US assault on democracy; what lessons for Nigeria?

By Tony Eluemunor

Wonders will never end, so the saying goes. I never thought I would see the day when a sitting Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, would exhibit the kind of crude illogicality one would expect from a primary school dropout.  Yet, Alhaji Abubaka Malami (SAN) did just that last Wednesday when he termed the Southern governors’ “ban” on open grazing, unconstitutional.

Malami explained that the governors’ position “does not align with the provisions of the constitution, hence it does not hold water. 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, the Northern governors coming together to say 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?”

Then, in a stinking example of “the bad being filled with passionate intensity,” the same Malami who left the express way for the jungle, advised the Southern governors: “If you are talking of constitutionally guaranteed rights, the better approach to it is to perhaps go back to ensure the constitution is amended. It is a dangerous provision for any governor in Nigeria to think he can bring any compromise on the freedom and liberty of individuals to move around,” he said.

It is terribly easy to see the two things glaringly wrong with Malami’s utterance. This becomes clearer if we recall what the Southern governors said about open grazing; one, they “resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria; noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South.” “Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot); recommended that the Federal Government should support willing states to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems.”

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Yes, the governors agreed to “enforce the ban.” If some states have banned open grazing through acts of their state Assemblies, and such have been signed into laws, what would any sane person make of Malami’s position that such does not “hold water?” What really, if not a call to anarchy? In states where such laws have been enacted, would Malami not be guilty of inciting herders to openly and reprehensibly disobey the law? And is that what is expected of the attorney-general of any country?

Yet, he was advising the governors to attempt to amend the constitution first. Why didn’t he advise those opposed to the enforcement of the ban, to go to court to first shoot down the ban if it is unconstitutional? This is disappointing.

Second, I take due notice of Malami’s baseless claim that the banning of open grazing negates certain constitutional rights of Nigerian citizens. Section 41 of the constitution upholds the right of citizens to move freely throughout Nigeria, to reside in any part thereof, and not to be expelled from the country, or be refused entry or exit therefrom. If that is where Malami got the shamefully defective idea that banning open grazing is akin to Northern governors banning spare parts selling in the North, then, Nigeria has no effective Attorney-General. This is because it is only defective logic, a case of crass and galloping illogicality that would make a man take that leap to a most unfounded conclusion.

Open grazing may be a kind of business, but it is totally different from running a spare parts shop. A spare parts seller does not invade other people’s farms or shops, destroying their crops or merchandise. He has to set up his shop in a legally approved place, say a market. But an open grazing herder has proved to be a destroyer of other people’s farmlands and crops. He obeys no rules of engagement and roams from other peoples’ farms to other people’s farms. While the spare parts shopkeeper has a shop, the herder would only resemble him if the herder has a ranch; yes a ranch. Will someone please point this out to Malami! And, Malami, have spare parts shops in  unapproved areas not routinely destroyed?

Now, Malami has to explain why he can’t appreciate the difference between the business environment of the spare parts seller and the open grazing herder, and the implications of how each of them does his business, and the effects of their activities on other people’s properties and RIGHTS?. What is his problem; crass ignorance or deceit?

That brings us to “ignoratio elenchi” or fallacy of Red Herring, a distraction from the argument typically with some sentiment that seems to be relevant but isn’t really on-topic…just as Malami’s appeal to the constitution is a blatant distraction from the issue at hand. Also, Fulani apologists have told us that the mad and maddening criminal herders are undocumented foreigners.

Then this: In Malami’s Northern Nigeria, Section 342 of the Penal Code (applicable to Northern Nigeria) provides that ‘Whoever enters into or upon property in the possession of another with intent to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy a person in possession of that property, or, having lawfully entered into, or, upon that property, unlawfully remains there with intent thereby to intimidate, insult or annoy such person or with intent to commit an offence, is said to commit criminal trespass.’

Is that too against the citizen’s right of movement? There is a limit to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement, so I’ll use Fela’s lyrics for Malami: “Teacher don’t teach me nonsense.” Or, am I free to saunter, gun in hand, into Malami’s home, take what suits my fancy, whimsically destroy things I can’t cart away, and leave as he claps for me for exercising my freedom of movement? Haba, Mallam, Haba!

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