Nigeria: Lawan, Southern Governors and Restructuring

17 May 2021
opinion

Port Harcourt — There should be limits to politicking.

I read with great displeasure the reactions and comments credited to Senators Ahmed Lawan, Ali Ndume and Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila to the clarion calls by the southern governors for restructuring of the country and for Mr President to address the nation along with the ban of open grazing in the south. I am aware that these national legislators are from Mr President's party hence should defend him at all costs even if the country is boiling.

The Senate President said that the worsening security situation in the country is due to lack of a functional local government system. This is fallacious and misleading. Is it the local government system that controls the security agencies and our National Intelligence agencies? Who appoints the service chiefs, the local government chairman or the president of the country? Who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the local government chairman or the president of the Federal Republic of Nigerian? In case Senator Lawan has forgotten, Section 5 of the Nigerian constitution vested executive powers of the federation on the president and not on the local government chairmen or the state governors. I know when the issue of state policing was deliberated by the Nigeria Governors' Forum, it was rejected by most northern governors on the ground that they did not have the financial clout to finance such project. Today, the federal police will post a police officer who does not know the terrain of an area or the culture of a people to go and police the area.

On the call by the Southern Governors Forum for the restructuring of the country, Lawan said, "I believe that as leaders, especially those of us who are elected into office should not be at the forefront of calling for this kind of thing. Because, even if you are a governor, you are supposed to be working hard in your state to ensure that this restructuring you are calling for at the federal level, you have done it in your state as well." My people say that the oppressor will never see anything wrong in his act of oppression and I do not expect Senator Lawan to say the contrary.

I need not remind Senator Lawan that the 1999 constitution imposed on us by the military does not represent the wishes of the people of Nigeria. It is both absurd and abusive referring to the governors as the chief security officers in their states when they do not have any control on the police, army, DSS or any other security agencies in their respective states. Recently an online video showed where the governor of Akwa Ibom State was accusing the commissioner of police in his state for causing mayhem in the state. If Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel had control over the commissioner of police in his state would he not have transferred such commissioner of police out of his state or sack him? To me, it is derogatory referring to a state governor as the chief security officer of his state when he has no control over any of the security agencies. All the security agencies in the state are controlled from Abuja.

In the same vein, the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has argued that the agitation for restructuring may be genuine but elected leaders and state governors should not be the ones to champion the movement for restructuring without first replicating the idea at the state level. I want to remind Hon. Femi that the governors were voted in by the people hence they should represent their people at all times. What the governors said was exactly the wish of their subjects. We run a representative system of government and the governors are representing their people.

On the other hand, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Ali Ndume, has said Southern governors in the country won't get the solution to the various problems confronting the region by playing to the gallery. I believe that Senator Ndume should have another meaning to the idiomatic expression of " playing to the gallery" because there is no way somebody would regard the decisions reached by the southern governors as playing to the gallery.

Senator Ndume again faulted the decision of the Southern governors to ban open grazing in the states, adding that open grazing was not the problem but insecurity. This is preposterous as our people say that to separate a fight one must first stop the opponents from coming together. I want to remind Senator Ndume that southern governors are not acting alone in this, as Justice Adewale Thompson banned open grazing on 17th April 1969 and warned of unprovoked killings by Fulani herdsmen. So there is a judicial precedent on this matter before the southern governors did the needful. Senator Ndume may verify this from Suit no AB/26/66.

In his judgment on the suit, the presiding judge, Justice Adewale Thompson, had this to say : "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 the corresponding obligation on the cattle owner to fence in his cattle." Sequence to that I banned open grazing for it is inimical to peace and tranquility and the cattle owners must fence or ranch their animals for peace to reign in these communities."

I still want to put it to Senator Ndume that trespass is both civil and criminal offence in Nigeria hence it is senseless defending herdsmen who take their cattle to another person's property to destroy the person's crops. Section 342 of the penal code is clear on what constitutes a criminal trespass and section 348 of th e same code clearly outlines the punishment for criminal trespass. It may also interest Senator Ndume to know that the Supreme Court has gone further to state the ingredients of a criminal trespass as follows: Unlawful entry into or upon a property in the possession of another or unlawful remaining there; an intention to commit an offence or intimidate, insult or annoy the person in possession of the property.

It needs to be noted that trespassing can have both civil and criminal consequences. A property owner may be able to sue someone who enters their land without permission. Meanwhile, the trespasser also may face criminal charges. The prosecutor would need to prove that the defendant intentionally entered someone else's property without permission, or remained there after being told to leave. This charge usually arises in the context of private property, but it can also arise if someone enters a store or other business, or even a city or state park, when they are not permitted to be there. I intentionally cited penal code that is applicable to northern part of the country which is where Senator Ndume hails from because I don't want to bore him with similar provisions of the criminal code.

I put it to Senator Ndume that these two ingredients of criminal trespass are being executed by the herdsmen who unlawfully access somebody's farm, intimidate, maim, rape or even kill the farmer if the farmer raises an eyebrow. I laughed when I read where Ndume said that: "They (the southern governors) have unfettered access to Mr President who is the Commander-In-Chief and they themselves being the chief security officers of their states have the national security council."

Let me begin by asking Senator Ndume which president he was referring to? Was it the same president that said that he was not aware that his former IGP did not carry out his instruction when the Benue killings began and he could neither sack the IGP nor replace him for flouting his order? Was Ndume referring to a president under whose watch the federal ministry of Justice was eager to approach the court to proscribe IPOB while the rampaging Fulani herdsmen are killing and wiping out communities with nobody saying anything? Was Ndume referring to the same president that under his watch, Abuja-Kaduna road is now a nightmare to travellers?

I will not fail to mention the reaction of some northerners who faulted the southern governors for not first consulting the leadership of the Fulani herdsmen before banning open grazing in the south. Consultation will be for what? Will the southern governors first consult the leaders for the herdsmen as owners of the country or owners of the southern part of the country? How many southerners were consulted before Sharia law was illegally implemented in the north even when such implementation was totally and clearly against sections 10 and 38 of the Nigerian constitution as amended?

Dr John wrote from Port Harcourt, Rivers State

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