By Nosa Igiebor
Abubakar Malami has a special gift for inviting discerning people to dismiss him as a clown. Indeed he’s a clown but a very dangerous clown.
This is because he’s the minister of justice and federal attorney-general. His portfolio makes him the country’s chief law enforcement officer and chief legal adviser to the federal government. A huge responsibility which he’s proven himself time and again intellectually and morally unequipped for.
He hardly smiles. His face always affects a seriousness that conveys menace and deliberate provocation. A result, maybe, of his trying too hard to give the impression that he takes his job seriously.
He’s a senior advocate, a coveted status in the legal profession that carries the presumption that he’s well grounded in all the arcana of the law. But he seems more grounded in the dark art of political intrigues and dangerously nonsensical legal theatrics. His acquaintance with the noblest aspects of the law and the weighty responsibilities of his office is at best nebulous. He’s become a walking embarrassment for the legal profession and the high office he holds.
This is borne out by his unbridled partisanship and pedestrian interpretation of the law. He believes it’s his prerogative to bend the law to serve any sinister objective he fancies and achieve some predetermined ends. In feeding his predilection for mischief, he reminds people of his unfitness for the job of federal attorney-general. And he proudly projects the parochialism, insensitivity and incompetence of the government he serves.
Malami’s craving for self-advertisement is almost pathological. Hence he loves being in the news for the wrong reasons, as he was in the last two weeks while amplifying the real attitude of the government to the pervasive insecurity in the country. Which is that, so long as Fulani are the ones mostly involved in banditry, kidnapping and the take-no-prisoners war on farming communities all over the country, the government will do nothing beyond the puerile condemnation of their brutality.
The Nigerian Governors Forum, Northern and Southern Governors Forums are all on the same page on the issue of open cattle grazing. They want an end to the ancient tradition of Fulani herders roaming thousands of miles with their herds and causing mayhem along the way. They destroy farms without the slightest consideration for the financial losses of farmers. And when the farmers and the communities they menace resist in any way, they mobilize their militias, wielding AK-47 automatic rifles and other lethal weapons, to silence and conquer them.
Thousands of innocent, defenseless Nigerians have been killed and billions of naira of properties destroyed by Fulani militias. Yet the federal government, which controls all the security and intelligence agencies, is unwilling to act decisively to stop the bloodletting and the mindless destruction of people’s means of livelihood. The culprits are never arrested and prosecuted. Instead they’re pampered with all kinds of hair-brained federal initiatives like RUGA, the National Livestock Transformation schemes and a dedicated Fulani radio station. In some instances, they’re paid cash, lots of it, to stop causing trouble. All of which have emboldened them more.
In all of this, the chief law enforcement officer is nowhere to be found. He’s permanently on AWOL until he perceives any threat to the impunity of the Fulani marauders. And then he reminds people with his inane interventions, that he’s far more a politician and an APC stalwart than a serious, competent law officer.
When southern governors met recently in Asaba, Delta State, they gave serious thoughts to the chaos enveloping the country. A chaos largely caused by the freewheeling Fulani militias and the abject failure of the federal government to do anything about it. And President Mohammadu Buhari’s inertia reinforcing the general perception that his people have been given a pass to do whatever they like, even when their unrestrained lawlessness has become an existential threat to the country’s fragile unity.
The governors re-stated an earlier decision by the Nigerian Governors Forum to ban open cattle grazing, and signaled their intention to enforce the ban in the south. They called for restructuring of the present political architecture that’s served the country very badly, and emphasized the imperative of national dialogue to find solutions to the myriad challenges besetting the country.
What exactly is wrong with the southern governors’ call for pro-active actions to save Nigeria? Nothing. Except for those like Malami, who love the status quo that promotes iniquities and mediocrity. They don’t care as they’re the beneficiaries of Buhari’s extreme parochialism and nepotism and a system that’s badly broken, rotten and pushing the country dangerously to the brink.
