By Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN)
Very recently, President Muhammadu Buhari shocked the entire nation when he announced that he had discovered 368 grazing routes across the country. It was also reported that the President will proceed to take over these grazing routes, demarcate them appropriately and ultimately develop them for the use of herders and their cattle. This development came a few months after the Southern governors banned open grazing in the entire region. Let me share with you the plans of Mr. President on this project, as reported.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the recommendations of a committee to review “with dispatch,” 368 grazing sites, across 25 states in the country, “to determine the levels of encroachment. The move, according to a statement by presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, was to curb the bloody clashes between herders and farmers across the country.
“The President’s directive followed his approval of the recommendations of a committee chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari,” Adesina said in a statement.
“Among others, the committee had recommended the collection of field data on 368 Grazing Reserves across 25 States to assess encroachment and encroachers, stakeholder engagements and sensitization. The Committee also recommended production of maps and geo-mapping/tagging of sites, analysis of findings and report preparations as well as design appropriate communication on Grazing Reserves and operations.
“The number of the Grazing Reserves and States were deduced from considerations of existing security concerns and other pre-existing socio-economic conditions. The President directed that the assignment be undertaken with dispatch to bring more understanding on the Grazing Reserves, and implementation.
Members of the committee include, Governor of Kebbi State and Vice Chairman, National Food Security Council, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, Governor of Ebonyi State and Chairman of NEC Sub-Committee for National Livestock Transformation Plan, David Umahi, Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar and Deputy Chief of Staff, Ade Ipaye.
“The Technical Sub-Committee consists of representatives from the seven members of the main committee in addition to representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Surveyor General of the Federation, National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) and National Space Research Development Agency (NASRDA).”
Nigerians in their multitudes have reacted in total condemnation of this latest policy of the Buhari administration. Let us now examine the legality of this project, by determining ownership of the land upon which the grazing routes are to be established. The law governing the use and administration of land in Nigeria today is the Land Use Act, which came into effect on March 29, 1978. Section 1 of the LUA provides as follows:
Vesting of land in the State
“1. Subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprising the territory of each State in the Federation is hereby vested in the Governor of that State, and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of this Act.”
Control and management of land
(1) As from the commencement of this Act –
(a) all land in urban areas shall be under the control and management of the Governor of each State; and
(b) all other land shall, subject to this Act, be under the control and management of the local government within the area of jurisdiction of which the land is situated.”
The above provisions are clear and unambiguous in terms of the meaning and intendment of the LUA to vest land use management in the Governor of the State on behalf of the people. The powers of the President are clearly defined under the Constitution, especially in section 5 thereof. Furthermore, the Exclusive Legislative List does not list land as part of items vested in the federal government of Nigeria, for which the President could claim to exercise any right or power over land located in various States of the federation. It therefore means that the President has no power or authority over the use, management or control of land anywhere in Nigeria. Even for the Governors, power over the use and control of land is subject to certain statutory conditions, such as stipulated under the Constitution. It has thus remained a wonder to me where the President derived his powers to dabble into the issue of land management. For effect, the Land Use Act now enjoys the protection of the Constitution under and by virtue of section 315 (5) thereof:
“(5) Nothing in this Constitution shall invalidate the following enactments, that is to say –
(a) The National Youth Service Corps Decree 1993;
(b) The Public Complaints Commission Act;
(c) The National Security Agencies Act;
(d) The Land Use Act.
And the provisions of those enactments shall continue to apply and have full effect in accordance with their tenor and to the like extent as any other provisions forming part of this Constitution and shall not be altered or repealed except in accordance with the provisions of section 9 (2) of this Constitution.”
Going by the provisions of the Constitution and the LUA quoted above, the President cannot forcefully and compulsorily take over land in any State as grazing route as there is no such power granted to him by any of these vital laws. Whatever law the President is relying upon to trace the so-called grazing routes is totally repugnant to equity and natural justice, and inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution and even the LUA. And since the Land Use Act came into force after the purported gazette being touted as the source of grazing routes, it automatically repeals the said gazette by necessary implication.
It is important to highlight the provisions of section 34 of the LUA, in relation to the ownership of land prior to the commencement of the Act in 1978. It states as follows:
“34. (1) The following provisions of this section shall have effect in respect of land in an urban area vested in any person immediately before the commencement of this Act.
(2) Where the land is developed, it shall continue to be held by the person in whom it was vested immediately before the commencement of this Act as if the holder of the land was the holder of a statutory right of occupancy issued by the Governor under this Act.”
Without any doubt therefore, the LUA preserves and protects land vested in citizens prior to its commencement in 1978, as such persons have deemed right of occupancy even though it has not been issued officially by the Governor. All they need do is to apply for it. If this is the case (and no doubt it is), the President cannot extinguish the right of land ownership granted under the LUA for the purpose of imposing grazing routes on land owners.
Sections 43 and 44 of the Constitution are clear on the right to own immovable property (land) and freedom from compulsory acquisition, whether for grazing or any other purpose.
“43. Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.”
(1) No moveable property or any interest in an immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any part of Nigeria except in the manner and for the purpose prescribed by a law that, among other things:
(a) requires the prompt payment of compensation therefor; and
(b) gives to any person claiming such compensation a right of access for the determination of his interest in the property and the amount of compensation to a court of law or tribunal or body having jurisdiction in that part of Nigeria.”
The zeal with which the President has been pursuing the establishment of grazing routes can only mean that he is working in line with a hidden agenda which he has not openly declared to the people of Nigeria that elected him into office. The governors who have control of use and management of land have openly condemned and opposed unrestrained open grazing as being impracticable and unsustainable. In whose interest therefore, is the President then acting, if I may ask?
The concept of open grazing, which the President is propagating with all his energy, is totally outdated. If the President had summoned the same zeal with which he has granted several media chats in support of open grasing, if the President had mobilized the same strength with which he is presently pursuing the recovery of the so-called grazing routes, to tackle insurgency and the mindless invasion by bandits, Nigeria would have been a peaceful place to live in.
According to Wikipedia, grazing is “a method of animal husbandry whereby domestic livestock are allowed outdoors to consume wild vegetation in order to convert grass and other forages into meat, milk, wool and other animal products, often on land unsuitable for arable farming.”
In Nigeria, the animals being referred to are the cows, assembled together by herdsmen who are itinerant livestock farmers. From the Wikipedia definition, the grass to be grazed is usually on land not suitable for arable farming. This then takes us to the very important question of ownership of land.
Generally, grazing is not expected to be a free for all exercise embarked upon openly and with reckless abandon, not giving care to ownership of land and farmlands. This is the major difference between the position of the President and the people of Nigeria.
Open grazing simply means that herdsmen will be free to trespass upon land anywhere and at any time, with their cattle, whether or not that may lead to destruction of crops on farmlands is immaterial.
In order to preserve the provisions of the Land Use Act, it has been inserted into the 1999 Constitution as one of the laws that cannot be easily amended.
The right of occupancy granted under the LUA has been held to be sacrosanct, by the Supreme Court and it cannot be overreached even by the Governor, without following due process of law through proper acquisition and compensation.
If the Governor cannot take over land without following due process of law, how will it be possible for herdsmen to take over people’s land without their consent and even proceed to destroy their crops, at will and unquestioned?
This is what the President is defending with our meagre resources. It is simply unacceptable and I urge the President to drop the idea of compulsory and illegal grazing routes.
Ebun-Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)