The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) is the Chief Law Officer of the country. His utterances and words matter and carry weight in issues of law. Reacting to the ban on open grazing by the Southern Governors of Nigeria, during an interview with Channels TV, on Wednesday, 19th May, 2021, he said, “the southern governors decision does not hold water in the context of human rights as enshrined in the constitution. Can you deny the rights of a Nigerian? 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?” The AGF did not state the particular section in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution, dealing on human rights of Nigerians, that the Governors breached. It is important to note that the ban was not limited to the Southern Governors. Indeed, the Southern Governors simply borrowed a leaf from their Northern Governors counterpart. Whereas the Southern Governors have only issued a communique, their counterpart in the north had gone further to enact laws banning open grazing and had commenced enforcement, while some have started building ranches for the cattle of their citizens. Please ask Governors Ortom, Ganduje and Tambuwal. Their support for the ban cut across party lines in the North and South. The effort of the AGF to divide the country into North and South in his analogy, with regards to the issue of ban of open grazing, is fundamentally faulty and in his own words, does not hold water.
In the communique of the Southern Governors with regards to the issue of ban on open grazing they “observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security. Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria; noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot); recommended that the Federal Government should support WILLING States to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems.
From this communique, it shows clearly that open grazing is not a trade or profession, it is a livestock management system. In other words, one method of feeding the cattle and other herds. Also, there’s no place the Governors requested for the ban of cattle rearing or animal husbandry, they simply recommended an alternative and modern livestock management system. Is there anybody in Nigeria who is in doubt that subjecting a man, woman, children and animals to a life of perpetual trekking from Sokoto and Maiduguri to Lagos and Calabar, through terrorists-infested forests and peoples’ lands, making the cattle eat up farmers’ crops, thereby instigating crises between farmers and herders and providing covers for the terrorists to operate, denying the children opportunity to go to school is inhuman, wicked, outdated, antiquated and poses severe security challenge? This is the crux of the communique of the Southern Governors which was endorsed by some Fulani Leaders and entire PDP Governors.
In this regard also, the comparison between spare parts trade and open grazing is disingenuous and not analogous. One is a trade and another is an illegal and outdated method of conducting a trade. The analogy for spare parts trade is cattle rearing and animal husbandry. For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerians have been clamouring that cattle rearing should be treated exactly the same way as other private businesses because Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution forbids any form of discrimination. The characteristics of spare parts trade include: it is a private business, the motor spare parts sellers render their services to their customers from a shop or a shade in a properly designated market. They do not operate in the night, except in a market or shop that offers 24 hours services to the populace. They do not carry AK 47 around in pretext of defending their shops or shades. The equivalent of these attributes and attitudes in cattle rearing is that it should be a private business. It should operate within the confines of the property of the owners of the cattle or within designated markets and areas. They should stop operating in the night except in designated markets that operate 24 hours a day. They must stop carrying AK 47 to protect their cattle. The AGF who recommended this comparison must endeavour to ensure that both businesses operate on the same footing. That is fairness and that is what human rights is talking about.
Note that grazing is not open simply because the herdsman is feeding his cattle and herds in an open space. For instance, if a herdsman acquires a thousand hectares of land and restricts the movement of his cattle and herds, while feeding them, within the large expanse of this land, this does not amount to open grazing, even if the land is not fenced and even if the land is an open space. Open grazing is an unbridled, uncontrolled, unrestricted and indiscriminate movement of cattle and herds across the lands of citizens with the intention of feeding the herds with the pasture and crops found in all such lands. Open grazing is simply the encroachment into another person’s land for the purpose of feeding the herds. This is akin to damaging and stealing farmers’ and people’s crops and herbs by the herdsmen to feed their own cattle. This amounts to trespass, stealing, breach of public peace etc. This amounts to crimes and civil wrongs which render the herdsmen liable to damages and imprisonment in appropriate cases. The equivalent of this in spare parts trade is car theft. This is akin to a spare parts dealer stealing someone’s car, breaking down the parts and selling the parts in his shop as his own. Am not aware that there’s any herdsman that has acquired any land in the South for grazing. This means that the totality of grazing in Southern Nigeria has been done solely on other people’s land and unauthorised places. The continuation of this practice is a recipe for disaster. Whatever the AGF believes is the consequence of car theft is exactly the consequence of open grazing and again he is under obligation by law to meet out same punishment to both.
The Northern and Southern Governors will not ban the spare parts trade because that will be illegal just as the Northern and Southern Governors cannot ban cattle rearing or animal husbandry, that also will be illegal. However, the Northern and Southern Governors must not only ban car theft and open grazing, they must rise up and enforce the ban, because both are illegal and have been illegal ab initio. Justice Adewale Thompson was reported to have decided in Suit no AB/26/66 at Abeokuta Division of the High Court on April 17, 1969 that “I do not accept the contention of Defendants that a custom exists which imposes an obligation on the owner of farm to fence his farm whilst the owner of cattle allows his cattle to wander like pests and cause damage. Such a custom if it exists, is unreasonable and I hold that it is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and therefore unenforceable in that it is highly unreasonable to impose the burden of fencing a farm on the farmer without the corresponding obligation on the cattle owner to fence in his cattle … Sequence to that I ban open grazing for it is inimical to peace and tranquility and the cattle owners must fence or ranch their animals for peace to reign in these communities”.
Let me be the first to admit that I have not been to Abeokuta personally to authenticate the veracity of this case which is almost as old as myself, but as a Lawyer, the reasoning is sound and accords to the current position of the law. As one Learned Senior Advocate of Law puts it when I confronted him with the case, “I can’t confirm because high court judgements are not well reported across the country. I am however tempted to believe it is authentic.”
Every Nigerian, including eminent Fulani Leaders, has testified to the benefits of spare parts trade, which by the way is a trade practised by all Nigerians, in every part of Nigeria, but which is principally linked to the traders from Igboland, just as the trade of cattle rearing and animal husbandry is practised by all Nigerians, in every part of Nigeria, but which is principally linked to the Fulani man. It was the elder statesman and first republic politician, himself a Fulani man, Tanko Yakassai from Kano, that observed during the crisis of June 12, in which most of the Igbo people living in the North fled to the South for fear of the outbreak of war, owing to the cancellation of June 12th, that he had to pack his toyota car which got spoilt but could not be repaired because he couldn’t find the spare part he needed to repair the car as there was no Igbo spare parts dealer to purchase it from. The car remained packed until the crises of June 12th were over and the Igbo traders came back from internal exile to deliver the toyota part to him. He rose from that experience to declare that we need each other in this country.
Yes, we need each other in this country. We need the spare parts dealers and we need the cattle rearers and animal pastoralists. The South consumes as much beef as the North, if not more. There’s no reasonable person of southern origin that will advocate for the ban of cattle rearing and animal husbandry because its ban will affect everyone negatively. Everyone, including the Southern Governors, is simply advocating for the best modern, legal, equitable and peaceful system of livestock management in Nigeria. The effort, therefore, by the AGF to divide Nigeria into Northern Governors and Southern Governors; spare parts dealers and open grazing do not hold water. They are not even close. He should heed the counsel of Yakassai that we need each other and start making utterances that will unite not separate us.