Malami, open grazing and a nation for the cows

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Minister for Justice and Attorney-General Abubakar Malami EFCC assets
The office of the Minister for Justice and Attorney-General Abubakar Malami is prosecuting Nnamdi Kanu

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

In the wake of the ban on open grazing by the 17 southern governors last week, in Asaba, Delta state, among other resolutions, like calling for restructuring, I have seen and watched many viral video clips involving cows and the menace they have become as a result of grazing openly. Many of the videos might have been shot a while ago but they seem to come handy in the defence of the decision of the southern governors.

One video contains the invasion of a school and how cows entered the classrooms where students were learning. The scared students had to vacate the classrooms for safety. Another was a hospital. Imagine the horror on the face of a person on sick bed as the cows strolled into the wards “to pay sympathy visit” to them. One patient jumped out of his bed carrying along, his intravenous syringe through which he was receiving drip.

It was a common sight to see cows take over roads across the country all these years. But they began to move around openly in broad day light, within the Abuja city, Central Business District (CBD), Maitama district, Wuse and many highbrow areas of the Federal Capital Territory only few years ago. The worst of all was the video where cows invaded the runway of the airport, despite the supposed tight security around such facility. How could that have happened if not impunity. The risk that such incursion constitutes and the danger it portends in an event that a cow strays into an aircraft taking off or landing is better imagined.

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President Muhammadu Buhari
Deal of the day

In truth, open grazing and cows invading roads and farmlands did not start with this administration, it has existed long before. However, something changed immediately President Buhari took over. While all these years, there could be disputes arising from invasion and destruction of farmlands by herders, they were often resolved as amicably as possible. The herders usually paid for the damaged crops.

But since 2015, there is this aura of impunity by the herdsmen. Suddenly, they became audacious and arrogant as they graze their cattle into peoples’ farms without care. Many interpreted such behaviour to demonstrate a mindset of “we are now in power”. The herders could enter anybody’s property and farmlands, graze their cows and feed on farm harvests as they wished. I learnt they referred to harvested yams stored in the barns as “indomie” for their cows.

Where the farm owners resisted, they threatened them, chased them away or attacked them. Many instances have led to deaths. These started becoming more pervasive since 2016. Many people cried to the federal government but their cries fell on deaf ears. I could remember all kind of senseless justifications and excuses that spokespersons and supporters of the administration used to give. Something like: “they are not Fulanis”, “the complainants only want to spoil President Buhari’s name because he is a Fulani”, “the complainants are PDP supporters”, “they are sore election losers”. And the likes.

Abia farmers fear herdsmen in the State
A herder grazing his cattle across Nigeria

The herdsmen graduated to roaming with assault weapons. AK47 became popular with them. They began to kill farm owners, taking over their farmlands. They started invading villages and communities, massacred the indigenes, burnt down the entire village and took over their communities. We woke up to one of the most dastardly, beastly and devilish incident on the crossover night to year 2018. 73 people were reportedly murdered in cold blood by killer herdsmen. There was outrage.

Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom began to have differences between him and his former party hierarchy in APC. They did not expect him to cry out but to keep quiet. He defied them. The corpses were in the open as they did mass burial for them. What followed? The President said Nigerians should learn to live with one another. He never took action for many days until the criticisms were overwhelming. He feebly directed the then IGP, Ibrahim Idris, to relocate to Benue and fish out the killers, an order that the IGP willfully disobeyed. He not only did not catch any killer, he never relocated to Benue.

In fact, as he breezed into the state, so he breezed out to go and “enjoy” with his people in the neighbouring Nasarawa state. President Buhari claimed he never knew the IGP did not carry out his order when he was confronted with the question in Benue during his condolence visit after almost three months, which he reluctantly made due to insults hurled ay him. What happened to the IGP after that? Nothing, of course. The same IGP even called murdering 73 people and another 65 subsequently, many in their sleep, “a two fighting” between farmers and herders. Could there be more callous and sadistic comment? This was seen as a reflection of the administration’s mindset, but no one thought it was far deeper.

