Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) yesterday came under a barrage of attacks for declaring as illegal, Southern governors ban on open grazing.
At a meeting in Asaba, Delta State on May 11, South’s governors called for full enforcement of the ban on open grazing and movement of cattle from the North to the South “on foot”.
They also called for restructuring of the country while reaffirming their belief in a united Nigeria on the basis of equity, justice and peace.
They urged President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation on the myriad of challenges taking their toll on the people.
But, in the first reaction to the call by a major official of the Federal Government, Malami undermined the ban on open grazing. Featuring on a Channels Television programme, on Wednesday, he said: “It is about constitutionality within the context of the freedoms expressed in our constitution. Can you deny the rights of a Nigerian?
“For example, it is as good as saying, perhaps, maybe, the Northern governors coming together to say they prohibit spare parts trading in the North.”
The minister advised the governors to facilitate the amendment of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to prohibit open grazing.
But Ondo State Governor Rotmi Akeredolu, also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, Senator Ajibola Basiru (Osun Central), founder of Stanbic IBTC and Anap Foundation Atedo Peterside, among others, chided Malami.
Sectional groups – Afenifere and Ohanaeze – also joined in disparaging the AGF’s position.
Akeredolu described the minister’s comments as “most unfortunate” and “disconcerting”
He added that by making “anachronistic” comparison between animal husbandry and spare parts trading, Malami failed to justify his title as a SAN and “annoyingly” showed a “terrible mindset.”
Akeredolu said: “The AGF is quoted to have said that this reasoned decision, among others, is akin to banning all spare parts dealers in the Northern parts of the country and is unconstitutional.
“It is most unfortunate that the AGF is unable to distill issues as expected of a Senior Advocate. Nothing can be more disconcerting. “This outburst should, ordinarily, not elicit response from reasonable people who know the distinction between a legitimate business that is not in any way injurious and a certain predilection for anarchy.
“Clinging to an anachronistic model of animal husbandry, which is evidently injurious to harmonious relationship between herders and farmers as well as the local populace, is wicked and arrogant.
“Comparing this anachronism, which has led to loss of lives, farmlands, and property, and engendered untold hardship on the host communities, with buying and selling of auto parts is not only strange. It, annoyingly, betrays a terrible mindset.
“Mr. Malami is advised to approach the court to challenge the legality of the laws of the respective states banning open grazing and the decision of the Southern Governors Forum taken in the interest of their people. We shall be most willing to meet him in court.
“The decision to ban open grazing stays. It will be enforced with vigour.”
Umahi, who is chair of Southeast Governors Forum, said only those who want the current state of insecurity and killings to persist are opposed to the ban on open grazing.
Umahi, while featuring on the ministerial news conference organised by the Presidential Communications Team in Abuja, also pointed out that the Southeast has no grazing routes.
He noted that allowing cows to move freely meant trespassing on people’s property.
He said: “I may not want to comment so much on what he(Malami) said. I read it on social media, but I will like to put the fact the way it is. A lot of us do not understand what open grazing and closed grazing mean.
“We have never had cattle roaming the roads. In the Southeast, we don’t have grazing routes but in the North they have.
“What the Southern governors, including those in the Southeast in particular, are saying is let us go back to our traditional method of relationship. We will no longer allow you to take your cattle from one local government to the other.
“Some of the herders go about with AK-47 and so that is the source of conflicts. Anyone that is saying that there should be no ban is on the other hand saying that these killings should continue and that is what gave birth to Ebubeagu security outfit in the Southeast.
“Nobody is saying the herders should not be in the Southeast but it should be treated as a business.
“When our people go to other areas, they buy land and rent shops for their business. “I don’t think there is any southeast person that enters any region and sets up a business without proper permission.
“You don’t enter people’s land without their knowledge, it is not done anywhere.”
Peterside, said linking open grazing ban in the south with the right to free movement of persons is “disingenuous.”
Peterside, via a tweet told Malami that freedom of movement of persons does not extend to cattle.
“It is disingenuous to link a ban on open grazing to the constitutional right to the free movement of persons,’’ he tweeted.
A former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, said “of the many misadventures that define the regime of Muhammadu Buhari, the Attorney-General takes the cake.
“He is a special piece of willful nuisance. It takes considered intent to be so illiterate as Attorney-General.”
Basiru described Malami comment as “less than dignifying” for the status of the attorney-general and minister of justice to make such remarks. The Senator said equating the activities of archaic nomadic herdsmen destroying peoples means of livelihood with others legitimately carrying on businesses by selling spare parts in their shops stands logic on its head. He noted that perhaps, the attorney-general forgets that Nigeria is a federal system with the states empowered to make and implement laws for the peace, order and good government of or any part of their respective states. This power is derived from the Constitution, which with the Land Use Act, vested in the governors, the management of all land within the state.
He challenged the AGF to cite relevant sections of the constitution which allowed the herders to trespass on other people’s land and destroy the crops in the guise of freedom of movement.
Bashiru, who said the AGF’s comment is less than patriotic, observed that the quest to promote unity and prosperity of Nigeria is the utmost responsibility of government, adding that the actions of persons in authority must be seen to protect the corporate existence the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Dr. Basiru stressed: “This kind of statement has made Nigeria a laughing stock in the comity of nations and they ridicule the Administration of President Buhari. “These statements are not giving hope to those at the receiving end of the activities of the herdsmen”.
Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe described Malami’s comment as “divisive”.
Abaribe, in a statement by his spokesman, Uche Awon, called Malami’s attention to the operators of “local Bureau De Change’ who do their business without any resentment from the people.
The reason, according to him, “is simply because they live and do their business peacefully.
He added that “it is the murderous activities of herders that have given rise to the current demand for laws that will bring about peaceful coexistence of all Nigerians.”
A House of Representatives member, Solomon Bob, described Malami’s comments as “irresponsible”.
Raising a point of order, he said the comments were “disingenuous, irresponsible and loaded with incendiary trope and ethnic slur.”
But the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, who was presiding, cut him short on the basis that the lawmaker was going beyond the bounds of the order.
Bob told reporters after the plenary that Section 41 of the Constitution which the Minister alluded, to deals with freedom of movement of humans, not animals.
He urged Malami to be mindful of his role under the constitution as the chief law officer of the country and refrain from “divisive utterances that cast him as sectional and partisan”.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa said the right to freedom of movement does not mean that cattle can destroy farmlands.
Besides, he said the minister lacked powers “to make proclamations for the country”.
“To that extent, his comment is ultra vires, being beyond and outside his office as a minister. The role of interpreting the constitution is the exclusive preserve of the Courts under the constitution.
“Let the Houses of Assembly of the states that have proscribed open grazing go ahead to make laws to support their declarations. It is only after then that the AGF can approach the court for judicial interpretation.”
Lagos lawyer Jiti Ogunye also faulted Malami in a Facebook post.
He stated: “Cattle graze, humans don’t. Ban on open grazing of cattle is, thus, restriction of movement of animals, not the abrogation of the right of man to move in freedom.
“Similarly, restriction of commercial motorcycles in our cities is no restriction of movement of their riders. The learned must know this!”