Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), on Wednesday, laboured to shoot down the decisions of the governors of Southern Nigeria to ban open grazing of cattle in their area, as well as calling for restructuring of the country.
Malami, who spoke while appearing as a guest of Politics Today, on Channels Television, reechoing the voices of northern stakeholders, who had earlier condemned the resolution, a fortnight ago, dismissed both decisions as a non-issue, saying that the 17 governors, should first start from their states, by granting the local governments and legislatures the autonomy they needed to operate.
He also dismissed the ban of open grazing, which was also top on the list of the Wednesday, May 12,2021 resolution of the governors at their meeting in Asaba, Delta State, saying it was akin to their northern counterparts placing a blanket ban on trading in spare parts in their states.
The nation’s number one law officer, who pointedly said he did not understand what the governors were driving at by demanding restructuring, argued that the open grazing ban was a constitutional matter bordering on freedom of movement, which required a total review of the constitution.
For this to happen, he further stressed, the matter must be tabled before the National Assembly to deliberate upon and take decisions, otherwise, the idea would go into no issue as it would not be forceable within the Nigerian constitution.
Hear him: “They (southern governors) cannot deny the local governments to operate optimally, they cannot deny the autonomy of the state legislature and state judiciary and still be clamouring for restructuring. What restructuring are we talking about? All powers are indeed embedded in financial autonomy. What have they done to allow the local government structures to operate optimally?
“Take for example a situation whereby the local government council is entitled among others to participate in the security arrangement of a state and the local government chairman is denied the funds to run the local government; with the funds, he can now deploy the resources down to the village heads, down to some other associations working within; but now you deny him the resources available to make same available to the village head, even if a village head has an intelligence report about a criminal existing within the society, he is denied of the limited resources that he could use to come over to see the local government chairman and notify him and for the local government chairman to come to the state headquarters to notify the DSS (Department of State Services), or the police to notify, so what are you talking about?
“They should address it (restructuring), at their own level first and let’s see what happens before now coming over to the President. It is not about the President. It is about the denial of the structures at the bottom level. That indeed is what restructuring is all about.
“If you allow the state legislature to operate optimally, the checks and balances required will be there. If you allow the local government councils to operate optimally, the necessary development in terms of devolution powers are there. But once you deny them the resources to operate, the autonomy to operate, then certainly, you do not have a legitimate right to clamour and agitate for any restructuring, because you are not a believer in allowing the process to operate optimally in terms of taking its natural course.
“I don’t even understand what they’re talking about restructuring, against the backdrop of denial of the other existing structures to operate.”
Hear him on open grazing ban: “It’s all about constitutionality. Within the context of the freedoms expressed in our constitution, enshrined in our constitution, can you deny the right of a Nigerian? It’s as good as the northern governors coming together to say they prohibit spare parts trading in the north. Does it hold water? Does it hold for a northern governor to say expressly that he now prohibits spare parts selling in the north?
“Look, if you’re talking of a constitutionally-guaranteed right, the better approach to it is to, perhaps go back to ensure that the constitution is amended. In the constitution, freedom and liberty of movement, among other things, are established by the constitution. If by an inch, you want to have any compromise over it, the better approach is to go back to the National Assembly to canvass that open grazing should be prohibited and see whether you can have the desired support for the constitution to be amended in that respect.
“But it is indeed a dangerous position for any governor in Nigeria to think that he can bring any compromise on the freedom and liberty of individuals to move around.”