- Group interests — and demands — are an integral part of democracy. But consensus flows from due sensitivity to other interests
Since the July 5 Southern governors meeting in Lagos and the resolutions that emerged from that meeting, the political space has been in a near-toss pin, suggesting a North versus South confrontation. That need not be so.
For starters, if northern governors have their Northern Governors Forum (NGF), and their meeting is near-routine, and they hold regular meetings to comment on the Nigerian commonwealth as perceived by their group, then a southern equivalent of that process need not raise any eyebrow.
Group interest is integral to democracy. It is what gives democratic processes its rigour and robustness. For another, openness and free canvassing of ideas — no matter how outrageous or unconventional, so long as they are within the bounds of legality and decency — are another pillar of democracy. So, it is more therapeutic for the system, and less noxious for it, that ideas, no matter how unpleasant, are out there for free, reasonable and frank discourse.
If those ideas are freely discussed, and their pros and cons are approached with due sensitivity to the fears and reservations of all the contending interests, then there is a real chance that a working consensus may emerge.
If that happens, democracy and inclusiveness would have deepened. That would be healthy for the polity. No matter the fierceness of the process, a spirit of give-and-take, with its concomitant mutual respect, would have prevailed. That is the spirit by which both sides, North and South, should approach the Southern governors’ Lagos resolutions.
Now, to the specific demands. The first is that the presidency, after the Muhammadu Buhari tenure, should come to the South. That this could still spark a controversy, of threats and counter-threats, is unfortunate.
To start with, it is the right and logical thing to do. Since the fiasco of the June 12, 1993 election annulment, it is clear that no part of the country can claim a perpetual hold on the apex office, without doing grievous damage to the Nigerian body polity. That has inspired a quiet North-South rotational convention, that has held from 1999, starting with the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. That status quo should not be ruptured by needless controversies or counter-muscle flexing.
Besides, the presidency requires the collaborative vote of both North and South. What both sides should work on is attaining the consensus of suitable probable candidates, across party lines, of uniting the country and realising the Nigerian dream. That practical chore is the duty of political parties, and not of grandstanding, mutually antagonistic regions, that is hardly borne out, in the ordinary day-to-day reality of Nigerians.
Another specific demand is the governors’ mandate that, by September 1, all southern states must have matching legislations to outlaw open grazing in the South, as per the governors’ May Asaba, Delta State, resolution, to ban open grazing in the region. As long as making of law goes, that demand is both lawful and legitimate. If the governors are truly the chief security officers of their states and open grazing has been found to account for serious security breaches, it is hard to question their stand.
Still, beyond making laws, there are other issues, chiefly among which is livelihood. There is a growing consensus, across regional lines, that cattle ranching or some other forms of controlled grazing, is best for everyone. That is both true and logically sound. The herdsmen themselves would immensely benefit from such a new pastoral order.
But it is doubtful if that law can be implemented, without first providing alternatives for lawful animal husbandry. It’s in this area of providing viable alternatives that both sides, pro and con, must explore; to arrive at a workable consensus. Like crop farming, animal husbandry can be done without any blood in its trail.
But let’s be clear: “viable alternatives” don’t mean dusting up gazetted cattle routes, as President Muhammadu Buhari hinted, as per advice by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. By extant laws, the Land Use Act, domesticated in the 1999 Constitution, which vests all state land in the governor, has overtaken such gazettes. It is rather that the anti-grazing laws may make provisions for ranching, add adequate sweeteners for interested investors, and enact reasonable time for implementation take-off.
But perhaps, the grazing crisis would have been far easier to resolve, had the president been viewed to be fair to all parties in the matter. The attorney-general, dusting up cattle routes, gives a contrary impression, which is unfortunate. But, while everyone can afford to be partisan, or sectional in interests, only in the presidency inheres the interest of every Nigerian. By that, it should aggregate the Nigerian interest.
That is why the president and his advisers must be careful not to buck that threshold in every statement they push out. But that being said, the southern governors too must embrace that principle, and be fair to all living or doing business in their states. It is that fairness to all that generates trust, trigger peace and foster development and eventual prosperity.