By Akin Osuntokun

In the past few weeks we have been treated to how degraded Nigeria has become, we have also witnessed the manifestation of a contrary trend. The latter was the retrieval and reassertion of the spirit of federalism by the Southern Governors Forum. Ordinarily, elected public officials do not deserve a special applause for doing the job they were elected to do and it is a reflection of how badly beaten by the rain we have become that ordinary acts are reckoned as extraordinary. The point is we do not have high expectations of them hence the pleasant surprise whenever they appear as rising up to the occasion-as on this occasion: At its meeting held on May 11, 2021, the Southern Governors’ Forum reviewed the situation in the nation generally and focused on the current security situation, agitations/restructuring, prospect for inter-state collaboration and partnerships. 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”.

Three responses followed in quick order and were remarkably in unison and conformity in parochialism, poverty of thought and atrocious use of English language. First, was Attorney General Abubakar Malami who blurted, in a barely coherent condemnation of the governors’ collective decision to ban open grazing: “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. 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.”

Simultaneously, the Miyetti Allah fumed: “The only thing that can stop us from grazing in any area is if there are no grasses and water in such place. Fulani don’t have borders or boundaries; they don’t need permission to graze their cows from one area to another area. They follow the constitution, which permits them internationally to graze anywhere. ECOWAS permits us to graze anywhere”.

And then President Muhammadu Buhari capped it all: “It is equally true that their announcement is of questionable legality, given the constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT) – regardless of the state of their birth or residence. With veterinary clinics, water points for animals, and facilities for herders and their families including schooling – through these rehabilitated reserves, the federal government is making far-reaching and practical changes allowing for different communities to co-exist side-by-side”.

Anyone minded to take on these responses could not do better than these two personalities. I can do no better than either.

First was a decades old judgment of Justice Adewale Thompson “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 for peace to reign in these communities.”

The other was the response from Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State: “Mr Garba contends that “their announcement is of questionable legality”, referring to the 17 governors of the southern states, but the decision of certain elements to take the ancestral lands of other people to settle their kinsmen, including the “gun-wielding “killer herdsmen” and their families, and provide “veterinary clinics, water points for animals, and facilities for herders and their families including schooling through these rehabilitated reserves” for which “the federal government is making far-reaching and practical changes allowing for different communities to co-exist side-by-side”, does not appear to him as a comprehensive plan for land grabbing, a precursor to internal colonialism…Most traditional families in Nigeria have occupations. Pastoralism is not an exception. Any ethnic group still trapped in anachronism may be assisted to embrace modernity. Dispossessing communities of their ancestral lands, encouraging denizens of the forests to overrun lands belonging to other people and forcing alien bands of migrants on the local populace to live “side-by-side” with other communities cannot be for the purpose of animal husbandry. It raises suspicion on a grand, deliberate, persistent and insidious design to use naked force to subjugate the real owners of the land”.

If Akeredolu remains consistent on this credible trajectory he would one day deserve our standing applause but for the moment let us beware of the perils of premature applause. ‘Unlucky is the land without heroes but unhappy is the society in need of one’ says Bertolt Brecht. I do not trust nor expect any governor in Nigeria to remain forthright and defiant in the defence and advocacy of fairness, equity and justice for long especially where it conflicts with the politics of the incumbent personality cult of President Buhari. It is not the case that the governors are incurably incorrigible neither are they irredeemably mercenary, rather it has to do with their constitutional vulnerability to the power politics of the federal government. It will take a governor scrupulously wedded to iron clad probity in the discharge of his duties to withstand and stare down any adversarial interest and intervention of the federal government in his stewardship. It takes a governor who is prepared for the worst case scenario of walking away from the lofty perquisites, pomp and pageantry of office. And since the governors can be relied upon to have their wardrobe stocked full of skeletons, the fear of the politically compromised Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is the beginning of wisdom.

Acting under whatever compulsion the sickening spectacle of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross Rivers State proves the point. To his eternal shame, he could found no plausible excuse to gratify his political harlotry than the blasphemy of citing Buhari as a nationalist “Having seen and known the nationalistic disposition of President Buhari and all the efforts he has made to bring Nigeria to where we are today, it is obvious that at this point we needed to join hands with him to build a Nigeria that we can be proud of”. Yet this man was at the same time signatory to the recently issued communique of the Southern Governors Forum, which noted that “there is need to review appointments into federal government agencies (including security agencies) to reflect federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogenous”.

Relentless in his scurrilous sycophancy, Ayade went further to bear witness “to all the efforts Buhari has made to bring Nigeria to where we are today”. This testimony is so weird and illogical and beggars the question whether Ayade meant it as a compliment or condemnation.

Where, for God’s sake, has Buhari brought Nigeria to from where he met it in 2015? The poverty and corruption capital of the world? A country in which “In the north, if you are a Muslim and you want to travel, you must pray, fast for days before embarking on the journey. If you are Christian and you want to travel, you must fast and pray for days before you travel. We have never experienced this kind of situation. Imagine in the North, before you go to your farm, you will have to pay gunmen to allow you to farm. If you want to harvest your farm produce, you will still have to pay gunmen before they allow you to harvest”. The real tragedy of Ayade is that, in credentials, he belongs to the class of political leaders (in age, enlightenment and intellect) you will expect Nigeria can predicate its hopes for a better tomorrow.

In his early fifties and a university professor, do they come better recommended? In one of his television appearances, ARISE TV, to be precise, Ayade was so unintelligible and craven to the point the interviewers had to keep asking him if he would defect back to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were the party to win the presidential election in 2023. And it was a question begging to be asked because he could not otherwise rationalise his action beyond the need to identify with the political party in power. You could see the barely concealed contempt and disgust written all over the faces of the interviewers. Ayade and others like him are a critical part of the reason Nigeria has remained unable to salvage itself from the death grip of the syndicate represented by the trio of the president, the AG and Miyetti Allah.

With the president and the AG routinely finding common purpose with the Miyetti Allah in the struggle against common sense, enlightenment and modernisation, Nigeria is getting increasingly polarised between the camps of chauvinistic backwardness and those of aspirations for a better tomorrow. I don’t know how familiar is Miyetti Allah with the Nigerian constitution let alone the ECOWAS charter but its warped and obtuse outburst can be excused. What cannot be excused is the demonstration of the same mindset by the federal government; a primitive and anarchic mindset that recognises ‘no borders and boundaries’. This is the sort of captive primitive mentality that grates deep on the nerves of people outside the Miyetti Allah conclave and fosters the widespread prejudice that ‘we are not the same with this people”. Such unfortunate prejudices are further reinforced by the mindless conflation of fundamental human rights with the impunity of open grazing of cattle- which bespeaks a mentality that equates the welfare of cows with the wellbeing of human beings. It is regrettable that Nigeria has come to this sorry pass where people’s backs are up against the wall with no further room to spare prompting the recourse to divisive confrontation.

Source: ThisDay Newspaper

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: