Something serious happened on May 20 2021. It was on that day that the Justice Minister and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami earned the title “controversial” (as in contentious and divisive, even provocative). The Southern Governors Forum had agreed to enforce the ban on open-grazing law in their states.
Malami equated that ban with the Northern Governors banning spare parts trading in their own region considering the fact that Southerners comprise a majority of spare parts traders in the North. But I am not in any way focusing on the irritation that Malami threw up with his most unfortunate declaration.
The marvelous thing that happened that day was a court judgement.
And I am bringing it up here because that is how democracy is deepened. Please remember that Malami had waxed lyrical, with irrelevant but high-sounding and pretentious inanity that any who would want to impose a ban on open-grazing of cattle should first of all alter the Constitution, which has given every Nigerian the right of free movement across the land.
As Malami was highlighting his flawed logic and poor interpretation of the Constitution, a court of law, duly constituted, was a short distance away from Malami’s office in the same city of Abjua, doing what a court, not Malami, had the constitutional right to do; interpret the law.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu may have written her name into the history books when on that same May 20, 2021 that Malami made that mal-interpretation of the constitution, she put the legal records straight. First, she gave a pyrrhic victory to the Presidency; saying the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit seeking to compel the President to enforce the Benue State anti-grazing law; Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranching Law of 2017.
The plaintiff, Mr. Mathew Nyiutsa, had argued that the President, by his oath of office, had a mandatory obligation to uphold and preserve the laws of the land, but failed to abide by this oath of office when he refused to implement the Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranching Law. He added that despite the existence of that law, herders still practiced open grazing, engaging in killings and destructions of property in Benue state.
Pyrric Victory: Mrs Ojukwu said: “The plaintiff may have genuine concerns in respect of the facts averred, but there are procedures set out by law to address issues concerning citizens’ rights and violations.
“There is no contest that the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranching establishment law 2017 was validly passed by the Benue House of Assembly and that the law is still in force, especially as the law has not been struck down by any court of law or court of competent jurisdiction. The implementation, therefore, lies with the machinery of the state and law enforcement agencies like the police, whose duty is to maintain law and order and to secure lives and properties in accordance with Section Four of the Police Act,” she ruled.
She said: ‘It’s a matter of misconduct not triable by court’. The enforcement of the law borders on the issue of non-compliance with the oath of office and misconduct which the National Assembly is empowered to deal with. In my view, the courts do not have the jurisdiction to entertain any suit bordering on compliance with the oath of office of the president for the reason that it is not justiciable. When the person, in this regard, the president, fails to abide by the oath, the National Assembly, in line with the set down procedures, may consider it a misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office and take the appropriate measures under the constitution,” the Judge ruled.
She sent this message: “It is the responsibility of the people of Benue State and law enforcement agencies and the task force “to employ all legitimate means to implement the anti-open grazing law”.
Justice Ojukwu even came in defence of the President: “In so far as the President has not issued any executive order, which runs contrary to the said law, this court cannot hold him accountable. But she had handed the Presidency a pyrrhic victory.
A Pyrrhic victory takes a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress, and originated from a quote from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC destroyed much of the forces he had brought to Italy, forcing him to withdrew to Sicily thus ending his campaign. He complained “If I achieve such a victory again, I shall return to Epirus without any soldier” or as Plutarch put it, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined”.
On May 25th , yes, five days after the judgment, Mallam Garba Shehu said on President Buhari’s behalf, that the Asaba Declaration, which moved to place a ban on open grazing “offered no solution to the herder-farmer clashes and that “It is equally true that their announcement is of questionable legality, given the Constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT) -regardless of the state of their birth or residence”.
“Solution”? Not even President Buhari has the power to enact laws for the states or impose any solution on them. And someone should tell someone that a ban of a bad thing is a solution if that ban is enforced. Pure logic supports this. And “Questionable legality”? Did Garba Shehu and his boss not know of Justice Ojukwu’s ground-breaking judgment? Place a thousand opinions of a thousand President Buharis and a thousand Malamis and a thousand Garba Shehus together and they would be inconsequential if they are opposed to a single court judgment. In this case a court has spoken and a precedent has been set. Malami (SAN) should explain this to….! Ah ha. That is how democracy works.