By Clifford Ndujihe, Dayo Johnson, Anayo Okoli, Dapo Akinrefon, Festus Ahon, Demola Akinyemi, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Peter Duru & Davies Iheamnachor
Embers of fire were literally poured on Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, yesterday, for slamming southern governors for banning open grazing in the region.
While featuring on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ programme, last night, the AGF said Southern Governors banning open grazing is the same thing as Northern Governors banning spare parts trading in the North, considering the fact that Southerners constitute the majority of spare parts traders in the North.
Penultimate week, the 17 southern governors resolved after a meeting in Asaba, the Delta State Capital, to among others ban open grazing and movement of cattle by foot in the region.
Many kidnappings and killings in the Southern region have been linked to criminal elements among herders.
The Southern Governors also called for restructuring of the country to bring about fiscal federalism, devolution of powers and state policing.
Ban on open grazing like ban on spare parts trading
Pointedly, Malami picked holes in the ban on open grazing describing it as illegal and unconstitutional
His words: “It is about constitutionality. Within the context of the freedoms enshrined in our constitution, can you deny a right of a Nigerian? It is as good as saying may be the Northern governors coming together to say that they prohibit spare parts trading in the North. Does it hold water? Does it hold water for a Northern governor to come and state expressly that he now prohibits spare parts trading in the North?
“If you are talking of a constitutionally-guaranteed right, the better approach to it is perhaps to go back and ensure that the constitution is amended. The freedom and liberty of movement, among others is established by the constitution.
“If by an inch, you want to have any compromise, the better approach is to go back to the National Assembly for open grazing to be prohibited and see whether you can have the desired support for the constitutional amendment in that respect but it is a very dangerous position for any governor in Nigeria to think that he can bring about any compromise on the freedom and liberty of individuals to move around.”
No restructuring if govs choke LGs
Also speaking on restructuring, on the same programme, Malami also dismissed the southern governors’ clamour, saying that Buhari administration does not have plans to change the current structure, adding that that it has started implementing parts of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference through the issuance of Executive Orders.
His words: “My view about restructuring as well cannot be divorced from the political undertone. Take for example, what we have existing as a structure – as tiers of government – we have federal, state and local governments. Now, coming down to the local government, what is happening to the local governments? Those that are clamouring for restructuring, what have they done in terms of ensuring functional efficiency of the local governments?
“Here we are having a governor clamouring for restructuring and denying a local government, which is a tier of government, the financial resources to function effectively.”
Asked if Nigeria needs restructuring, Malami responded: “When you talk about restructuring, what are you talking about precisely, so that I can answer you within the context of your understanding of restructuring.”
Pressed further on how the Buhari Administration sees restructuring, the minister said: “As far as this government is concerned, restructuring is allowing the functionality of the democratic structures. You cannot be clamouring for restructuring in a system whereby you have responsibility to allow the existing tiers of government to operate. You are denying them functional operation and you are shouting restructuring.
“You cannot clamour for restructuring in a situation whereby three arms of government; you have the responsibility to allow them to flourish and operate optimally, (but) you are undermining their operations by denying them the autonomy granted constitutionally. Yet, you are clamouring for restructuring.
“So, within the context of restructuring, what matters most is allowing the democratic structures; allowing the federal structures to operate optimally. Until we now allow these structures to operate optimally, there is no way we can have the benefits associated with those structures.
“So, in a situation whereby the elite and political elements are denying these structures to operate optimally, I don’t think there is any justification for clamouring for restructuring that is not in any way well practiced.”
Malami’s position on open grazing ban elicited hard knocks from Southern Governors, a host of socio-cultural organisations and leaders. Those who berated Malami were Governors Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), and Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Mr Femi Falana (SAN), Mr Atedo Peterside, the Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Middle Belt Forum, MBF, and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF.
Indeed, spokesman of the Senate, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun Central), speaking in his personal capacity called for the immediate removal of Malami from office as Attorney-General of the Federation for equating open grazing with selling spare parts. He challenged the AGF to cite relevant sections of the constitution which allow herders to trespass on other peoples’ lands and destroy the crops in the guise of freedom of movement, adding that ‘the AGF’s comment was less than patriotic.
Southern governors lambast Malami, say ban irreversible
Chairman of the South-West and Southern Governors Forum, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, lambasted the Justice Minister for saying that the ban on open grazing by southern governors was akin to banning spare parts trading in the North.
