June 25, 2024

Distinguished Senator Cow And His Human Rights

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As the sitting president in 2016, General Muhammadu Buhari told the Emir of Katsina that “It would be foolhardy for someone to just say he would chase us away. So where do we go” He uttered those words in reaction to the clamour for killer herdsmen to leave the forest of the South. When the language of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is as discriminatory as what we had in his eight years, we should not wonder why those herders became audacious under his watch!

Last Wednesday, and for the first time since he became the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio showed some courage in leadership. He was able to rise to the occasion when some senators, who ordinarily one should think would be the shining stars of the Red Chamber, decided to be funny. Akpabio’s “Cows are not citizens of Nigeria, Senator Aliero; are you arguing with me? The section you are referring to is talking about citizens of Nigeria. And cows are not citizens of Nigeria. Cows can come from Niger, Chad or anywhere”, rings a bell in my ears even now. The Senate President was responding to the argument by Adamu Aliero, former governor of Kebbi State, that banning cows from open grazing would amount to infringing on the fundamental human rights of Nigerians. Aliero was not alone in that journey to the community of the shameless. Another former governor and fellow senator, Danjuma Goje from Gombe Sate also argued in that direction. The duo expressed the opinions of majority of the northern senators on the issue of open grazing. One cannot but feel ashamed of the argument.

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This macabre drama took me down my elementary school days when we used to have catechism classes and the teachers would test our knowledge of the Bible thus: Tani ó dá e? Olórun tí ó dá òrun òhun ayé, òun ni o dá mi. Kíni Olórun tún dá? Olórun dá eye ojú òrun àti eja inú ibú. Àti kí tún ni? Ò dá eranko ati ohun gbogbo tí ó ní èmí. Nígbà tí ó dá won tán, kí ló so? Ò ní kí a maa joba lórí won. E pàtéwó fún ra yín (Who created you? God who created the heaven, and the earth is the one who created me. What else did God create? God created the birds in the sky and the fish in the ocean. And what else? He created animals and everything that has breath. After creating them, what did he say? He commanded us to rule over them. Clap for yourselves).

The Anglican Catechism of our cradle was fantastic. It was based on proposition and response, as we have above We would go boisterous. We would sing owó Jésú, e má fi ra dòdò je (don’t use Jesus’ money to buy fried plantain). Offering would be collected, the Grace taken, and we would dismiss to go and join our parents in the adult church. That itself was another trouble for the Church Wardens, the present-day ushers; especially when we had gentle boys and girls like yours sincerely in large numbers! Rowdy as the classes were then, the didacticism of the teachings reverberates even now. God bless the souls of Mummy Falusi, Mummy Ogundipe and their team of children’s teachers of our old All Saints’ Anglican Church, Oke-Bola, Ikole Ekiti.

Why were those Sunday School children’s teachers of those days teaching us those fundamental moral values.? Why the ethos of their informal curriculum for the children’s church? Recent happenings in Nigeria answer these questions and many more. But for the fact that we were taught in our cradle that God never created man and animals to be equal, the modern-day Nigerian politicians would have invaded our psychological and mental faculties to condition us to think that the four-legged creatures are of the same status with Homo sapiens! We are indeed in a terrible season.

The Nigerian senate is expected to be the abode for the best of brains in the country. The hallowed chamber, which the present pests have turned to hollow chamber, was designed to be the brain box of the nation’s legislative arm of government. One would expect that whoever appends the prefix “Distinguished” to his or her name would be a man or woman of far above average intelligence. But the reverse has been the case to the embarrassment of every right-thinking individual in the country. How the same senate where the likes of Abraham Adesanya, Jonathan Odebiyi, Ayo Fasanni, Oloye Abubakar Olusola Saraki; Joseph Wayas; Adamu Kolo; Jacob Kure Madaki; David Omueye Dafinone; Offia Nwali; Mohammed Girgiri; Emeka Patrick Echeruo; Adamu Gaya, and a host of other fantastic beings once sat is now occupied by the present jesters beats one’s imagination. How did we negotiate the curve in our political trajectory that has led us to this bottomless pit of legislative buffoonery?

Senator Titus Zam representing Benue North-Wes,t proposed a bill seeking to ban open grazing. Zam, whose constituents are constantly at the receiving end of the perennial herders/farmers clashes in the North Central region of the country, reasoned that the only way the nation could cure the menace is by putting a law in place that would ensure that whoever wants to engage in animal husbandry must create ranches as done in other civilised countries of the world. The Benue State senator’s argument was that “The bill advocates for the urgent need to transit from traditional livestock-keeping methods to modern methods which are safer and healthier for both the herds and the herders; proposes that ranches be established in the pastoralists’ state of origin without forcing it upon other states or communities that do not have pastoralists as citizens.”, and that “interested parties in livestock business must seek and obtain approvals of their host communities to establish ranches for peaceful co-existence.” He argued that open grazing is not just old-fashioned and hazardous, it is equally a burdensome culture from the Stone Age! Fantastic submission, one was tempted to say until the Alieros and Gojes of this world rose to speak.

