ASABA DECLARATION: Will Buhari Budge On Open Grazing Ban, Restructuring, Others?

Buhari Asaba Declaration Caricature

…FG Rejects Southern, Opposition Governors’ Resolution
…Ganduje Backs Open Grazing Ban
…Who Blinks First?

BEVERLY HILLS, May 23, (THEWILL) – The end, definitely, may not have been heard of the controversies triggered by the resolutions passed by members of the Southern Governors Forum at their meeting held a fortnight ago in Asaba, the Delta State capital. THEWILL authoritatively gathered that the governors, in their determination to drive home their demands, are set to meet with President Muhamadu Buhari any time from now and officially table their requests. Already, one of the resolutions arrived at during their meeting in Asaba – the decision to ban open grazing across southern Nigeria – is generating heated debate in the country. Undeterred and apparently determined to walk their talk and go all out to enforce their decisions, the governors appear ready for the big battle ahead against the President’s men, who, from all indications, are bent on maintaining the “status quo.”

RISING UP TO A MESSY SITUATION

Against the state of general insecurity and lawlessness pervading the country at present and the seeming inability of the Federal Government to rise to the embarrassing security challenge, the 17 governors of the southern states had risen to the occasion in a clear bid to protect their states and people as they gathered in Asaba for the meeting hosted by the Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa.

PDP Governors Meeting at Asaba

 

Present at the Asaba meeting held on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, were the nine governors from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), seven governors from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and one governor from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Absent at the meeting were two governors, namely, Ben Ayade (Cross River, PDP) who defected to the ruling APC last week and Gboyega Oyetola (Osun State, APC). Also, the governors of Imo and Akwa Ibom States, though absent, were represented by their deputies.

ASABA DECLARATION

In the 12-point communique issued at the end of the meeting, the Southern Governors Forum came up with resolutions that they considered to be pertinent to the future of their states in a corporate entity called Nigeria. The resolutions, now known as the Asaba Declaration, have become not only controversial, but also controversial thorns in the flesh of some of their northern counterparts, who are overtly protective of their archaic cattle herding practice and seem to have the open backing of the President’s men and close aides.

PDP Governors Meeting at Asaba 2

 

Apparently bent on forcing their will and interests on the entire country without due regards to the principles of true federalism, they see the Asaba Declaration as a ‘mutiny’ and an affront that must be shot down for their northern interests to continue benefiting from the apparent lopsidedness in political appointments and other inequalities that, unfortunately, have been pushed to the front burner by the Muhammadu MBuhari Administration. The insistence of the southern governors on the ban on open grazing in all southern states, restructuring of the country and devolution of power, among other vexed issues, has, indeed, pitched them against Buhari’s men as the crisis appears set to progress into a full-blown clash of political and regional interests.

FIRING THE FIRST SALVO

However, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), may have taken his luck too far in his opposition to the Asaba Declaration as he came out openly to condemn the southern governors. Apparently presenting himself as the unofficial “Voice of the Fulani Herdsmen” and official “Defender of the North”, the Attorney General threw caution to the winds by his preposterous statement comparing open grazing to spare parts trading in the North by southerners. Malami, who spoke on a Channels Television show on Wednesday, had said that the decision of the southern governors did not “hold water” in the context of human rights as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution of 1999.

Abubakar Malami (SAN)
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami

“It is about constitutionality within the context of the freedoms expressed in our constitution. Can you deny the rights of a Nigerian?” the AGF quipped, adding, “For example, 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? If you are talking of constitutionally guaranteed rights, the better approach to it is to perhaps go back to ensure the constitution is amended.”

WE STAND BY OUR DECISION – AKEREDOLU

Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, would however not take the preposterous reasoning from Malami as he expressly fired back at the minister, describing his faulty logic as “wicked and arrogant.”

Governor Rotimi Akeredolu
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu

In a statement condemning Malami’s outburst, Akeredolu said: “I have just read the press statement credited to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Shehu Malami, on the resolution of the Southern Governors Forum to ban open grazing in their respective states.

“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 distill issues as expected of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. 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 the decisions of the Southern Governor 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.”

AGF’S COMPARISON IS NONSENSICAL – FALANA

Also slamming Malami for his reckless comparison was human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, who described the comparison of spare parts trading with open grazing as nonsensical, saying it was funny that the minister, who is the chief law officer of the federation, was ignorant of the fact that northern governors had taken a decision to ban open grazing since January.

