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The muddle in the land

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Ahmad Lawan

The surprise meeting of the Southern governors during which they took positions on problems bedeviling the country has predictably generated reactions. That they met at all caused consternation and uproar particularly from some leading lights of Northern extraction. The laudable and mature decisions were even more disconcerting what you would think calls for applause by any patriotic and peace-loving citizen of this country. The decisions contained in their communiqué were carefully couched, dripping with polish, thoughtfulness and consideration not to hurt.

What were the resolutions, to refresh our memory? They ventilated the strident calls by their people for the restructuring of the country to make it work better. They said the restructuring is urgent. In their words: “The progress of the nation requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian federation. One of the elements of true federation restructuring would feature is the emergence of state police. Even if state police were not an element of federalism in a country of the size and diversity of Nigeria, the escalation in severe security challenges in the land has made its establishment more pressing and urgent. They are concerned that because of the fall out of development and rise in population there is the shrinking of land area for open grazing of cattle. Pressing for a ban on open grazing, they said: “Development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospect 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.”

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What is more, the herdsmen come armed such that their incursion in the Southern states, that of bandits and criminals has caused a lot of havoc. The governors see the incursion as the root cause of the “severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives in the region.” The Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, has taken shocking umbrage at the position of the governors. It cannot but be baffling that when and where a robust and magisterial intervention in national discourse is expected, what you get is a wooly and generalised response that does not shed light and show the way out of a problem that triggered the conversation in the first place. I am referring to the comments of the Senate President and former governor of Nasarawa State. Come to think of it, the governors of Northern states have met several times, both under the chairmanship of the former governor of Borno State and under the headship of his successor, Mr. Lalong, the governor of Plateau State. The meetings are considered normal and there have been no hairs raised over them. It beggars disbelief that the Northern governors can meet to share experiences common to them and compare notes, but the Southern governors cannot. The governors of the Northern states have right to gather, but the Southern governors cannot claim such right. It is surprising that the Senate President and his crowd do not realise that they have unwittingly lent validity to the all manner of agitations arising from the suspicion that in George Orwell’s farm some animals are more equal than the others, a claim which is laughable and delusional in application to Nigeria.

Senate President said contemptuously that although he was not opposed to restructuring, the governors should first ensure they restructure their states before calling for restructuring at the Federal level. The profound reason adduced by the governors is their conviction that the progress of the nation requires that it must be restructured. Besides restructuring, they urged the Federal Government to convene a national dialogue “as a matter of urgency, based on the widespread agitations among various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements. The meeting that in deference to the sensitivities of our various peoples, there is need to review appointments into Federal Government agencies to reflect federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogeneous.”

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In their pronouncements, there are references to “based on agitations among various peoples; in deference to the sensitivities of our various peoples…” Their various peoples put them in power to look after them, press for and safeguard their interests. Their ascendancy to the seat of power was elective. What the governors have done was to ventilate those issues that agitate their souls, and openly in line with the principle of accountability. Dr. Lawan’s strange position is that elected officials must not be among those advocating such calls. He had said: “the call for secession or the calls for restructuring, many are genuine calls even though I never believe that someone who is calling for secession means well or is a misguided person. But I believe that when somebody calls for improving the structure that we have is a genuine call. But I want to advise that as leaders, those of us were elected must not be in at the forefront of calling for this kind of thing because even if you are a governor, you are supposed to be working hard in your state to ensure that this restructuring you are calling for at the Federal level you have it in your state as well.”

The governors’ position received overwhelming support across the land where it is recognised that the unitarism in which Nigerians have been entrapped is the root of all Nigerian governmental evils, inhibiting the unfolding of the states and as well as of the citizens. The ruling party recognised this as the way to go in a plural society of diverse peoples and it featured it prominently in its manifestos. When the party got confused and unsure of its path, it set up the Nasir El-Rufai Committee to sound out the populace. The committee report upheld restructuring as the way to go. Several governors individually have spoken in that vein as well. Lawan’s sophistry cannot befuddle the clear imperative of a restructured Nigeria. It should go without saying that with that accomplished the restructuring of the states is given. There is no hint of the governors lending their weight behind secessionist tendencies in their communiqué. On the contrary, they avowed the commitment of their people to the oneness of the country.

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It is doubtful many Nigerians are pressing for the dismemberment of the country. What they are content with is restructuring which is closer to the order governing the formation of nations. It is inconceivable that the Creator would put His Creation in place and there would be no rules and regulations, the unchanging Primordial Laws which give expression to His Will. The Laws are immutable, perfect and uniform in all parts the universe. The Law of Homogeneity is responsible for bringing people together. This law works to the minutest such that even in a town there are wards. This is to guarantee harmony. We can all see that it is easier for people who are similar in their ways to live together in harmony than it is for those who are dissimilar. In the wisdom of the Creator, this is to ensure each people move at their own pace and according to their own light, none disturbing the other. Human beings considering themselves wiser than the Creator thought their own conception of nation state is better and have created intractable problems for themselves.

Who each people are is defined by the state of their inner maturity. As the maturity grows through the exercise of each individual free will he will change community, if too late in one earth life, he will find his level in the next one. Where the recognition borne out of knowledge is late, the closest to attaining harmony, peace, joy and happiness is relaxed bonds, in the Nigeria’s case as it is with other countries in a similar situation, the relaxed ties is what we call restructuring. All human beings have the same spiritual origins.

The Miyetti Allah has reacted to the ban on open grazing. The only condition they will respect the ban, according to their national secretary, is if the governments build ranches for their animals. In their statement, there is no word about the destruction, pillaging, killings and violation of dignity of women in the quest to graze their cattle and advance their own commercial interests. What befalls other people’s businesses and property is not their concern. It is not often remembered in this country that cattle rearing is a business. As in every business, he who wants to start a business or expand an existing one can do so with facilities from the banks. What a government can do is through a special assistant programme get banks to give loans at a concessionary rate. It will be wrong for state governments to build ranches for people who are into cattle business.

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The judicial pronouncement of Justice Adewale Thompson on open grazing is instructive. In his judgment delivered in case involving open grazing, at Abeokuta Division of Western State on 17 April, 1969, he said as follows:

“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 corresponding obligation on the cattle owner to fence his cattle. Sequence to that I ban open grazing for it is inimical to peace and tranquility and cattle owners must fence or ranch their animals to reign in these communities.”

The judgment was not appealed. It was before the creation of states in the Western State. This means the pronouncement is binding in the whole of South West till today. In other words, there is a law in place. The governors of South West may only need to look at it again, and get their respective Houses of Assembly to dot the i’s and cross the t’s where necessary. But as of now the law in place in the South West which bans open grazing. Miyetti  Allah cannot take laws into their hands.

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