Malami, who has never issued any condemnation of the bloody excesses of the Fulani militias or revealed any plan to unleash the might of the law on those directly challenging the legitimacy of the government, suddenly went ballistic. He declared magisterially that the governors’ ban on open grazing is unconstitutional.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had stopped at that. We all are now used to his convoluted interpretation of the constitution and the pedestrian level he has reduced his exalted office to. He then drew a false equivalence between cattle herders and those who trade in machine spare parts.
According to his twisted logic, the southern governors’ ‘unconstitutional’ ban on open grazing could invite a reciprocal ban on the legitimate business of sales of spare parts in the north. The nauseousness of this warped thinking rightly provoked mass condemnation. But Malami is inured to such criticism, safe in the knowledge that the man he serves – and not the country – has the same medieval mindset and endorses his invalid position.
Those who trade in spare parts of all kinds normally register their businesses. They borrow money to invest in their businesses, rent or build/buy the premises they use and pay all government levies including taxes. They don’t trespass on other people’s properties and forcefully dispossess them of what are theirs. And they’ve never killed anyone to protect their businesses.
Malami says the Filulani’s right to freedom of movement guaranteed by the constitution is being violated by the open grazing ban. As many of his fellow lawyers have pointed out, cattle are not entitled to the same rights as citizens. Therefore they can’t be moved all over the place in complete disregard of the threat they pose to the economic survival of farmers who bear the brunt of the destruction they cause.
When northern governors had earlier unanimously endorsed the ban on open grazing, Malami was silent then. He didn’t indulge in vandalizing the constitution. Maybe he thought the governors were just being politically correct, and they wanted to say something that could help douse the palpable tension caused by the waves of lawlessness ravaging the country.
With the exception of Benue State that has enacted an anti-open grazing law, the other northern states may not proactively give legal teeth to the ban they have endorsed. Even Kano whose governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, has been very vocal about the unsustainability of the archaic system of cattle herding, is not likely to follow the Benue example.
But Ganduje has shown that he understands the multi-dimensional problems that the Fulani tradition now creates for the herders and those whose interests they collide with. That’s why he’s taken the initiative to walk his talk by investing in the development of a modern grazing reserve in some of Kano’s expansive spaces. If other governors do the same especially in the north, the herders’ battle with farmers, who’re invariably the victims, could be ended, or minimized to a less volatile level.
Given Malami’s penchant for mis-speaking and layering the constitution with his prejudiced views, it’s difficult to distinguish between him and Miyetti Allah’s leaders who have a great fondness for threatening language and zero-sum game. Their default position is always this: We either get what we want, forcefully if need be, or we wreck everything. They all speak the same language in pursuit of the same cause – the Fulani’s unfettered access to other people’s lands free of charge. Malami’s is only slightly less crude than Miyetti Allah’s leaders’ bombast.
Despite Malami’s illogical pushback against open grazing ban, all the governors must now work to make it effective. But they must also come up with plans to help the Fulani transit from their age-long tradition of herding, that’s no longer fit for purpose and is becoming more economically unviable, to modern animal husbandry.
Even more urgent is the need for the government to stop the free and easy entry and exit of foreign Fulani herders into and out of the country. Even the president has acknowledged that the huge spike in violence by cattle herders has been fuelled by the foreign ones who come in heavily armed, trampling all over our lands and laws.
What can’t be ignored is that, without the collaboration of our local herders, the brazenness of the killer herdsmen wouldn’t be possible. And the federal government too has been inexcusably complicit in allowing renegade foreigners to invade the country by doing nothing to stop it. The ECOWAS protocol for free movement of people and goods within the West African region provides for each member state to regulate such movement. And that’s what the government should be doing now. Malami, as the federal attorney-general, ought to be leading the way on this.
But very sadly, he’s more concerned with defending the indefensible, and inadvertently making a mockery of himself, his office and the government while doing so.