By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
Very recently, President Muhammadu Buhari shocked many people with his multiple interviews, his many official outings and his addresses to the nation. However, it would seem that the President would have done better by maintaining his preferred silence than the seeming disaster of these outings, especially the media engagements. In retrospect, the whole essence of these media chats was purely to defend open grazing and to perpetuate the status quo, pure and simple. The President was deliberate in choosing his time to intervene in all the boiling national issues. He waited till the National Assembly Committees working on the amendment of the Constitution had travelled round the country to collate the views of citizens across board, before throwing in his hat in the ring of discourse. It was thus totally unpatriotic, for the President to declare his personal opposition to restructuring for instance, knowing well the present National Assembly of ‘yes’ men and women, would not dare enact any amendment for which the President has declared his opposition.
Nobody forced the President when he was campaigning in 2015, to make a solemn declaration in support of true federalism, the President was not compelled to travel all the way to London, to address stakeholders at Chatham House, on his avowed commitment to restructuring and devolution of powers, with a promise to operate as a repented democrat, upon assumption of office. Further to this, his own political party, the All Progressive Congress, APC, released a Manifesto, wherein it promised to amend the Constitution to achieve devolution of powers, state police, resource control and true federalism. Both personally and collectively through his political party therefore, the President is bound by his solemn undertaking to achieve true federalism and restructuring, through devolution of powers. The President cannot now shift this great burden, as he purported to do with the governors, in seeking to push the responsibility for security of lives of the people to those who have no control over the law enforcement agencies. The National Assembly is under the firm grip of the President and his party, APC. How they will mobilize their legislators to amend the Constitution is not the headache of the people of Nigeria. All we ask for is true federalism.
Six years down the line, the President is yet to fulfill his promise of fundamental constitutional amendment to achieve devolution of powers, to the citizens and instead of apologizing for this abysmal failure, the President has turned around to attack the people, in describing those agitating for restructuring and true federalism as being ignorant and lacking in knowledge. It would then mean that the APC too, as a political party, is totally ignorant and lacking in knowledge, when it purported to set up its Committee on Restructuring headed by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. That Committee travelled all over Nigeria, claiming to collate the views of the people on restructuring and it indeed submitted its report to the President. What this means is that the President and his party deceived Nigerians and indeed the whole world, with their Manifesto. And it is no wonder that the APC has not been able to find its bearing, even as the ruling party in power. Since the inglorious exit of its erstwhile National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, through a coup d’etat that was stage-managed by the President right in his office, the party has remained comatose ever since, as if under some kind of spell. It has not been able to organize any convention to elect its national officers, it has no enduring party structure and it is being administered by interim officers who have spent well over one year in office, without accountability or control.
The concept of open grazing, which the President is propagating with all his energy, is totally outdated. If the President had summoned the same zeal with which he has granted several media chats in support of open grazing, if the President had mobilized the same strength with which he is presently pursuing the recovery of the so-called grazing routes, to tackle insurgency and the invasion by bandits, Nigeria would have been a peaceful place to live in. According to Wikipedia, grazing is “a method of animal husbandry whereby domestic livestock are allowed outdoors to consume wild vegetation in order to convert grass and other forages into meat, milk, wool and other animal products, often on land unsuitable for arable farming.” In Nigeria, the animals being referred to are the cows, assembled together by herdsmen who are itinerant livestock farmers. From the Wikipedia definition, the grass to be grazed is usually on land not suitable for arable farming. This then takes us to the very important question of ownership of land.
Generally, grazing is not expected to be a free for all exercise embarked upon openly and with reckless abandon, not giving care to ownership of land and farmlands. This is the major difference between the position of the President and the people of Nigeria. Open grazing simply means that herdsmen will be free to trespass upon land anywhere and at any time, with their cattle, whether or not that may lead to destruction of crops on farmlands is immaterial. On the other hand is the Land Use Act, which has vested all land in the Governor of the State on behalf of the people, since 1978. In order to preserve its provisions, the said Land Use Act has been inserted into the 1999 Constitution as one of the laws that cannot be easily amended. Under and by virtue of section 34 of the said Land Use Act, those who are in possession of land prior to its commencement are conferred with a deemed right of occupancy, over all land already occupied before the enactment of the Act. This right has been held to be sacrosanct, by the Supreme Court and it cannot be overreached even by the Governor, without following due process of law in proper acquisition and compensation. If the Governor cannot take over land without following due process of law, how will it be possible for herdsmen to take over people’s land without their consent and even proceed to destroy their crops, at will and unquestioned? This is what the President is defending, with the votes entrusted to him twice now in 2015 and 2019.
It is not just that the President is unjustifiably advocating and defending an outdated open grazing policy, he is equally amassing all arsenals of state power, in aid of this sinister agenda, that blows ill wind everywhere. His aides, especially his media aides, are daily falling over themselves to attack, abuse and insult the people of Nigeria and their elected representatives, who dare to raise their voices in opposition. Seventeen Governors of the Southern part of Nigeria met in Asaba a few weeks back to voice their opposition to open grazing. They were rudely chastised by one particular Garba Shehu, who does not carry the mandate of the people, in very pedestrian and childish language. The Governors of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, met in Uyo to demand true federalism, state police and transparency in the management of our national resources. The same aide of the President reigned invectives upon them uncontrollably. Mr. Femi Adesina, another media aide to the President, has since joined the inglorious fray, not sparing even the elders and describing patriots and genuine activists as anarchists. Thus, the Presidency has become more of an albatross to the people of Nigeria, operating in totalitarian tendencies which pitch the President against the rest of us.
This is certainly not the Nigeria of our dreams, where life is no longer safe, where terrorists and bandits hold sway, where the cost of living has become totally unbearable, where unemployment has climbed the roof and where we have descended into the Hobbesian state of sheer brute and naked force. The President cannot claim to have been elected into office simply to divide the people into tribal and religious clans or to ruin the economy, such that survival has become a nightmare for a greater percentage of the populace. Surely and certainly, we did not elect the President to trample upon the fundamental rights of the people in curtailing the exercise of their freedom of expression and we did not elect the President to relegate the Constitution into permanent oblivion, in the daily rigmarole of his officers, in their warped and subjective interpretation and application thereof. Rather, the President was elected to achieve peace, progress, unity and prosperity for the people, to respect and promote the fundamental rights of the people, to uphold the Constitution at all times and at all costs and to galvanize the people to achieve national cohesion through deliberate inclusive policies.
From all indications, the President and the Presidency are totally ensconced in cocoons of their comfort and allure of power, as to place themselves above the people that they govern. It is stated in section 14 of the Constitution that:
14 (1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.
(2) It is hereby declared that –
(a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria form whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;
(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and
(c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
According to the Constitution in the sections quoted above, there is no government without the people, there is no government in the absence of security and welfare of the people and the government cannot claim to function in the absence of active participation by the people. One then wonders where the President and the Presidency derived the power to impose open grazing on the people, the source of the unguarded utterances of the media aides of the President and the rationale for silencing all voices of dissent through scaremongering and unprovoked verbal assaults. The government cannot be greater than the people, or seek to lord its unpopular policies over them willy-nilly, in a nation that is based on democracy and social justice. That cannot and should not happen, especially for the propagation of an agricultural policy that has become archaic universally.
Nigerians want restructuring, we want true federalism, devolution of power, resource control and other fundamental policies that will guarantee a united Nigeria. Nigerians are all opposed to the illegal idea of open grazing and they are all unanimous in this, save the President and the Presidency. If what we practice is democracy, the President has to yield to the reasonable demands of the people of Nigeria, in the interest and for the common good of all.