Prominent lawyers on Tuesday faulted the position of the Presidency that the Southern Governors Forum’s ban on open grazing was of questionable legality.
Senior advocates, including Professor Itse Sagay, Mr Tayo Oyetibo, Damian Dodo and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, criticised the Presidency for its wrong interpretation of the right of free movement.
The lawyers stated this as the Northern Elders’ Forum took a swipe at the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). It blamed the situation in the country on his “multiple failures.”
Recall that Southern governors, at their recent meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, banned open grazing of cattle to stem the rising insecurity in the region.
But the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, in an interview with Channels Television on Thursday said the governors’ action was unconstitutional.
The Presidency, in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Monday described the ban and other resolutions of the governors as “acts of politicking.”
It also stated that the ban was of questionable legality, “given the constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT)-regardless of the states of their birth or residence.”
Herders’ right of movement doesn’t extend to right of cattle destroying people’s farms – Oyetibo
But a constitutional lawyer, Oyetibo (SAN), noted that it was correct to say that every Nigerian had a right to freedom of movement in any part of Nigeria.
He, however, explained that that right did not extend to cattle. He stated, “It does not include the right of cattle to destroy the farms of other people.
“If a governor passes as a law that prohibits open grazing, it is within the powers of the state government to do that. Such a ban does not in any way prevent other Nigerians or the Nigerians involved from moving freely within that state.”
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Sagay, said the ban ought to have the backing of each state House of Assembly.
He, however stated, “The governors are within their rights to ban open grazing. The Land Use Act gives them that power, so I think it is a straightforward matter.
“Millions of Nigerians in the South have had their families kidnapped, countless women have been raped and many farms destroyed. The statement by the Presidency does not show any concern for the Nigerians who have suffered from series of attacks by some of the herders. It is not a matter to be easily dismissed and the statement by the Presidency is regrettable.”
Govs acting within their powers – Dodo
Another SAN, Damian Dodo, stated, “Although Section 39 of the constitution provides for the freedom of movement of all Nigerian citizens, such right has repeatedly been abused by some of the herders. Since the anti-open grazing law is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances and the governors are acting within their powers, I believe it has a legal basis.”
Rasheed Adegoke, SAN, also said the Land Use Act had placed the ownership of land in the hands of the state governments, saying the Federal Government had no land in any state of the federation.
He said, “Every state has what we call forestry law. The management and ownership of lands are all vested in the state government.”
Also, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, said the position taken by the Southern governors did not offend the constitution.
He said, “The ban is on animals, not on human beings. It does not offend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in any way. It is only animals that graze, human beings do not eat grass. So, when there is a ban on open grazing, it means that animals are not allowed to stray without control over people’s property or land.
“I stand solidly behind the governors and I condemn the statement of Garba Shehu on behalf of the Presidency. It is uncouth, unduly belligerent, and totally pedestrian and should not have come from such exalted office such as the Presidency.”
Another SAN, Remi Olatubora, agreed with his colleagues that the Land Use Act vests in state governors the ownership of all lands within their territories.
He said, “The Land Use Act itself is incorporated into the constitution and the constitution is the fons et origo, which is the origin of all norms, the highest law of the land.”
Malami misled Buhari on legality of open grazing – Ozekhome
Also, a Human rights lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said Malami misled the President.
Ozekhome said this in a statement on Tuesday titled, ‘President Buhari Goofed on Southern Governors’ Anti-grazing Stance’.
He argued that the Presidency was wrong for saying the declaration by the 17 southern governors in Asaba last week was unconstitutional.
The statement read in part, “President Muhammadu Buhari has obviously been ill-advised on the well thought out southern governors’ stance against open grazing by the Attorney-General whose views were made known only two days ago.”
Ozekhome subsequently stated that he was ready to defend the governors free of charge in the event that such a case was instituted.
Open grazing: Garba Shehu not speaking for Buhari, says Akeredolu
Also on Tuesday, the Ondo State Governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, lambasted Shehu.
This was contained in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties and Strategy Dr Doyin Odebowale.
The statement read, “ Anyone who has been following the utterances of this man, as well as his fellow travellers on the self-deluding, mendacious but potentially dangerous itinerary to anarchy cannot but conclude that he works, assiduously, for extraneous interests whose game plan stands at variance with the expectations of genuine lovers of peaceful coexistence among all the peoples whose ethnic extractions are indigenous to Nigeria.
“Mr Garba must disclose, this day, the real motive(s) of those he serves, definitely not the President. He cannot continue to hide under some opaque, omnibus and dubious directives to create confusion in the polity. The easy recourse to mendacious uppity in pushing a barely disguised pernicious agendum is well understood. The declaration that the recommendations of the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, a mere political appointee like Garba Shehu, are now the “lasting solutions” which eluded all the elected representatives of the people of the Southern part of the country, exposes this man as a pitiable messenger who does not seem to understand the limits of his relevance and charge.
“Mr Garba contends that ‘their announcement is of questionable legality,’ referring to the 17 governors of the Southern States, but the decision of certain elements to take the ancestral lands of other people to settle their kinsmen, including the gun-wielding killer herdsmen and their families, and provide ‘veterinary clinics, water points for animals, and facilities for herders and their families including schooling through these rehabilitated reserves’ for which ‘the Federal Government is making far-reaching and practical changes allowing for different communities to co-exist side-by-side,’ does not appear to him as a comprehensive plan for land grabbing, a precursor to internal colonialism. He wants to “revive forest reserves” but seems particularly uninterested in the current position of the same law, that he and his cohorts often misinterpret to serve parochialism and greed. Governors no longer have powers over the lands in their territories.”
