The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, on Thursday came under fire for dismissing Southern governors’ ban on open grazing of cattle.
The Southern Governors’ Forum, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Senate spokesman, Ajibola Basiru and others, who criticised the AGF, said his comment fell short of what Nigerians expected from the chief law officer of the country.
Southern governors last week at their meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, banned open grazing as part of measures to address insecurity, particularly killings and kidnapping by armed herdsmen.
But Malami, in an interview on Channels Television on Wednesday, described the ban as unconstitutional, saying, “It is as good as saying, perhaps, maybe, the northern governors coming together to say 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?”
Malami’s statement annoying, preference for anarchy– Akeredolu
Reacting to the statement, the Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, said the ban had come to stay.
In a statement he personally issued, Akeredolu said the Malami’s statement was unfortunate and unexpected from a senior advocate.
Akeredolu said, “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 any way injurious and a certain predilection for anarchy. 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.
“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 decision to ban open grazing stays and it will be enforced with vigour.”
AGF’s stand thoughtless, prejudicial – Ohanaeze
On its part, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, lashed out at Malami for comparing open grazing to spare parts sale in the North.
Ohanaeze, in statement by its spokesman, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, said the remark by the AGF was “thoughtless, insidious and prejudicial.”
It also described Malami’s statement as “malevolent, ominous and incendiary.”
While reminding Malami of his past statements, where he said that “the rule of law is subservient to national security”, it said he (the AGF) had become a chief law officer that twisted the law at will.
Ohanaeze added, “Malami had also condemned the Amotekun security outfit by the South-West and so on. Malami knows that there has never been a report of a clash between the Southern motor spare parts sellers and the indigenous northerners.
“The motor spare parts sellers render their services to the populace from shops or sheds and are in no way comparable to the Fulani herders who invade farmlands, destroy crops, debauch women, maim, abduct and kill.”
Remove Malami, Senate spokesman tells Buhari
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media, Basiru, in a statement in Abuja asked the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to remove Malami from office immediately.
He said it was “less than dignifying” to be equating open grazing with southerners selling spare parts in the North.
The Senator, who said he issued the statement in his personal capacity, stated, “It was not dignifying of the status of the nation’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice to make such remarks.”
The Senator 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.
The Senator noted that the statement of the attorney general was one capable of derailing the unity, peace and progress of Nigeria.
He, therefore, called for “the immediate removal from office of the AGF.”
He said, “Anyone who cannot rise above primordial sentiments and pursuit of parochial ethnic agenda need not occupy position of trust especially at this time of sectional agitations.”
The Senator also advised those who had no meaningful contributions to national discourse operating on the basis of equity and justice to keep quiet and stop rubbishing the Buhari-led APC regime.
He challenged the AGF to cite relevant sections of the constitution which allowed 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 was less than patriotic.
Malami’s comment dangerous, raising tension – Abaribe
Also, the Minority Leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, accused the attorney-general of threatening the nation’s unity.
Abaribe, in a statement in Abuja by his media aide, Uche Awon, said Malami’s statement had exposed his mindset about some people in Nigeria.
He stated, “While the local ‘bureau de change’ business mostly done by the Fulani is operating in all parts of Nigeria, why have they (Fulani bureau de change operators) not elicited any resentment of other Nigerians?
“It is simply because they live and do their business peacefully without any problem. It is the murderous activities of Fulani herders that have given rise to the current demand for laws that will bring about peaceful coexistence of all Nigerians.
“What’s the correlation between spare parts sellers in a rented shop or government properly designated area and marauding Fulani herders destroying farms, killing and raping thus trampling on people’s private properties and means of livelihood?
“Such a divisive statement from a top Federal Government official, in fact, the chief legal adviser to the Federal Government at that, exposes a very dangerous mindset. This disposition has no doubt raised the tension in Nigeria to a frightening level.”
Comparing open grazing to spare parts sale nonsensical —Falana
On his part, a human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN, in a statement, said it was funny that Malami, who is the chief law officer, was ignorant of the fact that northern governors had taken a decision to ban open grazing since January.
He said, “On April 27, 2018, the members of the National Economic Council resolved to ban open grazing and adopt the Livestock Transformation Plan of the Federal Government. The National Economic Council is constituted by the Vice President, the 36 state governors, the Minister of Finance and the central bank governor.
“On February 9, 2021, the Northern Governors Forum banned open grazing in all states in northern Nigeria. On February 11, 2021 the Nigeria Governors’ Forum banned open grazing in all the 36 states of the federation.”
The senior advocate said comparing spare parts trading with open grazing was nonsensical.
Falana argued that spare parts traders paid rents and had been known to be peaceful in their conduct.
“The AGF equally said that banning open grazing is like banning the sale of spare parts. The comparison is not applicable as the sellers of motor parts who operate in shops and markets in all states have not been accused of engaging in the killing of fellow citizens and destruction of their properties.”
“The ban on open grazing has not affected the rights of herders to move freely and acquire land in any state for the establishment of ranches in line with the provisions of sections 41 and 43 of the constitution.
“Since the constitution does not cover the right of animals to move freely and destroy farmlands it is grossly misleading to give the impression that the ban on open grazing has abrogated the right of herders to carry out their business,” he argued.
Falana advised Malami to note that as the AGF and minister of justice, he ought to watch his utterances in order not to divide the country.
“Malami should be reminded that he is the AGF and Minister of Justice of Nigeria. So, in making statements he should always regard the sensibilities of every part of the country and respect all legitimate interests of the entire people of the country,” he added.
The pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, also condemned Malami.
In a statement issued by a chieftain, Mr Sola Ebiseni, on its behalf, the group said Malami’s statement showed his support for killer herdsmen.
The statement read, “The sectarian and emotional vituperations of Abubakar Malami on the ban of open grazing of cattle by the governors of Southern Nigeria did not come to discerning Nigerians as a surprise.
“It only pitiably exposed him as being most unfit for the office of the attorney-general having always allowed his sectarian disposition to becloud his eminent qualifications.
“Contrary to his latest vituperations, the ban on open grazing and movement of animals by foot is not a denial of freedom and liberty of movement and does not require the slightest touch of the constitution for the governor to pronounce. For the attention of Malami, most of the states already have laws banning open grazing and the pronouncement of the governors was merely to give effect to an existing law.”
Spare parts dealers, legitimate traders – S’South governors
The Chairman, South-South Governors’ Forum and Governor of Delta State Ifeanyi Okowa, also faulted the AGF.
The governor, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olise Ifeajika, said the spare parts traders obeyed the laws of the land.
He said, “The spare parts traders before starting their business, rented shops or as the case maybe, bought land and built shops. They obey the laws of the land.
“Herdsmen move their cattle into people’s farm and destroy their farm produce. When the owners talk, the herders will kill, destroy, rape their women and even kidnap them.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, in a statement, said the AGF’s comment was beyond the scope of his powers as he was not in a position to interpret the constitution.
He stated, “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.”
The National Patron of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria, Senator Walid Jibrin, in an interview with journalists in Kaduna, said open grazing by herdsmen was outdated.
Jibrin called for an alternative to open grazing and commended southern governors for the ban. He also berated its critics.