By virtue of the provisions of section 4 and the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which excludes land from the listed items in the schedule, land administration falls within the exclusive residual jurisdiction of the States of the federation. This position is reinforced by the provisions of the Land Use Act, which, though a federal legislation, vests powers to manage lands in the State governors.
The objective of the extant Land Use Act is to ensure that the use of land and water areas and building activities on them create preconditions for a favourable living environment and promote ecologically, economically, socially and culturally sustainable development.
Motivated by the above, the foremost civil rights advocacy group; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has berated the disclosure by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Agriculture; Dr Andrew Kwasari, that government has mapped out 30 grazing reserves for implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) as one of the moves by the federal government to solve the protracted conflict over competition of land, water and pasture by herders and farmers.
In a statement jointly signed by the National Coordinator; Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs; Miss Zainab Yusuf, the rights group described the move as a clear indication that the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari likes to stoke anarchy and court controversy in a volatile society that is ruled by ethnic and religious sentiments, emphasizing that it is certain that the sponsors have not adverted their minds to the relevant cases that have been decided by the courts on Land Use Act, Inland waterways, physical planning and acquisition of coastal landed properties by the federal government.
“It is trite law that the Land Use Act is one of the laws entrenched in the constitution by the defunct military junta. To that extent, it enjoys statutory flavour and cannot be altered in a bid to appease a certain sect of people doing their private business”, HURIWA pointed out.
Nonetheless, HURIWA stated without controversies that, though the Land Use Act empowers the governors of the states to acquire private land for public use, a cattle colony or whatever name it is called is excluded just as the group noted that what constitutes public purpose is statutorily defined in Section 51 (1) of the Land Use Act.
“In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires “Public Purposes” includes: for exclusive government use for general public use; for use by body corporate directly established by law or by anybody corporate registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act … which the government owns shares, stocks or debentures; for or in connection with sanitary improvement of any kind;
“for obtaining control over land contiguous to any part or over land the value of which will be enhanced by the construction of any railway, road or other public work or convenience about to be undertaken or provided by the government; for obtaining control over land required for or in connection with development of telecommunications or provision of electricity;
“for obtaining control over land required for or in connection with mining purposes; to obtaining control over land required for or in connection with planted urban or rural development or settlement; for obtaining control over land required for or in connection with economic, industrial or agricultural development; for educational and social services”, HURIWA quoted.
Referencing Wuyah v. Jama’a Local Govt, Kafanchan (2013) All FWLR (Pt. 659) and Stodic Ventures Ltd. v. Alamieyeshia (2016) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1502), HURIWA said the courts of law had held that governments cannot acquire land from a private individual only to make it available for the use of another private individual as this would not amount to public purpose.
“We would however say in passing that the public purpose for which the government can compulsorily acquire lands are clearly defined in the Act and do not include acquisition for the purpose of making a grant to a third party.
“In Chief Commissioner, Eastern Province v. S.N. Ononye & ors. (1944) 17 NLR 142, it was held that the acquisition of land by the then Central Government of Nigeria in Onitsha for the purpose of granting a lease of it to a commercial company was not in public purpose within public Lands Acquisition Ordinance Cap. 88,” HURIWA said.
In line with the above, HURIWA maintained that there is no way the acquisition of land by any government for the establishment of grazing reserves would qualify as a public purpose. Therefore, opined that as herdsmen are, in reality, businessmen engaged in the business of cattle rearing for their own personal financial gain, there is no how the provision of land for the grazing of their cattle, even at the payment of a fee, would satisfy the provisions of the law if the land is acquired from other private individuals.
In stating the above, HURIWA is not unmindful of the provisions of Section 51(1) (h), which permits acquisition ‘for obtaining control over land required for or in connection with economic, industrial or agricultural development.
While this, in HURIWA’s estimation, contemplates a situation in which the land is acquired for use by the government for agricultural development, the group added that what is, however, clear from the stated intention of the government is a plan to make the land available for the use of the herdsmen and their cattle.
The core of HURIWA’s argument is that the NLTP document only talks about cattle and no other category of livestock, saying it was a way to re-introduce RUGA using another name just as the group also argued that as captured, livestock was holistic but the conclusion was particular about cattle.
“But, from the components of the policy documents, it is very difficult to convince Nigerians that the livestock policy is not exclusively for herdsmen. It appears, from the spirit and letter of the document, a reformed RUGA agenda.
“The impression is that perhaps, given the agitated responses of Nigerians, especially the Southeast, South-south, Southwest and the North Central, this may be a backhand way of implementing RUGA”
“Our argument against the RUGA scheme and its offshoots had been that public resources are being allocated to the development of private cattle breeding and rearing businesses as a reward for attacks on farmers and killing innocent rural dwellers by herdsmen, while the affected farmers and villages are left to wallow in sorrow (over the loss of their loved ones), hunger and poverty.
“Again, beyond the fact that the herdsmen have been destroying farmers’ crops for years with impunity, other categories of farmers have always been either given subsidised inputs or loans. They had never been given other people’s land, free building and social facilities by the Federal Government, as advocated in the NLTP and the RUGA scheme.
“It could be recalled that though, farm settlements of the old regional governments were built on community’s land, the same community people were the beneficiaries of the settlements, not other people.
“No doubts, the name National Livestock Transformation Plan suggests a broader and a more inclusive coverage, but its policy statement and implementation components actually point to one direction; a RUGA project in another form”, HURIWA stressed.
Conclusively, HURIWA educated that everywhere and anywhere in the world, land and water resources are owned and their exploitation controlled by states and local authorities, just as the group frowned at the fact that Nigeria is tending to be different from this grand norm because some people are pursuing parochial interest and looking at the country from a narrow prism.
“Why is the President concerned about a private business of cow raring? What about other businesses such as piggery and other livestock farming? Why pampering the Fulani? For the umpteenth time, Fulani herdsmen are private entrepreneurs and therefore should build ranches to graze their cows and not for government to seize water sources and ancestral lands from the farmers to give to Fulani herdsmen including foreign Fulani herders”, HURIWA bemoaned.