“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,” Falana said, adding, “On February 9, 2021, the Northern Governors Forum banned open grazing in all states in northern Nigeria. On February 11, 2021, the Nigerian Governors Forum banned open grazing in all the 36 states of the Federation.”

Maintaining that spare parts traders pay rents and had been known to be peaceful in their conduct, Falana said: “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…

“With respect, 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…

“Besides, those who sell spare parts outside their states of origin either acquire properties or pay rent for their lawful business…

“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. Mr. Malami should please stand up for social justice and unity of Nigeria in the interest of all as required of him in accordance with his oath of office under the 1999 Constitution.”

ABUJA HIGH COURT HAS OKAYED THE BAN – AJULO

An Abuja-based lawyer and human rights activist, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, said, “From all indication, any attempt to criticise the actions of the Southern Governors on the ban of open gracing which is a regulation of pasturing and herding of cows is clearly calculated to fan into flame the embers of sectionalism, and to polarise people along ethnic lines to the detriment of national security.”

In a note to THEWILL on Thursday, Ajulo said: “As if this is the forensic response to the hullabaloo created by a cacophony of opinions on the open grazing, the Federal High Court, Abuja on Thursday affirmed the right of Nigerian states to implement anti-grazing laws in their domains. This position weakens that of nay-sayers to open grazing on the ground that such a ban is unconstitutional and infringes on the rights of movement enshrined in the nation’s laws.”

The court presided over by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu indicated this when it rejected a suit seeking to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to direct security agencies to enforce the Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranching Law of 2017.

According to Ajulo, “The judge, in the judgement, also said the enforcement of the anti-grazing law, having been validly passed by the Benue House of Assembly, for instance, “lies with the state government”.

“Aside from Benue State, there are other states particularly in the southern part of the country that have put the anti-open grazing law in place to check rampant kidnappings and killings associated with some criminal herders in their domains.

“The aspect of the fresh from the bakery Thursday’s judgment affirming the power of state governments to enforce the anti-open grazing law in their states comes as impetus for the implementation of such a statute where they are already in place and an inspiration for others to seek to have it.

“Conclusively, in the light of the current social, economic implications including psychological intimidations and the overall depressing atmosphere which open grazing has permitted, it is my belief that the action of the Governors is a step in the right direction.

“Whatever angle the present issue tilts, one thing is certain, open grazing is archaic, anachronistic and out of synch with modern day realities. What is more itinerate rearing of animal and breeding animals on crops, grass and other plants which might be dangerous to the health of the animals and allowing animals to wander for several kilometers and miles are forms of cruelty to animals punishable under our Penal laws. For instance Section 495 of the Criminal Code prohibits cruelty to animal. “

MINISTER CAN’T MAKE PROCLAMATIONS FOR NIGERIA – ADEGBORUWA

Also faulting Malami on his unguided proclamations, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said, “His comment is ultra vires, being beyond and outside his office as a minister,” adding, “The role of interpreting the constitution is the exclusive preserve of the courts under the constitution.”

According to Adegboruwa, “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. The AGF is a member of the Executive arm of government, under section 5 of the Constitution. The Constitution has not assigned any role to the AGF to make proclamations for the country. “

SACK MALAMI NOW – SENATE SPOKESPERSON

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media, Senator Ajibola Basiru, in a statement on Thursday, said Malami should be sacked immediately, describing the minister’s comments as “less than dignifying.”

Basiru maintained that “It was not dignifying of the status of the nation’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice to make such remarks,” saying equating the activities of archaic nomadic herdsmen destroying peoples means of livelihood with others legitimately carrying on businesses by selling spare parts in their shops stand logic on its head.

According to the Senate spokesperson, “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.”

OPEN GRAZING INCOMPATIBLE WITH MODERNITY – GANDUJE’S AIDE

The Southern Governors Forum, however, found succour in the support from Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State on the ban on open grazing. Ganduje, who is a Fulani, had, for long, advocated the ban on open grazing, describing it as incompatible with modernity. The governor even built a Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) for herdsmen with modern facilities. That, according to the governor, is what should be done – modern ranching.

Expressing the views of the governor on the controversial issue, in a chat with THEWILL, his Director General on Media and Publicity, Mallam Ameen Yassar, said, “You cannot continue to move between 500 and 1,000 cows across long distances in search of fodder and water. Nowadays, you do so within your own location. In such cases as we have seen in Nigeria, it has led to clashes and ethnic disagreements moving from Nasarawa to Ebonyi, Kano States and then Niger Republic. It is even not safe. It has attendant risks like cattle rustling and conflicts with farmers.

