Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka and Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark on Monday faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s demand for the recovery of “encroached” grazing routes.
The President, in an interview on Arise TV, said he had directed the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to dust off a First Republic gazette on grazing routes.
He said: “What I did was ask them to go and dig the gazette of the First Republic … There are cattle routes and grazing areas where when they are moving up the country – north to south, or east to west, they have to go through there.
“If you allow your cattle to stray into any farmer’s farm, you will be arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims, the judge will ask you to pay. If you can’t, your cattle will be sold and if there’s any balance, you are given and people are behaving themselves.
“In the grazing areas, they built earth-dams, put windmills; in some places, even veterinary departments, so that the herders are limited; their route is known, their grazing area is known, if there’s any problem from the locality, it’s known.
“So, I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed and try to bring some order back into the cattle routes”.
Soyinka, during an interview on Arise TV monitored by our correspondent, said Buhari’s comments were “disturbing” and indicated that his administration has not gone beyond narrow-mindedness.
He said: “There is at least 50 per cent of a nation, at least their representatives, saying that within the constitution, within this democratic dispensation, we’re saying on behalf of our people: ‘we do not want open grazing anymore.’
“And then, somebody sits in Aso Rock and says to them: ‘I’m instructing my Attorney-General to dig up some kind of colonial law, which arbitrated between farmers and herders, so I’m instructing him to dig up that old, mangy documents so that I can recover, on behalf of a certain private business, the old routes; which means that he’s not listening to what the people are saying and what the governors who represented them are saying.
“He’s saying: ‘I’m going to restore those routes’ by referring to some colonial arrangement. When I listen to something like that, I really despair.
“It was a very instructive interview, not that there was anything new in it, but I was just hoping that this government had transcended that kind of partisan thinking. It was very instructive.
“That was a leader, who incidentally, I must congratulate him on one thing: he seemed to have recovered his verve – he was energetic, he was articulate; he seemed to think about what he was saying. It was a different kind of Buhari but also a rather disturbing kind of Buhari.
“This was the language of a leader who felt he was on a roll, while the nation is on a roller-coaster, and that’s even putting it mildly because the nation is on a nose-dive.”
Clark believes the President’s insistence on open grazing is unconstitutional, noting that the 1999 Constitution vests the ownership of land on governors.
He said the Federal Government has no power over any land in any part of the country except the Federal Capital Territory.
Clark, who addressed reporters in Abuja, said “Mr President should regard himself as President of one Nigeria, and not as President of the Fulanis or the Northerners. We shall resist, at all cost, any attempt to subjugate us as citizens of one Nigeria.”
He urged Malami to mind the advice he gives the President, reminding him that his role is constitutional.
“He behaves as if his position is that of a Minister of Justice alone. This was the reason why at the 2014 National Conference it was recommended that the post of the attorney-general recognised by the Constitution should be separated from that of the Minister of Justice who owes his allegiance to the government in power that appointed him.
“Perhaps Mr President is not aware, or he has not been advised by the AGF that the Land Use Act which vested ownership of land on the state governor is entrenched in the constitution.
“Therefore, any gazette or law passed by any state or National Assembly is null and void because the 1999 Constitution supersedes all such laws or gazette notices.
“The President has no power or authority to impose open grazing on state governments. Such illegal action which is a breach of the 1999 Constitution will not be accepted and will be legally resisted at all costs.
“Therefore, any law banning open grazing by state governments is not only legal and binding but is unchallengeable and binding on any person or group of persons, including the President.
“There is no federal system where the federating units are not controlled by the governors, who are the chief security officers of their federating units.
“What we are practicing today is not a federation but is a unitary form of government which makes our President the most powerful President of any federal system. And that is why the people want a new constitution.”
Clark urged the President to call for a national dialogue of ethnic nationalities over insecurity, noting that calls for secession and breakup of the country “are not healthy”.
“He needs to have a peaceful government until he leaves office in 2023. We must build up a united Nigeria where all citizens are equal, and have equal opportunity to aspire to any position in their God-given land without being subjugated or reduced to become subjects without any rights in their own country.
“We must, therefore, I repeat, restructure and return to a federal system of government as it was in 1963 before the military took over. Enough is enough!”