In his argument, Aliero, who ruled Kebbi State for eight years, opined that the bill, if passed into law, would amount to a contravention of the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country, as it seeks to ban the free movement of herders and their cattle. He further submitted that cattle rearing and ranching activities take place more in northern Nigeria than in other parts of the country, reasoning that lawmaking should be for the entire country and not for a section. He went ahead to talk about the ancient “cattle routes”, which started from the north and terminated in Lokoja, Kogi State. The insistence that banning open grazing is a contravention of the fundamental rights of Nigerians drew the reaction of the Senate President. To Aliero and his fellow ‘human rights activist’, cows have the same rights as human beings! No one should be surprised at that level of reasoning in Nigeria of 2024!

The most unfortunate aspect of last Wednesday’s debate in the senate is that the argument to equate cows with Nigerians by the northern elite did not start today. Even the most learned legal minds in the north think in that direction. For the eight years of his ruinous leadership of the country, the mental faculty of General Muhammadu Buhari tilted more to attaching importance to cows than to an average Nigerian. The Daura-born General is legendary in that regard. Buhari was reported to have led a delegation of Arewa chieftains to the late Lam Adesina, when he was the governor of Oyo State in the year 2000 to tell the governor that “Your people are killing my people.” Buhari made that notorious statement in reaction to the herders/farmers clash in Oke Ogun area of Oyo State. To him, what mattered then was the number of herders killed in retaliatory attacks by the farmers, and not the calamities visited on the lives and property of the farmers by the Ak-47-carrying murderous herders.

Buhari had an alibi in his Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), whose employment of nauseating sophistry, while justifying the rights of cows above those of Nigerians, became notoriously legendary. Malami, while reacting to the Asaba congregation of the 17 southern governors where the resolution to ban open grazing was debated and adopted, cited Section 41 (1) of the constitution to reduce the argument to the pedestrian level of the rights of cows! On a national television station, Malami, witlessly intoned: “It is about constitutionality within the context of the freedoms expressed in our Constitution… Can you deny the rights of a Nigerian?” and which right was the then AGF talking about? Section 41 (1) states inter alia: “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria…” The fundamental words here are contained in the phrase, “Every citizen of Nigeria.” The question to ask then is: Are cows human beings, and citizens of Nigeria?

The calamity of the Buhari era is that Nigerians, for the first time in history, had the misfortune of having a negatively brilliant AGF interpreting the spirits and letters of the constitution to a completely biddable president! Little wonder then that the Mai Gaskiya never raised a finger to defend the rights to life of other Nigerians apart from those of his kinsmen, the Fulani herders and their cows. That was why when Buhari stuttered to Benue, where over a hundred farmers were slaughtered by herdsmen, all he could do was to laugh and wonder aloud why the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) he asked to relocate to Benue State was not on ground! That was why Buhari and Malami devoted the greatest parts of their energy to bringing back the antediluvian Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) policy but for the resistance of Nigerians.

Buhari’s offspring are back in the senate to defend the ‘fundamental human rights of cows’, the same way their forebear did. Good enough, Akpabio was able to push the anti-open grazing bill through. We thank him for that first-ever positive act. While at that, we need to remind the Alieros and Gojes of the North that nobody is against the free movement of northerners to any part down south. The problem is that in moving about, no Nigerian is permitted to constitute a threat to the well-being of other Nigerians. It should be a thing of collective shame to the agitators of the right to free movement for cows that anywhere herdsmen go, there is always sorrow, tears and blood. We had herdsmen in our areas when we were growing up. The difference between then and now is that the cow herders of the past had just ordinary sticks, whereas the herdsmen of the Aliero and Goje’s world of today carry AK-47 assault rifles. AK-47 is not a game-hunting gun.

Nigeria is indeed in a confused state. An average southern Nigerian grew up with the Catechism that teaches that God created human beings to have dominion over animals. The opposite is what the north has; a place where animals are more treasured than human beings. Methinks that if the northern elite had paid the attention they give to cows to the educational development of the herdsmen, the North would have been a lot better than it is today. Incidentally, only the children of the hoi polloi of the North are recruited as cow herders, while the children of the elite are in the best schools across the country and beyond! I have stopped lamenting over the calamity those who brought the North and the South together as “one indivisible” nation brought upon us. The reality on ground now is that there is no immediate solution to that fundamental problem. So, what do we make with the stones that the January 1, 1914, amalgamation threw on our path? The North must talk to itself and realise that it is pushing its luck with the rest of the nation too far!

The world has moved away from the precariously ambulant pastoral lifestyle that Aliero and Goje are advocating, to more sophisticated stationary ranches which give more yields in terms of dairy products and beef to the herders. Besides, while herdsmen have the right to freedom of movement, farmers and other Nigerians also have the rights to harvest the products of their farms and enjoy the peace of their communities. There must be a common ground. That solution is in the anti-grazing bill as proposed by Senator Titus Zam of Benue North-West Senatorial District. All right-thinking Nigerians, especially from the North, should embrace such a noble, decent and modern legislation. In the first instance, it is wicked for the elite of the North to keep their children in their comfy homes and at the same time ask herdsmen to tramp through the forests of Kano to Sekona in Osun State. If, in 2024, northern senators still have the mentality of Abdullahi Adamu, the former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), former senator and former governor of Nasarawa State to wit: “The government is free to establish grazing reserves anywhere. Government is government. If anybody thinks he is violent, the government has the monopoly of violence”, I can predict the end. DISASTER!

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