By Bartholomew Madukwe
As the Federal Government is working on how to bring about lasting peace on the killings and maiming of innocent souls arising from clashes between farmers and herdsmen across the country, some senior lawyers and rights activists have concluded that it is only mutual understanding and cooperation between the government and the people that can ensure the much sought tranquility.
Under the Land Use Act, the governor is responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the state or to organisations for residential, agricultural, commercial and other purposes while similar powers with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on the Local Government. In essence, the Act altered the existing land laws in the Southern part of the country by removing corporate groups, families and chiefs from the trusteeship of land and replaced them with the state governors.
With this development, one would ask, can the Federal Government compel the state to release land for either cattle ranch or colony? Lawyers express diverse opinions on the controversial issue.
Adekunle Oyesanya, a senior advocate, explained that under the Land Use Act, the governors are the trustees of land within their state, hence can decide on what to do with it.
He stated: “The Federal Government cannot therefore just confiscate land in the states without their consent. Cattle rearing is truly private business.
“So the Federal Government cannot even confiscate land for public purposes. Cattle ranching may be the best option in the circumstances. Even at that, the Federal Government still needs the cooperation of the state governors.
“So they may find it impracticable to be confined to a ranch no matter how big it is. But the bitter truth is that their being nomads does not give them the right to destroy people’s farmlands and then unleash terror on society when they are challenged,” he added.
Another senior lawyer, Mr Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, asserted that the Federal Government cannot acquire land from a state but has the power to request for specific land from a state government, for a public purpose within the meaning assigned to the expression under the land use act.
Owonikoko said: “If title to the land is required by the Federal Government and the land is otherwise vested or deemed vested in private entity, then the state government must first acquire the land, notify the owner and gazette it before releasing the land to the Federal Government for public purpose.
“It is quite difficult to navigate that laborious procedure without being tied up in court by the private interest to be dispossessed. That itself, is when the state government is ready to cooperate with the Federal Government.
“However, if the Federal Government requires the land simply to create an inter-state grazing corridor without vesting the land in any specific cattle herdsman, there is strong case for it to be upheld as a public purpose.”
On the other hand, a law lecturer, who specialised on land law, Gbenga Ojo, said: “The principal legislation on the ownership of land, management of land, transfer of interest on land and revocation of interest on land is in Land Use Act. By provision of section 1 of the Act, ownership or title of a land in any state is vested in the governor of the state. The only exception under section 29, is the land vested under the Federal Government or any of its agencies. So, if the FG needs land in any state, it must apply for such land, and the state government is not under any obligation to give out the land.
“The problem will now be whether a request for land to give it to herdsmen for the purpose of their own business will amount to public interest. The interest of the herdsmen and their cattle is basically commercial interest and not overriding public interest that has been itemized in the Land Use Act.
“It will be wrong to be talking of land colony. Colony means somebody coming from outside to colonise you. Another man cannot come to colonise you in your state. The solution, therefore is practising of cattle ranch, that is what is practised across the world. That means whoever wants to engage in ranching will apply and pay and will be given certificate of occupancy. This will equally apply to the herdsmen. The matter is for the state government not the Federal Government. The important thing is that something urgent must be done,” he said.
A Professor and former Dean, Faculty of Law, Babcock University, Bankole Sodipo, said “Private land may be ‘forcefully taken over’ or acquired by a legal process if it is for public purposes. For instance, private land may be acquired to make provision for a railway, a road, or a public building. The constitution makes it illegal for land to be taken in any other manner.
“Unless the government wants to engage in the business of cattle rearing in ranches, it will be unconstitutional for private land to be acquired or confiscated or forcefully taken for ranches if those ranches belong to individuals. If any government attempts to take private land to give for other private people, such measures will fail as it will be challenged. The electorate will remove unconstitutional governments.
Immediate past Director-General of Nigerian Law School, Professor Tahir Mamman, SAN, argued that the cattle colonies was what a responsible and responsive government should be advocating.
He opined: “If you take education, governments at all levels spend hundreds of billions on infrastructure, teaching, research and other support services to train students and manpower, most of whom go into private sector.
“Even those in government services are still paid for it through salaries, even though most of the training were provided for by the government.
“Similarly, the Law School, which every lawyer must attend, is wholly provided for by the government. Students pay a fraction of service charges only. Where do lawyers go to after such lavish government expenditures on their training? Most of them go into private jobs, and in a lot of cases, charge government ridiculous, extortionist fees when their services are needed by the same government that trained them.”
A renowned human rights lawyer, Chief Morah Ekwunoh, aligned himself with preponderance of views that ranching is a private and individual commercial business.
He said: “Pursuant to the combined application of the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution, (as amended) and the Land Use Act, ownership and control of all lands in the states are vested in their respective governors, who hold same in trust for the beneficial interests of their citizens.
“A fortiori, application of the maxim of nemo dat quod non habet, reveals that the Federal Government cannot acquire, consficate or, otherwise howsoever, appropriate lands in the states for purposes of creating cattle ranches or colonies for the benefit of herdsmen, in their pursuit of individual and private commercial businesses or enterprises. By virtue of the law and the afore-referenced provisions, such lands are vested in the states, and not in the Federal Government.
“What it (FG) can do, in the overall circumstances, is to use its own lands, as clearly delineated in the Constitution and the Land Use Act (supra), for establishment of such ranches or colonies; or most appropriately, to appeal to, collaborate or partner with state governments for this purpose, though the latter situation appears a very tall order, albeit, in states where the citizens in whose beneficial interests such lands are held are being wantonly and brazenly slaughtered by the same herdsmen in whose interest and benefits the state lands are needed for collaborative establishment of the said ranches or colonies”.
A lawyer, Sir Barth Ozoana, pointed out that ranching is absolutely a private enterprise, saying “ in law, the Federal Government cannot confiscate lands for private purposes. Federal Government does not rear cattle, be it federal or state. If the Federal Government confiscates any land, the intended use must be for public purpose.”
Okechukwu Nwanguma, Secretary, National Coordinator- NOPRIN, argued that in the first place, the law (Land Use Act ) confers the power of land control in every state on the governor.
“Federal Government cannot dictate to any state governor on who to give land in the state. Unless the governor decides to allocate land, there’s nothing the Federal Government can do, except it wants to unlawfully exercise powers it doesn’t have.”