Akeredolu in a statement on behalf of the Southern Governors in Akure, Ondo State said “it is most unfortunate that the AGF is unable to distill issues as expected of a senior advocate,’’ adding the ban open grazing is irreversible and will be enforced.
The statement read in part: “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.
“lt 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 anyway injurious and a certain predilection for anarchy.
“Clinging to an anachronistic model of animal husbandry, which is evidently injurious to harmonious relationship between the herders and the 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 is annoying, and 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 decision of the Southern Governors Forum taken in the interest of their people. We shall be most willing to meet him in court.”
Akeredolu then declared that “the decision to ban open grazing stays. It will be enforced with vigour.”
South-South Govs Forum attack Malami
Chairman of South South South Governors Forum, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olisa Ifeajika, said comparing open grazing to spare parts selling is unfortunate.
Reason, spare parts sellers rent or build shops and don’t destroy other people’s businesses and property unlike herders.
“Apart from the destruction of farmlands, it (open grazing by herders) has moved to raping of women, kidnapping, killing of human beings. So everything has been associated to that business. And the Governors are saying if this is one way to create solution for it, let us ban open grazing and for God’s sake, let government embrace ranching. Ranching is the way to go. All over the world, ranching is the way to go. So cattle rearing is business.
“The governors of the Southern States are partners in progress of this country, they are the chief executive officers of their states and they have looked at it, they evaluated it and found that this is the way to go as steps towards finding solution to the insecurity problem. The problems have been there, hydra-headed, lives are being taken everyday, people are being kidnapped, women are being raped, maimed, farms are being destroyed, no food anymore.
“People don’t even go to farms anymore for fear of being attacked by the herders and their cattle. I think that the Federal Government should consider the position of the Southern Governors; they too are as patriotic as every other Nigerian, all they wished is for the betterment of this country.
“The spare parts dealers don’t kill people, they don’t kidnap people, they don’t make trouble anywhere they are, they respect the rules of the environment that they are. The law in the areas, they obey them. We have never heard that spare parts dealers anywhere in the country challenged the authority of the place where they dwell and do their business.”
Anyone backing open grazing ban wants killings to continue – Umahi
On his part, Ebonyi State Governor and Chairman of South-East Governors’ Forum,, Engr. Dave Umahi, said that anyone opposing the ban on open grazing by Southern states want killings to continue, noting that the South-East has no grazing routes.
Governor Umahi made the remarks while featuring on the Presidential Ministerial Press Briefing organized by the Presidential Communications Team at the presidential villa, Abuja.
Asked to respond to Malami’s claim that banning open grazing in South is like banning the sale of spare parts in the North, Umahi said those who hold that view misunderstood the situation.
The governor emphatically said that the South-East has no grazing routes for cattle, noting that allowing cows to move freely would mean trespassing on peoples’ property.
He said that the influx of foreign herders in the South-East gave rise to crises and killings, leading to the setting up of the Eastern Security Network, ESN.
While emphasizing that he does not subscribe to free movement of cattle, Umahi called for the funding of cattle ranches through the Federation Account, adding that while many northern states are ready for ranching, the idea is being sabotaged.
“So what the southern governors are saying is that let’s return to our traditional kind of relationship. I don’t support cattle to move from one state to the other and the northern governors have said we will ban this. Let us encourage the Federal Government, let’s treat this cattle rearing as a business. Take money from federation account and develop ranches, there are designated ranches in the North. The Northern governors are willing, but are being frustrated.”
Malami’s remark thoughtless, insidious — Ohanaeze
Berating Malami, the Professor George Obiozor-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, said likening open grazing to selling spare parts “by a chief law officer of a federation is thoughtless, insidious and prejudicial.”
While supporting the southern governors and urging them to implement ban on open grazing, Ohanaeze said: “It is important to recall that in the glorious past, the peoples of Southern Nigerian had never had any problem with the conduct of the Fulani herdsmen. They would trek with their cattle unmolested, from the far North to the South, sometimes a distance of about 1,000 kilometers. They would also sell the cows as they moved from one location to the other. To the Southerners, it was always as strange as it was curious that a boy of 12 years and pregnant women would endure the harsh weather and the risks of the wild forests tending cattle. Only very rarely, the cattle would stray and destroy the crops in the farm and they would sincerely apologize. The apologies were taken in good faith. And, Nigeria was a country.
