Southern governors must follow up their declaration with legal backing; Senate Spokesperson Dr Ajibola Basiru.

Basiru: Southern governors must follow up their declaration with legal backing
By John Akubo, Abuja

In reaction to Senator Abdullahi Adamu’s claim that southern governors sounded like a broken record in their position on some national issues, including open grazing, restructuring, and the reopening of grazing routes, Senate spokesperson and senator representing Osun Central Senatorial District, Dr. Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru , wants the governors to firm up their declarations with legal backing in order to give effect to them, and underscore seriousness. He also canvasses the dismantling of the unitary security architecture for the country to overcome insecurity. He spoke to JOHN AKUBO in Abuja.

Your colleague, Senator Abdullahi Adamu is against southern states’ governors on the ban on open grazing and their demand for restructuring, saying that they are under oath, and are not supposed to take the positions they have taken. What is your reaction?

I don’t understand what he is talking about and I will not join issues with anybody on the issue of open grazing or no open grazing. But I know that there is no constitutional right for anybody to conduct his business or affairs in a way that infringes on other peoples’ right and businesses, and I have had occasion to state that there is a need to conduct animal rearing in a way that reflects current and modern animal husbandry. The nomadic system of driving animal all over the places is not only archaic, in view of the urbanisation of our society, but it is also anachronistic, which every serious-minded person should not promote.

On the declaration of the southern governors, I will advise that it is very important for them to follow their declaration with necessary legal backing. The country is one under the law, and by the Land Use Act, the use and management of land within a state are vested in Section 1 of the Land Use Act. So, I believe that in order to give effect to the declaration, they need to go a step further to ensure that their legislative houses pass requisite laws to create such a ban, and penalty for its breach.

Because of the heat generated by the debate, I also had occasion to study our Nigerian law on the matter and I discovered that even in the northern part of the country, open grazing is prohibited by the provision of Grazing Reserve Law because under those laws, are those of them who have domesticated the law, Northern Nigerian Law 1965, is to say that grazing reserve should be created. So, open grazing is not even recognised in the northern part of this country. What I will also say is that as statesmen, we need to be nationalistic in our orientation. It would be sad if we decide to take a position on issues that affect development from a parochial ethnic perspective.

I have sworn to uphold the constitution of the country and to apply same without fear, or favour and in rendering any opinion, I will not do so because it favours any part of the country, but we need a country to take the issue of modern animal husbandry seriously. Even the yield we can get from parading animal all over the place is far lower than when we apply the modern method, which makes it possible for the animals to be fed on the same spot. You can take the milk and even the manure for agricultural purposes. So, the way to go is not about politicising the issue, but what we need as a government at the central, state and local government levels to get maximum yield from animal rearing.

Adamu alleged that southern governors’ position could spur northern governors to also take a position against southerners’ businesses in the North. Is this not troubling?

I don’t want to believe that he said that. It is not a question of southern governors banning any business, it is the mode of conducting animal husbandry. I would not believe that any senator who has sworn to uphold the Nigerian Constitution would make such an assertion in that regards. It is like equating somebody doing legitimate business in the shop with somebody who is conducting his own affairs in a manner that is destructive of property and the lives of other people.

You have the right to move freely, but your freedom stops where other peoples’ freedom begins. The aphorism in human rights literature is that the freedom of my fist ends where your nose begins. I think it is a lack of understanding to be equating the regulation of animal husbandry, by way of open grazing, with the freedom of right of movement. Human beings are free to move but you cannot conduct your affair in a way that interferes with the property of others.

Is it part of freedom of movement for somebody to let his animals destroy other peoples’ farmlands, or to destroy their properties?

Is it part of human right for somebody to openly brandish arms and ammunition to attack other people. So, I think it is like extending the freedom of movement in a manner that is very absurd. Even Section 45 of our constitution creates qualifications in terms of public safety, public morality etc. We should no longer rear animals in a way that is injurious to others in society.

Are advocates of restructuring haranguing President Buhari as also being alleged by Senator Adamu?

I don’t believe he would say that because in the last three weeks the president has engaged the public in debates on the matter, and he has expressed his opinion. Although we belong to the same party, I don’t share some of the opinions that President Buhari expressed about restructuring.

For him to have pushed restructuring back to the National Assembly, I think it is not in line with our party because we campaigned on the mantra of restructuring and constitutional reform in 2015. So, six years down the line, we cannot say that our manifesto that is published, is no longer part of what both the executive and legislative arms should strive to do. So, I believe the position of the president has been expressed in several fora in the past two or three weeks, and some of us, even though we belong to the same party, believe that some of those positions do not represent the manifesto of the party upon which we campaigned to come to power. We believe that the president would be properly advised to go back and look at the founding documents of APC so that the necessary support can be given.

