… As Southern Governors Sets to Approach Court
By; Anita Abu
The perceptible determination of President Muhammadu Buhari to go ahead with the Grazing Routes policy despite the noise of voices that have greeted the President’s disclosure that he had directed the Attorney–General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to excavate the gazette on open grazing along designated routes to move cattle to several parts of the country.
Some of our reporters gathered that the Federal Government may have started implementing the presidential directive, though with extreme caution, as officials of the Ministry of Agriculture are said to have since gone ahead to start the implementation of the presidential directive.
Giving voice to the claim some days ago, Acting Director, Animal Husbandry Development of the Ministry, Winnie Lai-Solarin, stated that the recovery of the routes had to be done to assist the pastoralists who cannot afford ranching at the moment, adding that conflict zones and routes that have been encroached upon as a “result of the development of infrastructure would be left out.”
Lai-Solarin said, “In the course of farming or other human activities along the stock routes, the monuments were altered, but we know where they are. So, we want to say that some of them can be retraced. And this is particularly for the areas that are not interfered upon as of now. The pastoralists know the routes, you will see the pieces of monuments along them.
“Those routes that have not been encroached upon and not in conflict zones we will go ahead and retrieve them and guide the pastoralists along them. We did not get to where we are today in one day, so we cannot expect every pastoralist to suddenly start ranching now.”
But Dr. Samson Osagie, an Abuja base Legal Practitioner and a Development Consultant said the President needs to be advised legally on the position of the rights of cattle rarer to graze their cattle’s on the so-called existing grazing route.
Barrister Osagie said apart from that there should be emplaced policies for modern system of ranching because open grazing is no longer fashionable given the possibility of grave security challenges that will attend open grazing if we continue to insist on that poor system, so government must pursue other alternatives that will enable those who are affected to have options.
Now that the President insists an open grazing route must be implemented and some Governors are thinking of open approaching the court, Osagie said, ” of course it is a legal matter, pure constitutional matter, the President cannot insist if he has the right legal perspective to the issue,
” I want to believe that he doesn’t have the right legal perspective particularly against the provisions of the constitution, he may have been told that there is an existing gazette which delineates the country into grazing or they call it West Africa Grazing routes, but they may not have told him the constitutional implication or whether that existing gazette still have legal validity in the face of the glaring provisions of the Constitution because the Land Use se Act, which governs the administration of lands in Nigeria is a constitutionally recognized statute. By virtue of Section 315 (5) of the Constitution the provisions of the Land use Act shall operate and have full effect as if they were the original provisions of the Constitution.
“If you violate the land use act, you are violating the constitution and you cannot amend the Land use Act unless you amend it in accordance with the provisions to the constitution in section 9, so if the President has a clear legal perspective, he will not persist.
“Thank God people like the Governor of Kano State and some other governors have seen this very clearly that the law does not support open grazing, even the constitution does not support open grazing because to argue for open grazing, is to argue for the violation of the constitution and that shouldn’t be in a constitutional democracy and where the rule of law should be observed.
“I think the crisis that has been generated by the persistent farmers and herders clashes which have resulted in grave insecurity in parts of the country, is a matter of great concern to every Nigerian and I also want to say government haven’t been too forthcoming in trying to get this matter under control within the confines of the law so that both farmers and cattle herders will understand the ambit of their operations so as not to cause security threat to one another.
Speaking further, the former Minority Whip in the House of Representatives said for the purpose of the President pronouncement and reference to existing grazing route, in his recent interview, we tend to suggest that over the years they have been grazing route that cattle rarer were using to graze their cattle and as such, they tend to suggest that why should there be problems of the cattle rarer grazing their cattle through this same route.
“I think with the greatest respect to the President , he missed the point because if there were grazing routes in pre-colonial era or in the early years of independence in this country, at the moment Nigeria is not the Nigeria of the independence era, in terms of population, the complexity of human interactions, the changes in demographics, all these are factors that shows that socially, economically, things have changed.
“Now assuming without conceding that there were actually existing grazing routes that were demarcated particularly for grazing, now we live in constitutional democratic society and we are guided by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as have been severally amended at least 4 times now.
“What that means is that, if there were grazing routes in pre- colonial and the days of early independence, perhaps the existing law at that time permits it but this country has undergone so much political and legal metamorphosis that things are no longer the same speaking legally.
“Now we are governed by the 1999 constitution, the 1999 Constitution does not have any support or provisions supporting or preserving existing grazing routes, not even in its transitional provisions.
” For instance in 1978, the land use act was promulgated and the purpose of the land use Act is to vest all lands in every state of the federation on the governor of the state as trustee for the people of the state.
“So if there were grazing routes in 1960 which came across the length and breadth of Nigeria and across the several states of Nigeria, in 1960 we were not having the kind of Federal structure we have now and the kind of states we have now. And the Land Use Act was not in force.
“If there were grazing routes then, there was no Land Use Act . I want to believe that in order to give a more effective system of the administration of land tenure system, the government as at that time, passed the Land use Act by a decree under the military.
