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Malami’s cow controversy



The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, looks to me like a man who enjoys the company of controversy. But I am not sure that controversy enjoys his own company on issues that seem crystal clear to most people. This Senior Advocate of Nigeria prefers the company of fogginess. He complicates and compounds what seem to most people clinical and straightforward, attempting to use his convoluted sense of legalese or constitutionalese as the fulcrum of his attempts at public deception.

Some time ago when virtually all Nigerians were talking about what came to be known, accepted and recognised as “Abacha’s Loot,” that is the humongous sums of money stolen by Dictator Sani Abacha, Mr Malami preferred to call it “Abacha’s money.” He used the expression “Abacha’s money” either because, like his boss, he doubted whether Abacha stole Nigeria’s money or he did so to make it seem as though Nigeria was trying to steal Abacha’s money from Abacha because he was dead.


When Nigerians insisted that he should call a spade a spade instead of a garden fork, he murmured something that is not worth remembering. But he had given himself away as an unrepentantly partisan fellow. To rub salt into that injury he claimed that his law firm had been chasing that loot and he got paid for it. If it was Abacha’s money why did he seek to bring it into the coffers of the Federal Government? No answer. Now, he has accepted that there is something called “Ibori’s Loot,” the money traced to associates of Mr James Ibori, former Governor of Delta State. He is not calling it “Ibori’s money.”

But that is beside the point. If Ibori’s Loot came from the coffers of the Delta State Government, fairness would prescribe that the money, when recovered, would be returned to the State in cash or kind. But Mr Malami is engaging in some strange variant of legalese that defies common sense or law or fairness or natural justice to deprive Deltans of their money. Now, he has taken his well established partisan and sectional position to the cow controversy. I know that all lawyers show partisanship in favour of any client who pays for their voices. But Malami is paid by Nigeria’s taxpayers and his position on the Asaba Declaration by the Southern Nigeria Governors recently is disturbing because it gives him away as a very biased public officer who normally ought to be non-partisan and seen to be so.


One of the decisions taken by the Governors was to ban the open grazing of cattle in all the states of Southern Nigeria, a decision taken by Governors from the APC, PDP and APGA. This is an indication that the issue received unanimous acceptance across all political, ethnic and religious divides. This is how Malami responded to the decision: “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 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 perhaps to go back to ensure the Constitution is amended. Freedom and liberty of movement among other rights established by the Constitution if, by an inch you want to have any compromise over it, the better approach goes back to the National Assembly to say open grazing should be prohibited and see whether you can have the desired support for the constitutional amendment.

It is a dangerous provision for any governor in Nigeria to think he can bring any compromise on the freedom and liberty of individuals to move around.” This rambling statement is simply an exercise in circumlocution and he knows it. That is why he never mentioned any section of the Constitution that provides freedom of movement for cattle. The 1999 Constitution states in section 41 (i) “that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom.”


I have combed through the Constitution and found no section where the right to freedom of movement is guaranteed to cows. None. So his reaction brought no clarity to the issue because the issue is clear: the right to freedom of movement is specifically meant for human beings. Even some developed countries that have shown dedication to the protection of animals do not have provisions in their laws that permit animals to roam about and destroy people’s properties. Mr Malami has two options in the matter. If he is convinced that he is right he should take the matter to court so that we can have a declaratory judgement on the constitutionality or otherwise of the decision taken by the Southern Governors.

The second option is that he can go to the National Assembly and ask for an amendment to the Constitution to accommodate the rights of cows to freedom of movement. For now, there is no such right no matter how elastic he thinks the rights contained in the Constitution are. Cattle husbandry has moved from the ancient practice of open grazing to ranching or confined grazing. If a cattle merchant purchases a piece of land to graze his cattle within a ranch or a confined space under laws provided within the jurisdiction of his business he has nothing to fear. But no sensible person will accept a situation whereby cows can be allowed to move freely, eat up people’s crops in their farms and deprive the farmer of his own source of livelihood. The reason that cows do not have human rights anywhere because they are not human beings. One would have thought after all the troubles that open grazing has caused in a State like Benue that the decision-makers in Nigeria would find it convenient to look at the matter dispassionately instead of making it a north-south issue. A lot of persons have been killed by these AK-47 wielding herders in various Benue communities making the Governor look like a tenant squatting on their land. They even audaciously tried recently to take his life simply because he insists that cattle rearers cannot, must not, take their cattle through people’s property destroying their lives and sources of livelihood. Similar problems have occurred in several other states of the federation between cow herders and crop farmers causing death and destruction. This state of affairs is an obvious disincentive to harmonious co-existence. To dim the growing flame of discontent between farmers and herders the Governor of Kano State, Mr Ganduje has offered the most realistic solution: ranching.


His view accords totally with the realities of the moment. Moving cattle from place to place belongs to the past. Nigeria seems to have been swarmed by herders from various neighbouring countries who come not only with their cattle but also with dangerous weapons. Nigeria has become an unwilling recipient of illegal arms which have taken Nigeria’s insecurity problem to an unprecedented height. Now the whole country is under the thumb of criminals flashing sophisticated weapons with which they have turned the country into Dante’s inferno. Governor Ganduje has offered to accommodate as many cattle as possible in ranches in his state. Other states that have land can also do so under a mutually acceptable arrangement so that we can put this nightmare behind us.

The Federal Government must emphasise to herders that they must begin now to do their business differently from the anachronistic method of the past. That method is unsuitable for today’s Nigeria where the rights of other people cannot be trampled upon without consequences. The major problem with this matter is that ethnic bigot are unwilling to accept that no one has the right to destroy other people’s business so that their own business can flourish. So the cow controversy is not a north-south issue. It is not even a human rights issue. It is strictly a business transaction issue. The era of open grazing is gone and gone forever. That is an incontrovertible fact which must be driven into the heads of those who are in the cattle business. The old practice is no longer sustainable today. This is a new day. There must be a paradigm shift. The Federal Government and our elected politicians must drive the message home to their constituents. That way we can have a win-win situation in which no business is the only winner while other businesses are losers.


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