By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
The idea muted by the Federal Attorney General and minister of justice Abubakar Malami that the solution to the incessant invasions of farm lands and communities all across the Country by armed Fulani herdsmen who destroy farm produce and kill farmers as a consequence of bitter discord arising from the destructive actions of the unruly herders, is diversionary and is highly irresponsible, irrational and misplaced, argues the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA). The Rights group made its position in a statement on Sunday.
HURIWA recalled that the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) had on Tuesday called for the establishment of a ‘pastoralism commission’ even as he called for community-oriented approach in diffusing and eliminating the menace that has retarded economic development and created wide-spread insecurity.
HURIWA said the minister said, addressing farmer-herder crisis from purely theoretical perspectives often devoid of reality and without synchronization with the needs and aspirations of the involved stakeholders is not only counter-productive, but inimical to the emergence and sustenance of a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.
Malami, who was speaking as a special guest of honour at the Peace, Unity and Security Lecture Series 2021 held at the ECOWAS main auditorium, Abuja, where he was represented by his Media Aide, Dr Umar Gwandu said for peaceful coexistence in the country, there is need for strict adherence to the rule of law, respecting the sanctity of the fundamental human rights in all ramifications.
HURIWA quoted the Chief Law Officer recommended the setting up of regulated grazing reserves to replace the “Burtali” or “Hurumi” pastoral system as well as intensive enlightenment to livestock breeders on the need for sedentary farming and transhumance agriculture as a complimentary economic process to nomadic farming.
HURIWA however strongly disagrees with the Federal Attorney General and minister of justice Abubakar Malami whom the group accused of refusing to prosecute or ensure that all the terrorists and armed Fulani herdsmen who were accused of destroying farms of communities are prosecuted and punished since the year 2015 even as the Rights group said the minister of justice has unambiguously displayed elements and character of tribal and religious loyalties to his primordial and Ethno-Religious affinities as a Fulani born lawyer and politician rather than to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 as amended.
The Rights group said the justice minister is simply chasing shadows and attempting to deceive Nigerians by veering off into the arena of embarking on a wild voyage of discovery as shown by his suggestion for the setting up of a pastoralists commission as a solution to the terrorism of armed Fulani herdsmen instead of enforcing the laws of Nigeria to punish persons who wield several weapons of mass destruction and have unleashed bloody violence all around the Country including in Benue, Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Enugu and parts of Imo State. The Rights group wondered why the Justice is pampering armed Fulani herdsmen even after President Muhammadu Buhari publicly directed the prosecution of armed Fulani herdsmen? If we may ask the minister of justice, do we set up a commission for armed robbers and drug peddlers so Nigeria can eradicate armed robbery and drug trafficking? This proposition of the justice minister is meaningless and senseless and is a show of insensitivity to the feelings of the thousands of victims of the different armed Fulani invasions and violence in Nigeria.
HURIWA reacted to the call by AGF and minister of justice Abubakar Malami in a presentation sent to the media just as excerpts are as follows: “Gentlemen and ladies of the forth estate of the realm , we welcome you to this emergency press interface that is necessitated by the growing restiveness and the flare up of grave inter-ethnic conflagration and disharmony all across the country .
First , we must say that the physical conflict of ethnicities flaring up everywhere must be extinguished by the President, the governors and all elected office holders whose primary constitutional duty as spelt out in section 14 (2) (b)of the Nigerian Constitution is to ensure the security of lives and property of all citizens. The grund norm says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
However, allow us to restate our call on Mr. President to take immediate, comprehensive but transparent but lawful measures to bring all kinds of conflicts of Nationalities to an end. We had yesterday blamed the rise in these inter-ethnic conflicts on the apparent double standards of the central government.
However, our attention has been called to the position that it is inaccurate to locate the blame squarely on the desk of President Muhammadu Buhari. We accept this key point of correction.
We have also been asked by some of our prominent members to correct the impression that there is a deliberate intention of Mr. President to refuse to prosecute armed Fulani herdsmen and that there is no empirical data to believe that there is an agenda to alienate any ethno religious nationalities in the redistribution of National offices. We are glad to hear this second opinion and we respect it.
However, we will appeal to Mr. President to always respect equity and equality of rights in all his official conducts even as we call on him to either suspend or query his Federal Attorney General and Minster of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) who even in writing told us that arrested armed Fulani herdsmen who were hitherto paraded by the NPF here in Abuja will not be prosecuted because there is no case file.
The Minister of Justice told us in a response to our request that all the paraded armed Fulani herdsmen since 2015 must be prosecuted.
The impression conveyed by the Justice Minister is that a set of suspects are above the law only because of their ethnicity. This perception is damaging to the image of the government. It is totally irregular, unconstitutional and absolutely illegal and we call on President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to order the AGF explicitly to either carry out the order to prosecute offenders or be dismissed frim public office.
We hereby applaud the public statement of President Muhammadu Buhari in which he directed that armed Fulani herdsmen and indeed all criminals must be made to face the full weight of the law.
