The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), yesterday came under fire for criticising the open grazing ban by the 17 Southern governors at their recent meeting in Asaba, Delta State.
Malami, while fielding questions on a live TV programme on Wednesday had kicked against the open grazing ban.
The AGF compared the Southern governors’ decision to Northern governors banning spare parts trading in the North, considering the fact that the majority of spare parts traders in the North are from the South.
He had said: “It is about constitutionality. Within the context of the freedoms enshrined in our constitution, can you deny a right of a Nigerian? It is as good as saying maybe the Northern governors coming together to say that 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?”
Reacting to Malami’s comments, the Southern governors dared him to challenge their decision in the court, saying that there is no going back on the open grazing ban.
Some senior lawyers and the Founder of Stanbic IBTC and Anap Foundation, Mr. Atedo Peterside, also criticised the minister over his comments.
However, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and the spokesman of the Senate, Senator Ajibola Bashir, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to remove the minister for opposing the ban.
The South-east Governors’ Forum stated that those who oppose the ban want the killings by herdsmen to continue.
The Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, described Malami’s opposition to the open grazing ban as “wicked and arrogant.”
Akeredolu, in a statement titled ‘Our decision is irreversible and will be enforced,’ asked the AGF to challenge the governor’s position on open grazing in court.
He added that Malami’s comparison of open grazing with the selling of spare parts is annoying.
He said: “The AGF is quoted to have said that this reasoned decision, among others, is akin to banning all spare parts dealers in the Northern parts of the country and is unconstitutional
“It is most unfortunate that the AGF is unable to distil issues as expected of a Senior Advocate. Nothing can be more disconcerting. This outburst should, ordinarily, not elicit a response from reasonable people who know the distinction between a legitimate business that is not in any way injurious and a certain predilection for anarchy.
“Clinging to an anachronistic model of animal husbandry, which is evidently injurious to the harmonious relationship between the herders and the farmers as well as the local populace, is wicked and arrogant.
“Comparing this anachronism, which has led to the 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.
“Mr. Malami is advised to approach the court to challenge the legality of the laws of the respective states banning open grazing and decision of the Southern Governors’ Forum taken in the interest of their people. We shall be most willing to meet him in court.
“The decision to ban open grazing stays. It will be enforced with vigour.”
Also reacting, Afenifere said the comment of Malami on the ban of open grazing by Southern governors, has exposed him as the most unfit for the office of the attorney-general and minister of justice.
The organisation, in a statement yesterday by the Secretary-General, Chief Olusola Ebiseni, said the comment of Malami did not come as a surprise to a discerning mind in view of his positions on certain national issues.
It said Malami’s comments only pitiably exposed him as being most unfit for the office of attorney-general, having always allowed his sectarian disposition to becloud his eminent qualifications.
It said: “Malami does not want serious-minded people to accord him and his high office each time he accepts to play the roles of errand boy and spokesperson of the Miyetti Allah and their herder-members.
“Each time Malami perceives a threat to the interests of Fulani herdsmen, he is quick to latch on to constitutional provisions, which are not relevant to the object of discourse.
“He was readily on hand to vehemently denounce the Amotekun, South-west regional security initiative, as being targeted against Fulani herdsmen and so declared it unconstitutional.
“When challenged to approach the court, he had since developed cold feet.”
Afenifere stated that it is animal that is being prohibited from grazing openly and being moved by foot and urged Malami not to extend the inalienable human rights in the constitution to animals in the defence of a culture, which gives more care to cattle than human beings.
“It is the same primitive mindset of which the Buhari administration has threatened the Governor of Benue State that he would have no place except he allowed a free reign of animals,” the group said.
In his reaction, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, criticised Malami over his “less than dignifying” argument of equating open grazing with Southerners selling spare parts in the North.
He called on Buhari to, without further delay, remove Malami from office.
The senator representing Osun Central Senatorial District of Osun State, who spoke in his personal capacity yesterday, said equating the activities of archaic nomadic herdsmen destroying people’s means of livelihood with others legitimately carrying on businesses by selling spare parts in their shops stood logic on its head.
He stated that the AGF might have forgotten that Nigeria is a federal system with the state governments empowered to make and implement laws for the peace, order and good government of or any part of their respective state.
He said: “This power is derived from the constitution, which with the Land Use Act vested on the governors the management of all land within the territory of the state.”
The lawmaker challenged the AGF to cite relevant sections of the constitution, which allow the herders to trespass on other people’s land and destroy the crops in the guise of freedom of movement, adding that AGF’s comment is less than patriotic.
Some senior lawyers have also berated Malami over his comments.
Mr. John Baiyeshea (SAN) described Malami’s statement as demeaning, divisive and unfortunate.
He said: “He is not the Attorney-General for the Northern region for God’s sake. His statement is so sectional and abusive. There is no iota of law in what he said.
“Open grazing has been a bone of contention all over the country for so many years. Cows are (mis)led into people’s farms by herders and they eat up the products in the farms. The farm owners cannot or should not even complain at all. The Fulani herdsmen will kill anyone who complains.
“So, many valuable lives have been lost through such murderous acts of unrepentant savages. They are always so quick to kill, and nothing happens to them. They are never brought to justice. They seem to be the only tribe that has the license to kill, steal and destroy like the devil.
