild ideologies, selfish doctrines/agendas, shape dangerous mindsets, erroneous thought processes and perpetuate ignorance.

Given all these, one needs to have a proper understanding of an issue before choosing to contribute, oppose or champion, else one would look like a fool in the long run.

When the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced its plan to restrict forex for the importation of milk, all hell was let loose on 'Twitter Nigeria'. The hashtag #MilkBanPolicy was soon created, with Oby Ezekwesili, a former minister of education, at the forefront of the opposition to the policy. In the course of leading the discourse with deafening tweets, many Nigerians on the micro-blogging platform got the erroneous belief that the CBN had banned importation of milk for good.

The alarmist tweets of Ezekwesili and co made matters worse by bringing the suspended RUGA initiative into the picture, promoting a narrative which had the objective of linking the forex cut to mass resistance to a policy that was meant to allow pastoralists to have settlements in states across the country.

At this point, the majority of Nigerians commenting on the CBN's milk policy were damn sure milk importation had been banned.

What the policy is actually about?

Sensing the danger of being tagged anti-people and its policy meeting the same fate as RUGA, the CBN jumped into the Twitter ring of verbal jabs to educate the populace on the merits of the plan.

Reminding Nigerians what any properly educated person should know, the CBN said it has no power to place restrictions on importation. "All we will do is to restrict the sale of forex for the importation of milk from the Nigerian foreign exchange market," the apex bank said.

The CBN said for the purpose of "backward integration to conserve foreign exchange", create jobs and boost investments in local milk production, it approached some milk importers and enjoined them to take advantage of low-interest loans that will help them build infrastructure to begin the production of milk locally but the "vast majority of the importers" responded with "imperial contempt".

At this point, what a serious people -- save for perpetual critics -- should have done is to demand that the CBN further clarify the terms of the loans, name, and shame the so-called importers who are not interested in helping local production. But amidst the screams of RUGA, sanity took a hike, went for a swim in the receding Lake Chad and permanently drowned in the sand dunes that are fast taking over.

Although the CBN also insisted that it is "technically and commercially possible to breed the cows that produce milk in Nigeria", the critics maintained that the policy is part of the alleged Fulanisation agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari's administration. Not many mentioned that perhaps it was for this same reason that Aliko Dangote told Bloomberg in 2017 that he will own 50,000 cows by 2019, in a bid to produce 500 million liters of milk per year.

Opponents of the policy had a field day preying on the fear they had instilled in the minds of Nigerians about the RUGA settlement plan, such that saner and objective arguments about the milk matter were drowned in the cacophony of fret-filled Twitterers.

How to fight the policy

Rather than poke holes in the policy so that the CBN maybe motivated to do some more thinking and consultation, possibly review and rejig the ‘darn thing’, the critics wore the armor of 'condemn all Buhari government policies' and charged to the battlefield to tweet-war.

Given that Nigeria's dairy output and demand are estimated at 700,000 metric tonnes and 1,300,000 metric tonnes respectively, with a supply gap of about 600,000 metric tonnes -- one would have expected the all-knowing, economic savvy critics to call on the CBN to sit on the forex restriction until the aforementioned gap is near, if not completely, closed.

In clarifying its stance on the policy, the CBN had said it is not oblivious of the fact that the restriction "may hurt some business interests". Considering that the end result and ripple effect of this "hurt" will be short and medium-term increased price of milk, the critics could have attacked the policy from this angle.

Another important point that should have been chorused is whether the breeds of livestock predominant in Nigeria require genetic improvement for milk production, and if they do, what should be done.

But because we are more of criers than thinkers, -- which is why our leaders often get away with ineptitude and impunity – we’d rather scream blue murder than poke holes.

One helpful tweet put out by Ezekwesili read: "#MilkBanPolicy happens, to avoid scarcity which prices milk up and out of the reach of the poor, Nigeria needs to immediately TRIPLE current production of milk.”

If only many critics had tailored their tweets along with this line - of solutions - the ignorance and hysteria being bandied about on the policy would have been greatly reduced.

Irrespective of the noise and lack of understanding of it, the CBN’s milk policy is like selling your generator because you have bought a prepaid meter. Since the prepaid meter is useless without electricity, you will still need your generator until constant electricity can be guaranteed. Common sense.

 

Kolapo Olapoju  

Journalist, Writer, Communicator

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