President Muhammadu Buhari’s disclosure in the exclusive interview with Arise Television last Thursday that he had asked the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to “recover” grazing routes for pastoralists will surely worsen our already woeful security situation.
This directive is the affirmation of Malami’s earlier assertion that the ban on open grazing by the 17 Southern Governors was “unconstitutional”. Malami had referred to the ban as an infringement on the herders and their cows’ “freedom of movement”.
The Governors pronounced the ban due to attacks on indigenous communities by armed herders, most of whom are foreigners. Apart from that, the constitutional right is for law-abiding people. Using animals to trespass on people’s lands, destroying their farms, killing, raping, kidnapping for ransom and forcibly occupying other people’s lands are definitely crimes punishable by the laws of Nigeria.
Buhari referred to a “gazette” which created the grazing reserves and routes, apparently forgetting that the 1999 Constitution(as amended) vests the power over land on the various state governors to hold in trust for the benefit of the people. The Southern Governors have already so acted by banning the harmful practice of open grazing.
Since the Governors’ order is supported by the Constitution, the laws and the earlier unvacated ban pronounced by Justice Adewale Thompson 52 years ago, it stands. Any attempt by the Federal Government to exhume a dead gazette to violate the constitutional powers of the Governors will be an act of impunity. It will set the Federal Government and herdsmen supporters against the state governors and their indigenous people at loggerheads. We fail to see how this will provide a solution to our insecurity.
A gazette is just a government bulletin. It can never overshadow the Constitution, extant state laws and judicial pronouncements which have already rendered open grazing an illegal act in many states. Besides, there is no evidence that the owners of the lands converted to “grazing routes” by the so-called federal gazette were consulted and gave their approval.
Even if they did, the population of Nigeria has quadrupled since then. Areas that used to be virgin forests have become human habitats or been converted for food cultivation. It is simply impossible to “recover” such lands for benefit of herdsmen and their cows.
We call on the president to focus more effort in promoting ranching among livestock owners. Animal husbandry is a business just like others. Those practising it should acquire or rent land for that purpose.
These violent attacks by pastoralists and forceful measures by government officials to deprive people of their ancestral patrimonies will forever be resisted.
We call for sanity to prevail.