All the attacks on Benue state were consequences of banning open grazing in the state, through legally made anti-open grazing law, by the State House of Assembly. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), rejected the ban and said the governor and the people had no right to make such law. Who could have imagined that the same thing would be publicly echoed three years later, by no other than the number one legal man in Nigeria, the AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN). One can then imagine the kind of legal advices he gives to the president. Many have started putting the pieces together, as regards many incredible pronouncements, actions and inactions of President Buhari in the last six years, which he always claimed to be premised on the constitution.

Southern governors meet in Asaba over insecurity
Southern governors met in Asaba and agreed to ban open grazing

Governor Ortom and other governors, especially under APC were doing “eye-service” and playing to the gallery since the coming of Buhari in 2015. Everyone wants to look good in his eyes and be in his favourites’ book. They excused all his wrongs, justified his bad decisions, defended his missteps, as far as governance of this country was concerned. No one wants to be seen as antagonistic to him. That was what Ortom did for over two years before the mass murder of his people, then he started crying out. Others continued. They even blamed and abuse him for speaking out.

But, it seems the chicken has come home to roost. Just last week, the whole 17 governors of the south banned open grazing, in a unanimous decision. That’s unprecedented and it has thrown some of their counterparts from the north into disarray. It has upset the apple cart. This has led to various antagonistic reactions from both elected and unelected leaders in the north. Although, similar declarations have previously been made by Northern Governors Forum and the Nigeria Governors Forum, with no reactions to them. May be they never meant it then.

Notable among the antagonists is the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan. He was quick to condemn the southern governors for demanding restructuring and making those pronouncements. This he made known when he visited the villa last week. He has received serious criticism for his opinion.

Ironically, this is the same person who is supposed to chair any constitutional amendment that will enable peoples’ demands to be incorporated. How would that be possible when the head of that arm does not believe in it, with his personal parochial interest and that of some people he might represent, not aligning with that of the majority. He will work tirelessly to frustrate such effort. No wonder many have demanded for his impeachment, that he is no longer fit to lead an arm of government that represents the whole country.

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Senate President Ahmad Lawan

I wasn’t surprised by whatever statement or action from Senator Lawan. He who pays the piper, dictates the tune. We were all witnesses to how he became the president of the senate. He has lived up to that bidding by turning that arm of government to an appendage of the executive arm. People refer to them as “rubber stamp” national assembly now. He will always kowtow the executive.

Another prominent member of this administration, who has made it his duty to protect cows by all and every means possible, even if it is at the expense of human lives, is the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN). His case is more dangerous because, he is the number one legal officer for the country, on who the president relies for all legal advices, constitutional interpretations and guides in legal actions.

But with the kind of mindset he exhibits as reflected in many statements he makes, one wonders what kind of advice he gives to the president. No wonder the kinds of actions and inactions that President Buhari often take, even when they are contrary to the yearnings of many Nigerians. He must have helped pollute the mind of the president the more, even if the president already has his own shortcomings. “Eniti a ko nika togba, o ni tinu e se”.

Just this Wednesday, while appearing on a television programme, Malami made statements that riled a lot of people. They are unbecoming of a national legal officer of a country. He stated that the seventeen southern governors do not have constitutional powers to ban open grazing in their states. He went ahead to make ludicrous comparison of such action to banning “spare parts” sales in the north. It was incredulous. Nigerians were shocked to hear their AGF said that.

He said banning open grazing amounts to infringement on constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement of all Nigerians across the country. Sadly, he has been thoroughly scolded by not only people in the legal profession, but many non-legal minds who believe it’s dumb to make such juxtaposition. Non-lawyers have since been educating and enlightening Malami too.

Open grazing is strictly about the movement of cattles across the country in the open without restrictions. It has nothing to do with movement of the cattle owners. So, the fundamental right he is referring to does not include cows as he might want us to believe. They are “human” rights. That should be no-brainer. Malami goofed big time there.

