A minister and his indiscretions


The Senate, the House of Representatives, Taraba, Ekiti and Benue state governments justifiably rose against the Minister of Defence, Musur Dan-Ali (rtd) the other day for calling on state governments to suspend their anti-open grazing laws. Dan-Ali, it would seem, has become the best advertisement copy for the worst about the Muhammadu Buhari-led government and the one who does the most to make the socio-political environment toxic with irresponsible statements.

The minister’s tactless remark came after a Security Council meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja where he said the suspension of the anti-open-grazing laws would reduce tension in the country. This carelessness was even reinforced with another statement from the spokesperson to the ministry, Col. Tukur Guasu, who added that the minister called for creation of safe routes for herdsmen too.

This is one insolence too many. What Dan-Ali is contemplating is an unwarranted attack on democracy and the rule of law that will never stand.

The anti-open grazing laws are currently operational in Benue, Ekiti and Taraba states. Besides, so many state governments are putting finishing touches to their own through the state legislatures.

Fittingly, the Senate, at its plenary, asked Dan-Ali to withdraw his statement in public interest. According to the Upper House, the call for withdrawal of the anti-open grazing laws in Benue and Taraba was unfortunate as these laws were properly enacted by the States’ Houses of Assembly.

In a democracy, the states recognised by the Constitution are empowered by the Land Use Act to take ownership and management of land resources.

On February 15 this year, this newspaper had warned of grave consequences of presidential absence, ministerial insolence and sundry insensitivities on this same issue. That was when the president failed to visit the flashpoints, Benue, Taraba and Adamawa then, even as the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the same Defence Minister made careless statements on herdsmen’s clashes and states’ anti-open grazing laws.

That appearance of insensitivity on the part of the president had then been complicated by Dan-Ali’s insolent remarks that stoked the embers of crisis when he claimed that the enactment of the anti-grazing laws by some states was the immediate cause of violence by herders.

The Defence minister, who has continued to blame the law instead of the law breakers who are still at large over the killings should be publicly rebuked for his constant indiscretions as they are capable of inflaming passions in the country.

Once again, the president will continue to receive blame over his choice of the men and women who work with him. Clearly, there are far too many of them who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. With due respect to him, the appointor, this Defence minister has shown that he lacks the depth, tact and grit expected of a former Brigadier-General of the Nigerian Army, of service that has produced numerous fine officers.

At this turbulent time, it should be noted that management of crisis requires knowledgeable people who also understand the times and the country. This is no time for tactless and inflammatory talk.

As this newspaper has stated several times, the modern method of cattle herding should be sought instead of blaming the victims of these mismanaged circumstances. No one should be deceived into believing that people will surrender their land for the purpose of expanding private businesses of cattle rearing.

In the same vein, no one should treat the people of Nigeria as fools who do not understand the import of the wind of change that is blowing with regards to the benefits of federalism across the land. The anti-grazing laws that states have been enacting to protect their lands and farmers should not be ignored and demonised by insensitive state actors. The states can make laws to protect their people and their business enterprises.

Indeed, as has been pointed out, the minister’s statement was at variance with the position of the National Economic Council which had endorsed ranching as the best global practice.

It is also insulting that while the minister was dissipating his energy on the law, he had yet to call for the arrest and prosecution of the leaders of the cattle herders who had openly and consistently threatened more bloodshed in Benue on account of the law.

Certainly, the call by the minister should be seen for what it is: an affront to federalism and a demonstration of a warped mindset.

As Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose pointed out, the Presidency should be concerned about how to take the herdsmen out of the bush and give them decent life by embracing cattle ranching.

The Federal Government, of course, lacks the power to suspend or abrogate the anti-grazing laws enacted by the state governments to prohibit open grazing of cattle in their states.

The country is a federation and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is clear on what each of the federating units can legislate on.

Also, as Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba has said, the Defence minister and the Federal Government lack the power to ask a state to dump its law.

“We will not suspend our law because we are running a federal system of government and so a state is free to make laws that will suit its people.” This response from the governors and other men of goodwill is so fitting.

No doubt, Dan-Ali’s statement is contradictory to Section 4(7) of the constitution that empowers state Houses of Assembly to make laws for the good governance in their areas.

He should not only be so clearly told, he should know that he is fast becoming an embarrassment to the government in which he serves and he may need to take his carelessness and tactlessness elsewhere.

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