The ball is in the courts of the Justice Ministry to do the needful and for the police to enforce the law by building up strong case against all criminals. These prosecutorial activities must be transparent and accountable.
These are the exact words of President Buhari which has given us hope that there could be light at the end of the tunnel:
President Muhammadu Buhari had flayed the reported cases of ethnic violence across the country, saying his government will protect all religious and ethnic groups in line with the provisions of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
Buhari, in a statement last night by his media aide, Malam Garba Shehu, vowed that his government will protect all religious and ethnic groups, whether majority or minority in line with its responsibility under the constitution.
Reacting to reports of the breakout of violence in some parts of the country by some ethnic and sectional groups, the president warned that the government will not allow any ethnic or religious group to stoke up hatred and violence against other groups.
He condemned such violence and gave assurances that his government will act decisively to stop the spread of any such violence.
Buhari appealed to religious and traditional leaders as well governors and other elected leaders across the country to join hands with the federal government to ensure that communities in their domain are not splintered along ethnic and other primordial lines.
President Muhammadu Buhari ordered security operatives to arrest and prosecute anyone found with illegal arms in the country.
Buhari, who lamented the spate of reckless killings of innocent citizens across the nation, said “all attacks by suspected herdsmen will no longer be tolerated in north central and elsewhere in Nigeria.”
He gave the order in Lafia, Nasarawa State during his one-day working visit to commission projects executed by Governor Umaru Tanko Almakura.
Buhari stated that his administration was doing everything possible within its capacity to ensure the security of lives and property in the north central and the country at large. “We have deployed special resources to all affected areas to ensure peace and safety of lives. I therefore appeal to all Nigerians to refrain from reprisal attack as the government is on top of the situation.”
He said his administration would stop at nothing to deliver its change mandate to the electorate in the fight against corruption, insecurity and employment generation for the teaming youths.
“I, therefore, condole with those affected by this barbaric act of killings,” he said.
So what then is the power of the AGF? We carefully cited Section 174 and 211 of the Nigerian Constitution were the powers of the AGF were detailed as follows: The power of the AGF
174 (1) The Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power –
(a) To institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria, other than a court-martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly;
(b) To take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person; and
(c) To discontinue at any stage before judgement is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person.
(2) The powers conferred upon the Attorney-General of the Federation under subsection (1) of this section may be exercised by him in person or through officers of his department.
(3) In exercising his powers under this section, the Attorney-General of the Federation shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process
211 (1) The Attorney General of a state shall have power
(a) To institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria other than a court-martial in respect of any offence created by or under any law of the House of Assembly;
(b) To take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person; and c) to discontinue at any stage before judgement is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person.
(2) The powers conferred upon the Attorney-General of a state under subsection 1 of this section may be exercised b him in person or through officers of his department.
(3) In exercising his powers under this section, the attorney-General of a state shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.
From above, the power of the attorney general is vast when it comes to prosecution of cases. He can decide what case it wants to investigate or prosecute but cannot pronounce judgment on its own.
From all that we have seen so far since 2015, the failure of the Federal Attorney General to carry out transparent prosecution of all kinds of criminals no matter their ethnicity, is the primary cause of mass distrust in the government of President Buhari and when it is found out that there is a deliberate failure to prosecute armed Fulani herdsmen on the nebulous reason that there is no case file, you can now see why most people think there is double standard by this government.
So our charge to President Buhari is to compel his justice sector officials to either do their Jobs or be fires.
1. The expanding frontiers of inter-ethnic distrust shows that the National Agencies for peace and conflict resolution and the National orientation have failed in their duties.
Mr. President and the National Assembly should scrap these dysfunctional cash guzzling contraptions.
2. President Buhari should appoint six zonal Presidential Advisers/peace envoys who should run their offices each in the geopolitical zonal headquarters and their mandates are to hold weekly dialogues with stakeholders in the grassroots such as security officials; traditional rulers; community leaders and NGOs including religious leaders on ways to promote inter ethnic harmony and these offices should be adequately funded to carry out measurable deliverables and activities in this line. To do this, Mr. President should downsize his special advisers to avoid entering the traps of creating am unwieldy bureaucracy and increase the costs of governance.
3. The traditional Institutions should be recognised in the constitution and their offices should draw some percentages from the defence/security budgets of the President/governors and properly audited to ensure that only activities that pragmatically elevate inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic cum religious harmony are carried out.
4. There should be decisive action on the part of government to stop open grazing and encouraging ranching of livestocks and because these are private businesses, the owners should approach the banks for loans/credits to set up ranches.
5. On no account should groups be allowed to issue expulsion orders on other ethnic groups because this offends our constitutional right to live wherever we choose to. Those making such orders should face the full weight of the law irrespective of their status, tribe or religion. The police should stop double standards of failing to arrest northerners when they issue expulsion orders on Southerners but will spring up to arrest southerners making similar unlawful pronouncement.
The police has indeed messed up the public image of President Buhari. The police service Commission which promotes only Northerners has also muddied the public image of the President. It should be unbundled.”