‘’A few years ago, the Fulani herdsmen became impudent and uncontrollably lionized. They would unleash their cattle on a farm and would maim and kill the owner of the farm, if he or she complained. In most cases, they would violate and debauch young girls and mothers before sending them to early graves. The Southern governors had complained to the Presidency to no avail; rather the herders were massively indulged with firearms, AK 47, to enable them shoot at will any indigenous farmer that stood in their ways. The likes of the incumbent Governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Bala Mohammed were very vehement in defence of the AK 47 trigger happy Fulani herders.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo led by Ambassador Professor George Obiozor commends the Southern governors as the true lovers of the corporate existence of Nigeria and condemns the remark by Malami as malevolent, ominous and incendiary. He is a chief law officer that twists the law at will. He had in the past stated that “the rule of law is subservient to national security” Malami had also condemned the Amotekun security outfit by the South-West and so on. In the words of Toyo Jimmy, Malami is a Chief Law Breaker.
‘’Malami knows that there has never been a report of a clash between the Southern motor spare parts sellers and the indigenous Northerners. The motor spare parts sellers render their services to the populace from a shop or a shade and are in no way comparable to the Fulani herders who invade farmlands, destroy crops, debauch women, maim, abduct and kill.’’
Sectarian vituperations make Malami unfit for his office — Afenifere
The Pan Yoruba Socio-Political Group, Afenifere also blasted tMalami. Its Secretary General, Chief Sola Ebiseni, in a statement in Akure, said Malami’s “sectarian and emotional vituperations pitiably exposed him as being most unfit for the office of an Attorney-General, having always allowed his sectarian disposition becloud his eminent qualifications.’’
The groups statement titled: “Malami; Attorney General and Agent Provocateur,” read in part: “Malami does not want serious minded people to accord him and his high office each time he accepts to play the roles of errand boy and spokesperson of the Miyetti Allah and their herders members.
“Each time Malami perceives a threat to the interests of Fulani herdsmen, he is quick to latch onto constitutional provisions which are not relevant to the object of discourse.
“He was readily on hand to vehemently denounce the Amotekun South-West regional security initiative as being targeted against Fulani herdsmen and so declared it unconstitutional. When challenged to approach the Court, he had since developed cold feet.
“The sectarian and emotional vituperations of Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federal Government on the ban of open grazing of cattle by the Governors of Southern Nigeria did not come to discerning Nigerians as a surprise.
“Contrary to his latest vituperations, the ban on open grazing and movement of animals by foot is not a denial of “freedom and liberty of movement and does not require the slightest touch of the constitution for the governors to pronounce.
“For the attention of Malami, most of the states already have laws banning open grazing and the pronouncement of the Governors was merely to give effect to an existing law.
“It is the animal that is being prohibited from grazing openly and being moved by foot except Malami intends to extend the inalienable human rights in the constitution to animals in the defence of a culture which gives more care to cattle than human beings.
“We in the Afenifere support the resolutions of the Southern governors banning open grazing and movement of cattle by foot in our territory. Those who can cope with the destruction of farm lands and produce by animals and are also permissive of criminality by terrorist herdsmen are free to open their vast lands for such purposes. Nigeria will only exist and thrive on the terms agreeable by all its constituent nationalities.’’
Sack Malami now, Senate spokesperson tells Buhari
Calling for Malami’s removal, Senator Ajibola Basiru, told journalists in Ilorin, the Kwara State Capital that “anyone who cannot rise above primordial sentiments and pursuit of parochial ethnic agenda need not occupy position of trust, especially at this time of sectional agitations. It was not dignifying of the status of the nation’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice to make such remarks.’’
He continued: “Equating the activities of nomadic herdsmen, destroying people’s means of livelihood with others legitimately carrying on businesses by selling spare parts in their shops, stand logic on its head.”
He noted that Nigeria is a federal system with the states government empowered to make and implement laws for the peace, order and good government of or any part of their respective states.
The Senator also noted that Malami’s comment was capable of derailing the unity, peace and progress of Nigeria and, therefore, called for his immediate removal.
Wase steps down Rep’s motion to discuss Malami’s remarks
As the outrage against Malami’s comments rained, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase, at Thursday plenary stepped the down a motion to debate comments.