“So the land use act has revolutionized the way and manner land can be used at the moment, by the people who own the land and the land use act vest the management and ownership of those lands in trust to the governor.
“Now which one are we going to follow, a gazette for instance, that detailed the grazing route in 1960 or before 1960 or land use Act that was pass in 1978 which the 1999 Constitution, has given constitutional recognition by virtue of Section 315 (5) as an existing law which the constitution itself recognizes and that is why amending the Land use act is difficult because it has to involve constitutional amendment.
“So now, how do you manage that, it therefore means that each governor of the state has a duty on how to manage the state, how to make use of the land, within the territorial jurisdiction of the State. So if there were grazing routes under an Edict, then that has been overtaken by events , so the modern government must recognize that there must be a different approach to rearing cattle’s as those old and archaic methods which they are insisting on and causing a lot of crisis can no longer work.
At the same time, even the constitution itself in Chapter 2 consists of provisions that guarantee certain fundamental rights of the citizens, some of those rights include compensation for compulsory acquisition of property.
So no government can acquire the property of a citizen in a state without paying him adequate compensation, so in other words each citizen is entitled to own property unless the government has an overriding public purpose for it, in which case he/she must be paid adequate compensation.
So how do now say that land and properties that in hands of the people which the land use acts have vested on the governor of the state should now be made a grazing route for business men and their agents who are into cattle rearing, it has no legal basis at all. It will be a recipe for infringement of people’s fundamental human rights.
So section 44, for example guarantees is the fundamental right of individual which talks compulsory acquisition of property , it says no movable or immovable property or any interest in immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and that no right in such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any part of Nigeria except in the manner and for the purpose prescribed by law that among other things required payment of compensation or give to any person claiming such compensation a right of access for the determination for its interest in any property and the amount of compensation to a court of law or tribunal having jurisdiction in that matter.
What this means is that we have a right to court, so by section 44 and have individual can have access and proper rights over lands, whether movable or immovable.
If this is the present situation of the constitution in Nigeria, the present law, how can those who trade cattle have access to those who are farmers for the purposes of grazing their cattle without compensation even when they destroy their crops and all that.
The constitution does not support that method; nothing stops the cattle rarer from acquiring lands legally and legitimately in a commercial transaction for the purpose of creating ranches, those will now be private individual dealings because it’s a business.
Then section 46 gives right to anybody who feels his right under the constitution has been breached to approach the court for a redress.
If there is anybody who encroaches on somebody’s land, people have the right to seek redress in court. Now the most important part of this act is that, which governs the administration of Nigeria today, is recognized by section 315(5) of the constitution as an existing law and it says that the provision of those law shall continue to apply and have full effect as any provisions forming part of the constitution and shall not be altered except in accordance of the position of the constitution.
So the land use act as of today, the provisions of the land use Act ipso facto are provisions of the constitution and this constitution of 1999 does not recognize grazing routes, so how can the President begin to talk about the fact that there were existing grazing routes.
The question is under the current regime, are those grazing routes recognized? If those grazing routes are not recognized, in the current legal regime particularly vested by the ground norm which is the fundamental law of the land and the most superior law of the nation and there is a land use act which deals with the administration of land and the rights of individuals to own land, whether moveable or immoveable property, then those existing laws dealing with existing grazing routes cannot have a superior effect over the position of the constitution.
The Southern Governors and their Middle Belt counterparts have resolved to drag the Federal Government to court over President Buhari’s resolve to push the policy through.
A source close to the Southern Governors Forum, craving anonymity, said that a decision had already been taken by the governors to jointly and separately drag the Federal Government to court over the matter.
The governors were said to have been emboldened by the ruling of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, which, on Thursday, May 23, 2021, affirmed the right of Nigerian states to implement anti-grazing laws in their domains as the court dismissed a suit seeking to compel President Buhari to direct security agencies to stop enforcement of the Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranching Law of 2017.
In a judgment delivered during virtual proceedings, the judge, Ijeoma Ojukwu, had held that the enforcement of the anti-grazing law having been validly passed by the Benue House of Assembly, for instance, “lies with the state government.”
In dismissing the suit, the judge said the matter is not justiciable, implying that it is not a matter that a court of law can adjudicate on. ‘‘It’s matter of misconduct not triable by court,’’ Justice Ojukwu had ruled.
Also given the Southern governors full boldness to seek legal redress to force President Buhari to jettison his plan, a legal practitioner, Uhumaibi, in an interview, also said: “The fact that laws, decrees, regulation, notices and court decisions are published in an official gazette does not confer unintended extra-ordinary powers on their provisions.’
According to Uhumaibi,”It merely indicates official recognition, recording and publication for public knowledge and access. Therefore, if the gazette instrument was an Act of the National Assembly designating certain land in the country as grazing routes, then such an Act would be inconsistent with the Constitutional provisions that guarantee right to property and more specifically the Land Use Act, which confers land on governors in trust for the people.”
Even at that, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, had insisted that there was no such law.