“It is superfluous, and that is being charitable, for anyone to remind us of the constitutional right of bona fide citizens ‘to enjoy rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 States (and FCT)-regardless of their state of birth and residence.’
“Most traditional families in Nigeria have occupations. Pastoralism is not an exception. Any ethnic group still trapped in anachronism may be assisted to embrace modernity. Dispossessing communities of their ancestral lands, encouraging denizens of the forests to overrun lands belonging to other people and forcing alien bands of migrants on the local populace to live ‘side-by-side’ with other communities cannot be for the purpose of animal husbandry.”
South won’t yield its land to invaders masquerading as herdsmen – Gov Akeredolu
He also declared that “no inch of the space delineated and known, currently, as South-West, and indeed the whole South, will be ceded to a band of invaders masquerading as herdsmen under any guise.”
Count Benue out of planned grazing reserves, Ortom tells Presidency
In Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom, asked the Federal Government to count the state out of its planned rehabilitation of grazing reserves.
Ortom, stated this in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, while reacting to the Presidency’s position on the ban on open grazing.
The governor said that there was no land in the state that had been gazetted for grazing reserve.
He added that the state had embraced ranching and that the Southern Governors’ Forum and other prominent Nigerians had also supported.
He expressed concern that the Federal Government was still pushing what he described as archaic policy, stressing that, “It is now clear that there is a hidden agenda which only the Presidency knows.
“In Benue, we have embraced ranching as the viable alternative to open grazing and there is no going back on our resolve.”
The governor said that while the state might not stop the Federal Government’s plan to rehabilitate grazing reserves or create cattle routes in other states, “We wish to make it clear that no land in Benue State had been gazetted for grazing routes.”
But the Northern Elders’ Forum blamed the alleged anti-North stance of southern governors and the agitations from the region on the weak leadership by the President.
The NEF, in a statement on Tuesday by its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said it was convinced that it was time to respond to “issues that threaten our collective security and the unity and integrity of the country.”
It said agitations in the South were responses to “Buhari’s multiple failures.”
The statement was titled ‘Statement by Northern Elders Forum on Escalating Threats to National Security, Unity and Integrity.’
The forum noted that some leaders were unwilling to steer the country away from the dangerous threats which were crippling it.
It alleged that the South-East governors were yielding their political turf and mandates to secessionists, criminals and subversives, who thought they could exterminate federal presence and northerners from the region.
According to the forum, in the South-West, “elected leaders and pampered ethnic bullies are closing ranks to provide a front that apes the do-what-we-want-or-we-leave-the-country strategy of the marginalised leaders of the South-East.”
It stated, “The South-South is squeezed between fear and uncertainty, and its leaders are gambling that they can benefit from further weakening the federal administration and the North if it rides along with the rest of the South.
“A plastic unity is being contrived to create the impression that the entire South is united behind shared grievances against the Presidency and Fulani herders and all northerners who are cast as fair game in responding to all of President Buhari’s multiple failures.
“A desperate but futile attempt is being made to split the North along lines that suit people who ignore its complexities and plurality when it is convenient to lump all Northerners and submit them to humiliation or attacks.”
The forum warned those attacking and killing Fulani headers to stop, saying there were limits to every community’s tolerance.
The forum added, “The negative attitude of the Presidency towards engaging Nigerians to tap into ideas, grievances and goodwill of many citizens who mean well is ill-informed and, under our current circumstances, dangerous; so are postures that issue opportunistic ultimatums over convening national dialogue by the President.”
The elders stated that “the North will not be cowed and stampeded into escorting political ambitions of politicians at the cost of its rights, security and dignity.”
The forum “demands that President Buhari asserts the powers our constitution gives him to protect our territorial integrity and secure citizens, or accept that he is incapable of leading the nation through these unprecedented challenges.”
The NEF added, “Attacks on lawful Fulani and other northerners in the South must stop and those who have killed them must be brought to book. The nation needs to know that northerners in many parts of the South now live in heightened fear as they are profiled and harassed by elements in host communities who believe that there are no consequences for their actions. The forum demands an end to attacks on federal agents and facilities.”
It also said Southern governors must be unambiguous in their condemnation and resistance against dangerous activities, adding that northern governors were rapidly receding into irrelevance. ,,
NEF stated, “If our country is to survive its current difficulties and build a better nation, President Buhari must improve his level of competence, awareness that the nation is sliding into disaster and sensitivity to the frustrations of Nigerians. Other political leaders who take advantage of the limitations of the President to light fires should know that they will get burnt in them.”
But the Coalition of Northern Groups asked the Federal Government to take immediate steps to evacuate all herdsmen currently in the South back to the north.
A statement by CNG’s Spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman in Kaduna on Tuesday, said a study had shown that at present, only 10 per cent of the Fulani herdsmen lived and conducted business in the entire South.
Elder Statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, dismissed the Presidency’s attack on Southern governors over the ban on open grazing.
Clark spoke to reporters shortly after the thanksgiving service to mark his 94th birthday anniversary, in his residence in Abuja, on Thursday.
The elder statesman said, “As I said this morning, he (Muhammadu Buhari), is the President of Nigeria. He is not the President of the North.”