examines the controversy surrounding the recent ban on open grazing across southern states by governors in the region
Without doubt, the plethora of challenges threatening the peace and stability of the Nigerian state are not unknown to the citizens.
However, towering among these problems is the rising level of insecurity across the country.
Attacks by rampaging insurgents, kidnappers and bandits have left many Nigerians in fear of the unknown.
Currently, attacks by bandits and armed herders have left in their trail sorrow, tears and bloodshed in many states across the North-West, North-Central, South-South, South-West and the South-East regions.
For instance, on Friday, May 22, eight persons were reported killed during an attack by suspected herders in Agan community in the Makurdi Local Government Area of Benue State. Three days later, at least 15 persons, including a pregnant woman, were confirmed dead in two attacks by gunmen in the Jos North and the Riyom local government areas of Plateau State.
On March 29, an alleged invasion by suspected herdsmen left 16 persons dead in Obeagu community, in the Ishielu Local Government Area of the state. In Anambra State, suspected herders were reported to have killed three persons in the Awka North Local Government Area of the state.
But the decision of the governors was vehemently opposed by the Presidency and the Attorney-General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who not only compared their action to the prohibition of spare parts trading in the North by northern governors but also said such a decision (banning open grazing) required a constitutional amendment as the Constitution guaranteed the right of freedom of movement.
“If you are talking of a constitutionally guaranteed right, the better approach to it is perhaps to go back and ensure that the constitution is amended. The freedom and liberty of movement, amongst others, is established by the constitution.
“If by an inch, you want to have any compromise, the better approach is to go back to the National Assembly for open grazing to be prohibited and see whether you can have the desired support for the constitutional amendment in that respect. But it is a very dangerous position for any governor in Nigeria to think that he can bring about any compromise on the freedom and liberty of individuals to move around,” Malami had said during an interview with Channels Television.
But the AGF’s comments did not go down well with prominent lawyers who faulted his position on the matter, arguing that while governors were empowered to ban open grazing, the freedom of movement guaranteed by the Constitution did not cover animals.
The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay, also a senior advocate, said, “The governors are within their rights to ban open grazing. The Land Use Act gives them that power, so I think it is a straight forward matter.”
Similarly, another lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, said the southern governors’ decision was constitutional.
But while Nigerians continued to react, the Presidency threw its weight behind Malami, describing the ban on open grazing as one with “questionable legality,” and “pre-empted, for whatever it is intended to achieve”.
“It is equally true that their (southern governors) announcement is of questionable legality, given the constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT)-regardless of the state of their birth or residence,” the statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, titled, ‘President Buhari okays deep- rooted solutions to herdsmen attacks, clears way for ranching and revival of forest reserves,’ read in part.
However, irked by the statement issued by Shehu on behalf of the Presidency, Akeredolu challenged Buhari’s spokesman to reveal “the real motive (s) of those he serves,” averring that “no inch of the space delineated and known, currently, as South-West, and indeed the whole South, will be ceded to a band of invaders masquerading as herdsmen under any guise”.
“He cannot continue to hide under some opaque, omnibus and dubious directives to create confusion in the polity. The easy recourse to mendacious uppity in pushing a barely disguised pernicious agenda is well understood,” the governor added in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties and Strategy, Dr Doyin Odebowale.