“There’s a time for daring and there’s a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.” –Robin Williams
By Cosmas Omegoh
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has been vocal lately. He has been making the news and grabbing bold headlines.
Many would agree that over the past days and weeks, Malami has had his foot on the throttle pedal. Each press on the pedal triggers a chain of controversy, which he relishes.
Barely one month ago, Malami stirred the hornet nest with his comments on open cattle grazing. He had a big face-off with the 17 Southern governors after they voiced out their rejection of open grazing in the region.
Malami had berated the governors for daring to declare that open grazing in the region remains banned. Malami speaking from his high horse declared their stand as “unconstitutional,” insisting that their stand “does not align with the provisions of the Constitution, hence it does not hold water.”
Speaking on a television programme on Channels Television Politics Today, he said: “It is about constitutionality within the context of the freedoms expressed in our constitution. Can you deny the rights of a Nigerian?”
Sounding magisterial, Malami advised the Southern governors to realise that their decision amounted to a breach of the right of herders who ought to have unfettered access to lands in the South for their grazing business. But he was silent on the alleged mindless pillaging of areas in the South by the herders and the colossal damage they are continuously accused of doing to the live and livelihood of their host communities and residents.
Malami advised the governor thus: “If you are talking of constitutionally-guaranteed rights, the better approach to it is to perhaps go back to ensure the Constitution is amended.”
An analyst said that Malami’s insistence that Southern governors should resort to the National Assembly is an age-long ploy deployed by the North to kill issues they reject. And Malami was a mere master’s voice.
In his attempt to hammer home his thoughts on the same right of herders, Malami had gone the extra mile as he laboured to connect the unrelated: spare parts trading.
He said: “For example, it is as good as saying, perhaps … 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?”
For this analogy, his traducers had repeatedly given him great bashing. His comments, many maintain, went far to betray his inner feelings for a particular section of the country largely associated with spare parts trading.
Those who could not draw a connecting line between open grazing and spare parts trading said Malami missed the mark by miles, saying it was akin to comparing oranges with carrots.
None of Malami’s defence and those offered by his friends and acolytes could soothe the anger of a cross section of Nigerians who believed his outing on the occasion was in bad taste. Some had even gone ahead to criticise him for pandering to a section of the public.
Just when many were getting over what Malami said and did with the governors, he returned to the mix again, following the recent face-off between the Federal Government and the microblogging outfit, Twitter. It was a turf that offered Malami another opportunity to pick his fight with the public.
Following the ban on Twitter announced by the Minister of Information and Communication, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, many Nigerians had gone ahead to bye-pass the order through the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Upon realising this, Malami had directed the office of the Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) to go ahead to prosecute violators of the ban.
He spoke through a release issues by his media office, saying that the “Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has ordered the prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.
“The AGF directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government de-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria.”
Not many Nigerian Twitter users welcomed Malami’s directive in good faith. Those still ruing the deprivation of their right to Twitter in running their lives and businesses did not find the ban funny. They had thought that bypassing the directive through VPN was a sure way to get going. How wrong they were?
Malami’s declaration that anyone found still tweeting would be prosecuted tended to worsen matters. It was more like robbing salt on injury. Many could not take it. They poured out their anger with an avalanche of criticism. Perhaps they hit the bull’s eye.
Perhaps realising the implication his stance on the Twitter charge would mean for both country and citizens, Malami went ahead to make a U-turn and declared that it is the right of the people to tweet. This is double speak of some sort, some said.
Now this is what Malami said: “It is within their guaranteed fundamental right to tweet from anywhere in the world. Nigeria, being a democratic nation, cannot stop its citizens from exercising their rights of freedom of expression.
“But our position on Twitter is clear: Anyone, whether individual or corporate institution that enables Twitter to circumvent the ban the Federal Government of Nigeria placed on the company, will be prosecuted.”
For his recent face off with the public, some people believe he needs to exercise caution. Some recall that he needs to continue to enjoy the confidence of all. And that history will be happier he did and treads on the slippery path of power with greater caution.