Again, those who engage in selling spare parts in the north and anywhere in the country, do so, strictly as private businesses. They buy lands and build their shops and stores or rent and paid for the shops. In carrying out their trades, they do not encroach on other peoples’ properties, invade peoples’ lands, destroyed peoples’ assets, cause deaths, kill, maim, rape or kidnap their host community members, unlike what many have experienced in the hands of the herdsmen. How could a Senior Advocate of Nigeria compared these two scenarios, just to satisfy his narrow-mindedness? That’s preposterous.

That was not the first time, just the latest. That was how he vehemently opposed the establishment of Amotekun by the six governors of the South-West last year January. The security outfit was established to checkmate the heinous crimes being committed by the criminal Fulani herdsmen and other criminals in the region, which had gone unchallenged for years. He hid under the same constitutionality then.

Many wondered if our AGF, who represents the administration, actually prefers that the Fulani herdsmen continue to commit their atrocities unhindered. He did everything to sabotage Amotekun, but for the resolute stand of the governors, led by Aketi, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, the governor of Ondo State, who equally, a legal luminary, a SAN, a former NBA president and a very senior to Malami in the profession. He was also instrumental to last week declaration by the southern governors. His state has been worst-hit in south-west.

Surprisingly, the Meyatti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), who often resisted such moves, must have realised the folly of antagonising the state governors. They have agreed to the ban on open grazing. How come Malami is taking panadol for other peoples’ headache? There are other recalcitrant individuals and organisations who continued to disagree with that decision of the governors. It’s their right. But what must be done, must be done!

Governor Ganduje has advocated for ban on open grazing and movement of cows from the north to south by foot but he was criticised by the same northerners. He offered to accommodate the Fulani herdsmen in the state RUGA settlements he established for ranching in Kano state. I don’t know how much of that opportunity they have taken. It’s because people like Malami, Governor Bala Muhammed of Bauchi state and their likes, are ready to defend them and justify their actions. That’s the reason for the impunity.

If the north has over two-third of Nigeria’s landmass, why would any herder want to forcefully take over the far smaller landmass in the south? The country has invested in massive irrigation across the north. Many dams and artificial lakes are all over. All these were built by the Federal Government with our money. Why is it difficult for the herders to key into that by establishing ranches for their cattles along those irrigation lines?

In as much as I agree that herding is a private business, just like Malami’s spare parts analogy, like rearing goats, pigs, fish farming, or any other business, many of which operate independent of government’s supports, I will advocate an initial concessional supports for the herders. Given the urgency of this ban, and the capital intensive nature of establishing standard ranches, the government at the states where the herders come from should provide them financial supports in the form of low interest or interest-free soft loans or grants.

State governments across the north could engage private sector to establish ranches where herders can rear their cattles at a fee they can pay annually. It could be Public-Private Partnership (PPP). These efforts will help stabilise the dislocated genuine herdsmen, different from those criminals who only hide under them to perpetrate evils. Anyone who is then found afterwards should be treated as criminals that they are. The herders should also see these gestures as privileges and not rights. That has been the problem in the past.

In all, the southern governors’ position is commendable and they should not waver on it. Each state should legislate on it and put it in their state laws to give it legal teeth, constitutionally. They should also make arrangements for proper enforcement of the law as they can’t rely on the federal government agencies to do so. History has not been kind to them in that regards.

This bloodshed must stop. And every effort to make that happen should not be spared. One of such efforts is the ban. I implore the governors of the northern states to do the same, given that the worst insecurities due to this happen in the north. Why would they prefer that human lives get lost just for cows to feed and survive? That’s unthinkable. No retrogressive tradition or practice of a people should be used as excuse to destabilise the country as we are seeing. It’s no longer fashionable, tenable, economical and profitable to continue the aged-long normardic way of herding cows. It’s outdated.

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator. He can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter, Lateef Adewole on Facebook