By From Fred Itua, Abuja, Magnus Eze, Enugu, Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure, Chinelo Obogo, Layi Olanrewaju, Ilorin and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has come under severe criticism from various quarters over his comments on the recent ban on open grazing by 17 southern governors at a meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital.
The AGF said, during an interview with a national television, on Wednesday, said the southern governors decision “does not hold water” in the context of human rights as enshrined in the constitution.
He said: “It is about constitutionality within the context of the freedoms expressed in our 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? 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.”
But Nigerians who criticised Malami for the comments, accused him of dog whistling and ethnic baiting, while warning that he has, by his statement, placed a target on the backs of Igbo traders who live in the north, many of whom are spare parts dealers.
Meanwhile, Chairman, South West Governors Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, has declared that the decision of the 17 southern governors cannot be reversed by any authority.
The governor, in a statement, he personally signed said the decision is final and will be enforced in all the states of the Southern Nigeria.
He said: “The AGF was quoted to have said that this reasoned decision, among others, is akin to banning all spare parts dealers in the Northern part of the country and it is unconstitutional.
“It is most unfortunate that the AGF is unable to distill issues as expected of a Senior Advocate. Nothing can be more disconcerting. This outburst should, ordinarily, not elicit response from reasonable people who know the distinction between a legitimate business that is not in anyway injurious, and a certain predilection for anarchy.
“Clinging to an anachronistic model of animal husbandry, which is evidently injurious to 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 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 decision of the Southern Governors 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 twisting law- Ohanaeze
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, yesterday, described Malami’s remarks as thoughtless, insidious and prejudicial.
A statement by spokesman of Ohanaeze, Alex Ogbonnia, on behalf of its President General, condemned the AGF’s comment as malevolent, ominous and incendiary.
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation described the AGF as a chief law officer with penchant for twisting the law at will.
Ohanaeze recalled that Malami had in the past stated that “the rule of law is subservient to national security”, and also condemned the Amotekun security outfit by the South West and so on.
It said: “A few years ago, the Fulani herdsmen became impudent and uncontrollably lionised. They would unleash their cattle on a farm, and maim and kill the owner of the farm, if he or she complained. In most cases, they would violate and debauch young girls and mothers before sending them to early graves.
“The southern governors had complained to the Presidency to no avail; rather the herders were massively indulged with firearms, AK 47, to enable them shoot at will any indigenous farmer that stood their ways. The likes of the incumbent Governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Bala Mohammed, were very vehement in defence of the AK 47 trigger happy Fulani herders.
“The effects of the above scenario are banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and other forms of agitation in the South. It is generally known that to solve any problem, we first attack the cause of the problem, and that is precisely what the southern governors have done. They identified the cause or the essential parts of the problems in the country as emanating from the herders-farmers’ clash and have decided to attack the cause of the problems.
“Malami knows that there has never been a report of a clash between the southern motor spare parts sellers and the indigenous northerners. The motor spare parts sellers render their services to the populace from a shop or a shade, and are in no way comparable to the Fulani herders who invade farmlands, destroy crops, debauch women, maim, abduct and kill.”
•Senators call for his sack, describe statement as divisive
Also, Senators, yesterday, descended heavily on Malami, over his remarks on the southern governors ban on open grazing.
Minority Leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, who spoke on behalf of PDP senators, said the decision by southern governors was borne out of the murderous activities of Fulani herdsmen.
He said: “While the local “bureau de change” business mostly done by the Fulani are operating in all parts of Nigeria, why have they not elicited any resentment of other Nigerians?
“It is simply because they live and do their business peacefully without any problem. It is the murderous activities of Fulani herders that have given rise to the current demand for laws that will bring about peaceful coexistence of all Nigerians.
“What’s the correlation between spare parts sellers in a rented shop or government properly designated area and marauding Fulani herders destroying farms, killing and raping, thus, trampling on people’s private properties and means of livelihood?
“Such a divisive statement from a top federal government official, in fact, the Chief legal adviser to the federal government at that, exposes a very dangerous mindset. This disposition has no doubt raised the tension in Nigeria to a frightening level.
“Why should an Attorney general of the federation be so fixated in evoking ethnic/regional fault lines when duty calls him to be a statesman. It is disheartening that Mr Abubakar Malami has chosen to debase our country. He has, indeed, questioned Nigeria’s unity. Very unfortunate.”
In the same vein, senator representing Osun Central Senatorial District, Ajibola Basiru, took a swipe at Malami.
Basiru said: “It was not dignifying of the status of the nation’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice to make such remarks.
Former Minister of Aviation, Fani Kayode, said: “How the Attorney General can compare killer Fulani herdsmen to law-abiding spare part dealers beats me. The former are bloodthirsty terrorists who have nothing to offer but death and destruction, while the latter are peace-loving men and women who are providing a vital service. Paul Nwabuikwu, a former adviser to the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said: “Maybe AGF Malami got news that spare parts boys armed with spanners were destroying farms in his village.”