“Freedom of movement in the constitution, which the AGF and others in his camp are using to justify the evil being perpetrated by the Fulani is for human beings and not animals like cows.
“And such movements by human beings based on the freedom guaranteed by the constitution must be for lawful purposes. So, the spare parts sellers – of which our Igbo brothers are famous and successful entrepreneurs as geniuses – are doing legitimate businesses.
“If they engage in other illegal acts, they will run afoul of the law and will surely be checked. They do not use that for land grabbing or expansionist activities to annex other people’s territories.”
Similarly, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) said the position taken by Malami was not supported by the constitution.
“To start with, the right to freedom of movement alluded to by him is accorded by Section 41 of the Constitution to Nigerian Citizens as different from Nigerian cows or cattle. This simply translates to the fact that while it is beyond a debate that every citizen is at liberty to move freely and reside anywhere in Nigeria, it does not follow that cows and cattle enjoy the same measure of latitude under the constitution.
“The right given to citizens cannot be extrapolated to cows and cattle, simply put. Granted that it is a legitimate business to rear cows and herd cattle, the point is that if by doing any business, in any particular manner, the defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health of Nigeria and Nigerians are being jeopardised, the constitution allows for the business to be prevented by law from being done in that manner. This is by virtue of Section 45 of the selfsame constitution that allows for the exercise of fundamental rights by the Citizens of Nigeria,” he stated.
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), also faulted Malami’s position.
Falana said it was funny that Malami was ignorant of the fact that Northern governors had banned open grazing since January.
According to him, comparing spare parts trading with open grazing is nonsensical.
Falana stated that spare parts traders pay rents and have been known to be peaceful in their conduct.
He said the AGF’s comparison was not applicable as the sellers of motor spare parts have not been accused of killing fellow citizens and destroying their property.
“Besides, those who sell spare parts outside their states of origin either acquire properties or pay rent for their lawful business,” Falana stated.
He added that contrary to Malami’s claim, only humans are guaranteed freedom of movement by the constitution and not animals.
Another human rights lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), also tackled Malami.
Adegboruwa said the AGF lacked the powers to make proclamations for the country.
He added: “The proponents of open grazing support it with the right to freedom of movement granted under section 41 of the constitution. This section cannot be interpreted to violate other constitutional provisions, especially section 43 that grants the right to private or public property.
“You cannot deploy the right to movement of person and cattle to violate the right of another citizen to own property, such as land or farmland, or else you become a trespasser. It is in this regard that I disagree with the honourable Attorney-General of the Federation when he said that the ban on open grazing is unconstitutional. That cannot represent a proper interpretation of the constitution, with all due respect.”
He urged state Houses of Assembly that have proscribed open grazing to make laws to support their declarations.
On his part, Peterside warned that linking the resolution to ban open grazing in the South with right to free movement of persons is “disingenuous.”
Reacting to the minister’s comments, Peterside tweeted yesterday that freedom of movement of persons does not extend to cattle.
“It is disingenuous to link a ban on open grazing to the constitutional right to the free movement of persons.
“The latter does not extend to the free movement of cattle, goats, sheep etc through farms with the attendant destruction of somebody’s harvest,” he said.
In a related development, the Chairman of South-east Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi State Governor, Mr. David Umahi, has said that those kicking against the ban on open grazing as canvassed by Southern governors want killings to continue.
Asked to respond to the claim by Malami that banning open grazing in the South is like banning the sale of spare parts in the North, Umahi told State House reporters in Abuja that those who hold that view misunderstood the situation.
The governor added that the South has no grazing routes, and allowing cows to move freely would mean trespassing on people’s property.
According to him, herder-farmer conflict gave rise to crises and killings, including the setting up of the Eastern Security Network (ESN).
He said: “In the South-east, we don’t have grazing routes but in the North, we have cattle routes. Nobody is going to say ban open grazing in some areas in the North where there are cattle routes, where they move constitutionally from one point to the other. But in the South, there is no cattle route and for you to move from one point to the other, you have to move through farms, through population-dense areas. And this is what the Southern governors, South-east, in particular, are saying.
“Let’s go back to our traditional method of relationship, we will no longer allow you to take your cattle from one local government to the other. And the implication is that these foreign herders also come as mobile herders with AK-47, and so that is the source of conflicts.
“So, anyone that is saying that there should be no ban is, on the other hand, saying that these killings should continue and that is what has birthed to ESN. “Whether we support it as governors or we don’t, the people tend to support it because the foreign herders pretending that they are rearing cattle are killing people.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Idris Wase, at the plenary yesterday, shut down a motion by Hon. Solomon Bob (PDP, Rivers), seeking to call Malami to order over his comment on the ban on open grazing.
Bob, while raising a point of order (Order 6 of House Rules Book), accused the minister of making inciting comments.
The lawmaker described Malami’s comments as disingenuous, irresponsible and loaded with incendiary trope and ethnic slur, praying that he should be called to order.
However, the lawmaker was stopped midway through his point of order by Wase who was presiding the session.
Wase asked the lawmaker to take a seat, saying that the order was wrongly cited.
He said: ”The order in which you are bringing this matter is wrong. It’s either you bring it as a full motion but coming under matters of privilege is wrong so take your seat.”