Our party, the APC even set up a committee on the devolution of power and constitutional amendment, which no less a person than Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State headed, with senators and others as members. Far reaching resolutions on devolution of power and restructuring were taken. So, I believe that the issue of restructuring and devolution of power is part and parcel of what we campaigned for, and our party has taken a step so the next thing is for the executive and legislative arms which incidentally has the majority of our party members to work together to see how this can come to reality.

What is your view on the claim that state governors have failed to do the needful, hence the worsening insecurity?

I don’t think anybody with respect will say that the problem of insecurity in Nigeria is at the doorsteps of state governors. I have served for two terms at the state level working with Governor Rauf Aregbesola, and I will say that governors are largely helpless when it comes to the issue of insecurity, and I will give you one example. Even Osun State was literally taken over by federal security operatives ahead of the 2014 election to the extent that some of us who were government functionaries were under siege by federal security agencies, including the police, the DSS and so on.

Second, when it comes to giving orders, a governor cannot even give directives to the DPO not to talk of the AIG. They don’t control the military; they don’t control the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

So, if they say they are in charge of security, in what way?

What we are witnessing is a failure of the unitary security architecture that we have in Nigeria. Fortunately, that is why I am surprised that somebody will say that, I don’t believe he said so, because the Senate set up a committee whose report was presented on February 17, 2020, which is more than a year ago. The committee was headed by Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, and one of the far-reaching recommendations was the need to decentralise the Nigerian Police Force along zonal lines, with budgetary and operational autonomy because the conclusion based on hearing from actors in the field is that, there is over centralisation in the centre, which will not achieve the aim of attending to the problem of insecurity.

The truth is that if you want to lay that blame, you must accept what some of us have been clamouring for and that is the state police. I have sponsored a bill on state police, which is before the constitutional review committee. I have also sponsored a bill on the decentralisation of the Nigerian Police along zonal lines, in line with the Senator Abdullahi committee’s recommendation. So, you cannot shift the blame. The so-called federal system of policing, which is a unitary system of policing has failed, and we must try another method. We must confront the challenge of dismantling the unitary system of security that we have in this country and until that is done, you cannot place the blame on somebody who does not have the power.

Do you agree that governors are giving Buhari a bad name for not allowing the judiciary to be autonomous and for local councils to function effectively?

I don’t know when the senator became the mouthpiece of President Buhari. Personally, I must make a distinction between judicial autonomy and local government autonomy as the federalist that I am. I don’t believe that the Federal Government has any business with how local councils are run. It is against the tenets of federalism. Every state, every federating unit, should be free to determine its structure of local administration, and I use the word local administration, not local government. You may use the royalty system or local council system. The classical conception of federalism is that there are two federating entities; those are the Federal Government and the semi-autonomous federation units. The local administration depends on the federating unit. The local administration I will tell you that the argument of local government autonomy, aside from not being ideologically sound, is only predicated because there are some handouts going to the local governments. I ask you today, of the 774 local government areas how many of them can actually work, or even set up a department of administration without Federal allocation?

On judicial autonomy, I believe this is also beyond sentiments; we must face the reality, which is the fact that the way our states are funded is different from the way that the Federal Government is funded. Today, even money is appropriated at the state level they may not even have the necessary cash to backup whatever has been appropriated. The question is that this money comes from the federal allocation and IGR. So, there is a need to have a workable solution to ensure that on a pro-rated basis, whatever is realised to back up the budget should be released for the judiciary to do so. But there is much to be done to ensure that there is adequate funding and autonomy for the judiciary but when it comes to local government, the Federal Government has no business whatsoever if we are really practising genuine federalism.

Do you agree with the assertion that politicians are behind the self-actualisation agitations?

I don’t like the fallacy of generalisation, I am a politician and I know I am not behind any ethnic agitation. So, if you say politicians are behind it, name those that are behind it, but I know as a student of human rights that the right to self-actualisation is also a fundamental human right, but must be conducted within the ambit of the law. What we have is that every election cycle, there are always agitations of this nature; there are also agitations from those who want to say there must be a constitutional conference. But the question is, do these agitations, beyond being given accentuation in the media really percolate to the generality of the people?

