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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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