In the past week, one would have counted, easily, more than a dozen articles that have fiercely denounced the rascally comments by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, while on a TV programme. While on air, Malami made a series of ill-thought pronouncements on the ban of open grazing by the southern governors. To sink more into his self-made quandary, Malami made the unfortunate analogy about northern governors banning “spare parts trading in the North.” A sizeable number of commentators have already dissected the illogic in Malami’s response and I am not about to litigate that point any further. What concerns me is that even though insecurity issues have existed for a while, the Attorney-General could still not come up with a well-reasoned position.
As Nigeria’s Attorney-General, his job includes issuing informed formal opinions on legal matters, and such pronouncements are expected to be well-grounded in the law. That is what makes his pedestrian view incredibly baffling. It was so shoddy it would not win a case in even a customary court. By not thinking through the issue solidly before making a public pronouncement, he gave himself away as someone who lacks awareness of what his position entails, or he is nonchalant because he does not take what is at stake for the country seriously enough.
Malami, of course, is not the first appointee of the present regime that will put a face to retarded logic and will probably not be the last. We have seen a whole Economic and Financial Crimes Commission chairman that had no clue when asked what long-lasting structures he was putting in place to ensure his efforts outlasted him. When the present Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, faced a Senate screening and the lawmakers asked him about the topical issue of technicalities and court judgments, his thoughts were so horrifyingly poor his nomination should have ended right there and then.
Then, there is Malami, a trained lawyer (and a SAN), who cannot distinguish nomadic herders whose activities impinge on the lives and livelihood from traders who run legitimate businesses. Malami has had a series of gaffes, but the spare parts faux pas was a new low. These are high-profile appointees, but the poverty of their thinking shows they never quite prepared themselves for those leadership positions through consistent hard work and commitment to updating their stock of knowledge. They got appointed to those positions because a nepotistic leader slammed them with unmerited favour.
One cannot but wonder why someone like Malami would give such a poorly conceived answer to a raging national issue. As Attorney-General, Malami has almost untrammelled access to the best legal minds all over the country and even abroad. He does not need to personally think up all the appropriate responses to the legal dimensions of Nigeria’s security problems. No attorney-general anywhere in the world does. Any reasonable attorney-general would consult with a range of experts, from constitutional scholars to legal historians. All Malami needed to do was arrange a Zoom call with them, listen to their thoughts, and come up with sound ideas before agreeing to appear on television for an interview. If he had been anywhere that diligent, he could have offered a much sensible response than comparing nomadic herders with tax-paying traders. If the logic in the position of a whole Attorney-General of the Federation could be so thin that even non-legal experts can easily trounce it without a broomstick, it means he occupies an office beyond the limits of his abilities.
There are at least three reasons the AGF could have been that flippant in his response to the ban on open grazing. First, he may be one of those people who combine arrogance with dimness-the kind of people who do not know things and will not bother to find out but insist on making a magisterial pronouncement anyway. Second, it could be that he has advisers but does not bother to use their knowledge to enrich his administrative decisions. He would rather “freestyle.” Such lack of diligence signposts another level of bureaucratic laziness endemic in Nigeria -mentally sterile administrators who are so cynical about the country’s prospects that they cannot even bring themselves to try. They do not see the point of self-improvement because they just do not think that what is at stake -a matter of life and death for some communities in the country- matters enough.
Third, it could also be that Malami is not a dimwit the way his critics who are hell-bent on taking down his illogic suppose. The extreme simplicity of his thought and his unabashed articulation on national television before a far more discerning public could be a deliberate tactic to escape providing any clarity that would offend his paymasters. Rather than confront the issue at hand, he obfuscates the issue with his “spare parts trader” dog whistle and obtuse analogies. That was the game the former US president, Donald Trump, serially played with the media through his Twitter handle. Trump would say things that are so extreme and outrageous that people would spend 24-hour news cycles rage-tweeting either in response to him or in his defence. By the time it was over, everyone would be spent from the gba gbos, but there is still no official clarity on the matter at hand.
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Malami might be no different. It could be that his logic is reductionist, not because he cannot find the profound logic that he needs to provide to the public on a serious national crisis, but because he actually wants to deflect from doing so. By drawing false comparisons, he could get away with not say anything that commits the regime he serves towards providing solutions. By so doing, he at least does not get into trouble with the powers and principalities whose interests he serves. The furthest he went as far as proposing solutions was to ask the governors to “go back to ensure the constitution is amended,” a path he knows is almost intractable. As for the Nigerians slapping one palm against the other and wondering how a whole SAN could be so basic in his thinking, nothing we have to say about his thoughtlessness bothers him as long as he keeps his job and all the privileges that accompany it. The people who matter to Malami are those that gave him a job. They are the ones who can kick him to the curb if he falls out of line with what they want, not the ordinary Nigerians who can only shout.
Barely days after Malami had been severely criticised for comparing herdsmen who trample on private property with traders who sell their wares on their private property, presidential aide, Garba Shehu, still doubled down by insisting that a ban on open grazing infringes on Nigerians’ constitutional right to move about freely in the country. We are talking about a problem of invasion of private property and expropriation of land, they are still responding with silly ideas of constitutional guarantees. Nobody has said the herdsmen could not travel within Nigeria; they just cannot graze on farmlands that do not belong to them. How hard could that point have been that they insist on being blind? It is either Shehu did not learn anything from the retorts to Malami, or he is echoing the nonsense because that was the official response their paymasters handed them.
If we go by that simplistic argument of freedom of movement, Shehu should explain why they did not allow the robbers that attacked Aso Rock a few weeks ago access to the inner chambers. Aso Rock is public property, and the constitution allows its citizens the freedom of movement anywhere in the country, so why prevent these Nigerian robbers from accessing Nigerian property? If Shehu and his ilk insist on this confused argument that anyone can move around within Nigeria “regardless of their state of birth or residence,” it should not be too hard for them to accept that anyone should be granted access to the President’s private chambers regardless of their status or business in Aso Rock.