Miffed by the comment by the AGF and feeling that his privilege has been breached, Hon. Solomon Bob from Rivers State raised a point of order at the plenary to bring the attention of the House to the comment which he said was capable of fueling crisis in the country.
Describing Malami’s comment on the ban as “disingenuous, irresponsible and loaded with incendiary trope and ethnic slur”, Bob wanted the parliament to call Malami to order.
No sooner had he begun than the presiding officer, Wase requested to know the specific order in their Rule Book.
Bob, a lawyer and member representing Abua/Odual and Ahoada East Federal Constituency of Rivers State, got the green light to speak when he cited Order 6 and its relevant subsections.
A drama however ensued when the lawmaker was stopped midway in his point of order by the Deputy Speaker on the ground that he was going outside the order which he relied upon.
He pleaded Wase’s understanding to drive home his points and perhaps, be ruled out of order eventually. But his pleas were not taken as he was asked to resume his seat.
“The order which you are bringing this matter is wrong. It’s either you bring it as a full motion but coming under matters of privilege is wrong. So take your seat”, Wase said.
Malami doesn’t deserve to be AGF – MBF
National President of Middle Belt Forum, MBF, Dr. Pogu Bitrus said that the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami does not deserve to be the Chief Law officer of Nigeria on account of his controversial comment.
The Middle Belt leader described the statement as unfortunate stressing that in civilized climes Malami would have been asked to resign.
Dr. Bitrus said: “It is unfortunate that he equated the havoc that open grazing is creating in the country with an economic activity like sale of spare parts. Making that analogy makes the statement more of sentiments than reason because spare parts sales do not cause any harm to anybody. Spare parts do not destroy people’s farms, spare parts do not cause fights between communities.
“So, that analogy is totally misplaced. And for somebody in that position to make such a statement is indicative of how the government is and what it stands for.
“By banning open grazing Southern Governors are not stopping rearing of cattle they are stopping open grazing which is an archaic way of doing things that is creating problems in Nigeria.’’
Comparison of open grazing to spare parts trading’s absurd- PANDEF
To the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, it is absurd comparing of open grazing with trading on spare parts.
National Publicity Secretary, PANDEF, Hon. Ken Robinson, in Port Harcourt, noted that spare parts traders pay tax and shop rents while the herders do not.
Robinson said: “It is rather absurd that Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, would compare Open grazing and movement of cattle to Spare Parts selling, more so, on National Television.
“Should the Honourable Attorney-General be reminded that Spare Parts Sellers hire stores, and pay whatever rates and levies that are imposed by the Local Government Councils were they operate?
“The marauders and murderers parading as herdsmen invade farmlands and forests, molest and even kill innocent Citizens; and Mr. Malami would have the temerity to criticize the rightful banning of the archaic and conflict-prone practice of open grazing. Worst still, comparing it with Spare Parts Sellers; that, in itself speaks to a salient issue, but that is a matter for another day.”
“PANDEF urges the Southern Governors to disregard the jaundiced remarks of the AGF, and go ahead with the implementation of their lawful and courageous declarations.’’
Freedom of movement does not extend to cattle – Atedo Peterside
Speaking on the issue, Mr. Atedo Peterside, founder of Stanbic IBTC and ANAP Foundation, said linking the resolution to ban open grazing in the South with right to free movement of persons is “disingenuous”.
Reacting via a tweet, yesterday, Peterside said 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. The latter does not extend to the free movement of cattle, goats, sheep etc through farms with the attendant destruction of somebody’s harvest.”
Falana knocks Malami
Also reacting, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, lampooned the AGF over his remarks on the ban on open grazing.
Falana, in a statement, urged Malami to stand up for social justice and unity of Nigeria in the interest of all as required of him.
He said: “The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN was reported yesterday to have condemned the ban on open grazing by the Southern Governors Forum. The AGF stated that the ban on open grazing is unconstitutional as it affects the right of herders to move freely in the country.
“With respect, the ban on open grazing has not affected the rights of herders to move freely and acquire land in any state for the establishment of ranches in line with the provisions of sections 41 and 43 of the Constitution. Since the Constitution does not cover the right of animals to move freely and destroy farmlands it is grossly misleading to give the impression that the ban on open grazing has abrogated the right of herders to carry out their business.’’