I will say the answer is no. The truth is that the elite are always coming up with different programmes to draw the people to their side. I believe that all these agitations cannot subside until we as a country decide to know that we as a heterogenous society must create an environment for equity and fairness, and the emergence of the real Nigerian citizen because some of the elites still reason within the confines of their ethnic, tribal or religious affiliations. So, there is a need for us as political elites to work towards what I call Nigerianisation of our citizenship, rather than seeing ourselves from the point of view of ethnic origin.

I will say that the pattern of development of our constitutional history also accentuated those issues. The 1946 initial constitution started the problem of regionalism, and to date, the mental construct of many of us is still within that regard.

Is it true that restructuring is the job of the National Assembly, and that some people are only trying to arm-twist Buhari to embark on it?

Basically, in whatever amendment to the constitution by virtue of Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly has the most important role to play, but that is not to take away the fact that my party, the APC, campaigned with the mantra of constitutional reform, particularly the devolution of power and restructuring.

There are two ways by which we can address recommendations of the el-Rufai committee on restructuring. The executive can come before the National Assembly by way of an executive bill pursuant to Section 9 to seek to implement those requirements that are deemed what should be done by the APC because the APC that set up that committee is also the one that is in charge of the executive. So, an executive bill is not out of place to be instituted to implement the recommendations of the el-Rufai committee. This is the responsibility of the executive. Section 5 of the constitution says that the president is the executive of Nigeria; he has that executive power to exercise directly or through his ministers, or all other members of the government.

Second, the National Assembly interested in the present constitutional effort is also taking into cognizance, existing reports of committees and conferences. I know that the el-Rufai report is also being considered, as well as the 2014 constitutional conference report. So, it is not like the National Assembly as it were has jettisoned the el-Rufai committee, but to say that strictly, the executive and ipso facto the president have no responsibility I disagree. The executive is constituted by my party the APC, and it has a report it stands to reason that it is not out of place for an executive bill to give the imprimatur of the executive to the processes by the National Assembly.

Is it enough to wave off those agitating for self-actualisation, the Senator Adamu said, ‘who wants to go can go?’

I believe that in a society like this, there are different shades of opinions that you cannot wish away anybody having an opinion, and as a student of political theory, you know there is a school of thought that they call anarchism, that does not even believe that there is a need for a government. Will you kill them? Will you say that they are not professing their ideas? Part of the right of everybody is to agitate and ventilate his/her opinion, but what I am concerned about is that agitations, ventilation of grievances and postulations must be within the context of the law, and must be conducted in a peaceful atmosphere. I believe that with the strengthening of our democratic institutions; with the strengthening of the right to freedom of expression, all these are part of the democratic process. We cannot wish them away but continue to work to make the country work for Nigerians and for us to continue to promote the Nigerianisation of our citizenship, these agitations over a period of time will give way. I am very optimistic about that, but it is not something to be boastful, or arrogant about. It is a question of ensuring that our political elite owes it a duty to see to the emergence of a Nigerian citizen, who sees himself first, and foremost as a Nigerian, and puts before himself Nigeria, before any other primordial interest.

Are allegations of northerners are being killed in the South unfounded. Would it not lead to a reprisal that could be termed genocide?
The truth is that there is nobody in the North or South as an organisation, or individual that has given imprimatur to the challenges of insecurity that we have. Even in the North, we have the issue of banditry and people are being killed. Is it a question of northerners killing northerners? No, it is a question of insecurity, so we must try to make a difference between the problem of insecurity and the need for us to immediately dismantle the unitary security system and evolve a veritable instrument to deal with insecurity. In Osun, we have a very harmonious relationship with people of every ethnic nationality. In fact, I was part of a civic engagement organised by the government where we had interaction with all manner of people from different parts of the country ranging from Ibibio, Efik, Tiv, Igala Jukun, Hausa, Fulani and so on. So, you cannot make such generalisation as such fallacy would only heighten unnecessary tension and we would be playing into the hands of war merchants, who may think that by undermining our sovereignty, our government would not be able to make away. So, as senators, we must be circumspect so as not to inflame the country and we must see ourselves as people who are supposed to maintain an even balance between all manner of people, and among all ethnic nationalities, in any part of the country. I will rather say it is not a case of a systematic attack on anybody, from any part of the country, but it is a problem of insecurity, and we must, as a government take the bull by the horns, and ensure the safety of lives and property irrespective of where anybody is residing, or where anybody comes from. I am part and parcel of this government; I campaigned for the president; for my party and for myself, and the people of my senatorial district voted for my party, the APC.

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