By Olatunbosun Oladimeji
If he has any shame, Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice should by now have issued a statement apologizing for his wanton display of primordial sentiment on an issue which has become a matter of life and death to many across the nation.
For there is no other motivation, I can deduce beyond that of primordial sentiments given his clearly illogical reaction to the decision of Southern Governors to ban open grazing of animals within their territories as they agreed to after their recent meeting of Tuesday, May 11th in Asaba, the capital of Delta State.
Already, many of the States in the South have banned open grazing of cattle within their territories. Indeed, Governors of the South-West states had after their meeting in Akure, the Ondo State capital on January 25th, 2021 agreed to ban open grazing in their states.
The state chief executives had also announced the prohibition grazing cattle by underaged children and grazing of animals in the night. The decision followed persistent clashes between farmers and herders across states of the Southwest.
Many farmers had lost their lives during confrontations with herders who had grazed their animals to eat up their crops, just as many investments in agricultural ventures were abandoned as a result of the menace of the increasingly violent, uncontrollable herders.
A clear example is the case of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae who was forced to abandon his farm in Ilu Abo, a community outside Akure and cry out for help following consistent destruction of his crops by strangely audacious herders. The former SGF was also kidnapped right on his farm by criminals using cattle herding as a cover up for their nefarious activities. Thus, even more worrisome was the criminal dimension to the supposed cattle business.
The herders have been implicated in the orgy of kidnappings for ransom on the highways, farms and forests not only in the Southwest, but in most parts of the country. Many Nigerians can no longer travel through the highways as a result of kidnappers who are now using cattle herding as a cover up for their nefarious business. Many of our mothers and sisters can also not go to their farms again because the criminal herders now see them as fair sport for abduction and rape.
This was the case in Ibarapa area of Oyo State, Ujugbere and Elegbeka areas of Owo, Ondo State where many farmers have been forced to abandon their farms as a result of incessant abduction by abduction and killings by the criminal herders.
Presently, most farmers in Akoko, Owo, Ose, Akure and Ondo divisions are counting their losses as a result of herdsmen attacks. There have been reports of instances in which the supposed herdsmen used their cattle to block roads in order to allow their compatriots to carry out mass abductions of travellers.
Unfortunately, the security operatives have not been able to rise up to the occasion. Each time it looks like there is lull in their activities, the kidnappers usually find a way to raise their ugly heads in other areas. Overtime, many abducted persons have died in the custody of the kidnappers when their family members cannot pay the ransom demanded on time. Many are still living with the traumas of the days spent in the den of these cold-hearted criminals.
I can talk authoritatively on this having been a victim myself. The Fulanis marauders are deadly in their appearances, actions and bargains. Even as I write this, there were reports of loss of lives in the clashes between farmers and herders in the boundary areas of Benue, Kebbi Niger, Kaduna and Taraba States.
So, for us in the South and even some parts of the North, open grazing of animals had in recent years become synonymous with deaths, destruction of livelihoods and criminalities – the criminals masquerading as herders have become vendors of ‘sorrows, tears and blood’ as was once noted by ‘Baba Abami’ the late Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
This was why the decision of the Southern Governors’ Forum to ban open grazing of animals at their last meeting was generally applauded. This is also why deliberate attempt by Malami to confuse Nigerians through his thoughtless comparison of the ban on open grazing of animals to ban of trade in spare parts in the Northern part of the country has been receiving condemnations from all who wish Nigerians and the country well. For one, many Nigerians could not see the correlation between open grazing of animals on people’s land and the attendant destruction of other people’s investment.
From what we know, the spare parts dealer will pay to acquire the space for doing his business and the venture does not involve forceful takeover of other people’s farmlands or eat up of crops, the livelihoods of many in our villages. Indeed, no one is banning the herders from doing their businesses, contrary to the assertion of the AGF.
What most Nigerians are asking for is that like the spare part dealer, the herder or those involved in rearing of animals should also acquire spaces where they will rear their animals in the form of ranches. By going the way of ranching, many Nigerians, including even some of the Northern Governors have argued that the herders will stop being nuisances to communities and their trade will even be more profitable.
The Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje has said this many times over and has even gone to put this into practice by establishing a very big ranch in one of the forests in his state.
Even, Ondo State is also perfecting a legislation that will allow for establishment of ranches in the state. Akeredolu, the Chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum captured the wonkiness in the supposed Senior Advocate of Nigeria’s response to the ban on open grazing in his exemplary and well-reasoned response to the AGF. “It 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,” the Governor had said in his statement that he signed personally.
“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,” the Governor added in the statement. The Ondo State Governor also rightly pointed out that Malami’s attempt to compare the harmless business of sale of spare parts to a vocation that has become synonymous with vending of sorrows and destructions across communities in Nigeria.
“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, annoyingly, betrays a terrible mindset,” the Governor, himself a distinguished Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former President of Nigeria Bar Association, NBA said while challenging the Minister to go to court to challenge the legality of the Laws of the respective States banning open grazing.
He insisted that the decision of the Southern Governor Forum to ban open grazing was taken in the interest of their people and will be vigorously enforced. In the past few hours which Akeredolu issued this statement, many analysts across the country had tagged Akeredolu as African Frontliner, while others called him Southern Hero and Valiant Governor. This is just to acknowledge his doggedness and boldness to stand out for what is right, which is by the way.
Other senior lawyers and prominent Nigerians have put up the same argument like the one put forward by Akeredolu. The constitutional guaranteed freedom of movement is for human beings. Certainly, it can not be a right for an individual to take his animals to where he will destroy livelihood of others.
The late Hon. Justice Adewale Thompson had noted this in a judgment he delivered as far back as 1969 in which he banned open grazing. In the judgment delivered in suit no AB/26/66 at Abeokuta Division of the High Court, the respected erudite Judge noted that: “I do not accept the contention of Defendants that a custom exists which imposes an obligation on the owner of farm to fence his farm whilst the owner of cattle allows his cattle to wander like pests and cause damage. Such a custom if it exists, is unreasonable and I hold that it is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and therefore unenforceable…in that it is highly unreasonable to impose the burden of fencing a farm on the farmer without the corresponding obligation on the cattle owner to fence in his cattle. Sequence to that I banned open grazing for it is inimical to peace and tranquility and the cattle owners must fence or ranch their animals for peace to reign in these communities.”
However, Malami reaction is just another example of now increasingly not well thought out reactions to events by some elements in the presidency which is increasingly turning many Nigerians against the Buhari’s administration. In such instances, the officials allowed their primordial sentiments to trump logic and reason.
Recall the reaction that greeted the quit notice given by Akeredolu to herdsmen to vacate forest reserves of Ondo State over their involvement in kidnappings and criminal activities ? Also, recall the opposition to the establishment of the local vigilance group, the Amotekun? I don’t want to believe that some Nigerians will want the pervasive banditry that is resulting in scores of deaths, killings and destruction of livelihoods to be replicated in the Southern part of the country.
On the ban on open grazing, Akeredolu and the Southern Governor are standing on a very firm legal and moral ground. The Governors are elected to protect their people and they should putting a ban on open grazing is just one of the ways of discharging this responsibility. They should not allow those who cannot see beyond primordial sentiments to distract them.
Olatunbosun Oladimeji, a former Senior Special Assistant on Publications to the governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, writes from Akure, Ondo State