“So, I agree with the southern governors’ ban. It is obvious. Even Miyetti Allah, I understand, has supported it. Open grazing with all the attendant risk to lie does not even allow the herders to enjoy life nowadays. Imaging that you are moving and not domiciled in a location to enjoy health and educational facilities.

Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State
Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State

“Our Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, at a point in time, said nomadism is not only a Federal Government of Nigeria issue, but also that of ECOWAS. So, regulation has to be across the sub-region because some of these Fulani are really not from Nigeria, but from Mali, Guinea and Niger, who have mastered age-long routes across West Africa.

“Also because of their exposure across the countries, they got involved in conflict-ridden countries like Libya. These Fulani outside Nigeria bring in weapons to cause havoc, which is often blamed on those in Nigeria. Most of the clashes are done by these migrant Fulani.”

MALAMI’S STATEMENT IS DISAPPOINTING – DON

Also condemning Malami, describing the statement credited to him on the controversial matter as disappointing, a professor of Economic History and Development Studies and Secretary General of the Committee of Vice – Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, Yakubu Ochefu, said, “Our inability to rid ourselves of these issues make you believe there is a conspiracy at some level,” even as he lamented, “At this level of our development, farmer /herder conflicts are still dominating discussions in Nigeria, something the developed world has left behind long ago.”

According to Ochefu, who spoke to THEWILL on Friday, northern governors meet regularly. “The Southern Governors Forum issued a communiqué, just as their counterparts in the North often do. Ordinarily, this is not a matter for discussion in our country now. But everything in Nigeria is politicised which has made a simple issue assume a political and security dimension.

“Given our ethnic and religious fault lines, if President Muhammadu Buhari does not solve this problem and another President comes to do so, his Fulani people may suffer if the South-West, South-East and South-South, who are complaining of attacks and destruction of their farm from herders were to turn around and retaliate. He is not even afraid for his people, a small minority, which he should shield,” he said.

THE WAY FORWARD

Ochefu believes that there should be sustained discussion and education of herdsmen and farmers.

“Both of them depend on the same thing; water and land. The younger generation of herdsmen should be made to see why they need to modernise their business as it is done in many African countries, “ the professor advised.

Abuja-based lawyer, Ajulo, however believes that ranching offers more benefits to both the herders and farmers and for the peaceful co-existence of the nation.

“The benefits of ranching as evidenced in other parts of the world include the production of healthier animals, production of better products and protection of the ecosystem,” he said in the note to THEWILL.

WE MUST RESTRUCTURE NOW – ADEBANJO

For Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the country is on the precipice and the Federal Government must restructure now. “That is the solution. There is no other solution. The situation we are now, where a section is dominating others cannot continue. And there is a limit to human endurance. We need to restructure immediately, otherwise we are deceiving ourselves,” he said.

Lending his voice to the controversy triggered by Malami’s statement, in an interview with THEWILL, Adebanjo also said, “You can see the way the Presidency and some northern governors are protecting the Fulani herdsmen. They don’t talk about their actions and their criminal activities. They are trying to change the narrative. They are saying anybody can stay and live anywhere. We are under Fulani dictatorship and nobody is free.”

The Afenifere leader however clarified that southerners were not against the existence of the Fulani, saying, “We are against the criminal elements among them.”

He added, “The wealthiest man in Nigeria, if not in Africa, Aliko Dangote, is he not a Fulani? He is having his business here in the South-West, nobody fights him. He is even building a refinery in Lagos. Has anyone asked him to go?

“When we were saying that Buhari wants to Fulanise Nigeria, some people were calling us names. See Sheikh Gumi, he is trying to polarise the military by referring to some of them as Christian soldiers.”

I’M TIRED OF NIGERIA’S PROBLEMS – YAKASSAI

FA founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum and Second Republic politician, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, in his response said he was tired of Nigeria’s problems.

“I am tired of all these problems. Let them do anything they want to do. They are Nigerians,” he told THEWILL on Friday.

As the fire generated by the controversy over the Asaba Declaration continues to rage and the southern governors perfect their planned meeting with President Buhari, there is no telling who will blink first even as the Aso Rock cabal continues to blow hot over the issue.