The battle line has been drawn between President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors over the 368 grazing routes, pursuant to a 1963 Act.
14 Southern state governors have enacted laws prohibiting Open Grazing in their respective states.
13 state governments have met the September 1 deadline fixed by the Southern Governors’ Forum (SGF) for members to enact laws banning open grazing draws near.
They are Rivers, Oyo, Ekiti, Osun, Enugu, Edo, Bayelsa, Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra and Akwa Ibom states. While Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State stated that his state has a subsisting law enacted in 2006, three other states, including Ogun have not concluded on the issue.
It would be recalled that the 17 Southern governors, under the aegis of Southern Governors’ Forum, had in what is now described as Asaba Declaration, on May 11, 2021, raised 12 resolutions of which among them was the ban on open grazing.
The frustrated governors had, after individual attempts to address the menace of open grazing in their respective states, announced the ban on open grazing in all the 17 Southern states.
They recommended that the Federal Government should support willing states to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems. Also, they called on President Buhari, to, as a matter of urgency and importance, address Nigerians on the frightening state of insecurity across the nation and convene a national dialogue.
Furthermore, they mandated the 17 state Houses of Assembly to as matter of urgency enact laws to back their proclamation. That was even as seven states in the North also embraced the ban on open grazing.
They include: Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kano and Katsina States, while Sokoto and Kano opted for ranching. Governor Abdullahi Ganduje has awarded a N186.7 million contract for the design and development of 3,000 hectares of grazing reserve at Dansoshiya, Kiru Local Government Area of the state. In Taraba and Adamawa states, traditional rulers joined the fray.
On July 20, in his Eid – Kabir message, Emir of Muri, Alhaji Abbas Tafida, read a riot act to the bandits who have been terrorizing the state and ordered them to leave his domain. He gave them a 30- day ultimatum after which he said they would go after them.
In a swift reaction, Miyetti Allah leaders apprehended some bad eggs among them and handed them over to the revered monarch, who in turn handed them in to police for investigation and prosecution.
However, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a contrary move recently set up a committee to “review with dispatch 368 grazing sites across 25 states in the country and to determine the level of encroachment.”
Some lawyers also faulted the Federal Government’s decision, saying it was unconstitutional. The senior lawyers in different interviews asked the governors to go to the Supreme Court to challenge the move.
Among senior lawyers who faulted the Federal Government’s position are Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN; Dr. Awa Kalu SAN and Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN.
In his reaction, Ozekhome said that the Governors and the House of Assembly of the 36 states are constitutionally empowered, even statutorily to provide security for their people, to make laws for the peace and good governance of their people and to give welfare to their people.
“For people who want to know the Constitutional provisions, they should go to Section 4(6)(7), Section 5(3)(4), Section 14(2)(a)(b), Section 11, Section 176(7) of the Constitution. This includes the judgment of the Federal High Court, Makurdi in the case of AG, Benue State and AGF, and laws passed by the State Houses of Assembly of Ebonyi, Bayelsa, Oyo and Osun. By all of these, the states do not need any Federal Government’s permission or approval to take care of their people’s security.
“Even Sections 214, 215 and 216 of the Constitution make it clear that the Governor of a state is the Chief Security officer of his state. They do not require any permission from the Federal Government. Apart from that, Nigeria operates a Federalism system of Government. This is a concept where both the government at the centre and the federating units have their powers designated and delegated in specific areas.
“That is why you have an exclusive legislative, concurrent and residual list. There is nowhere in the Constitution where security and welfare of the people has been exclusively allocated to the Federal Government alone, such as to invoke the doctrine covering the field, to say if the Federal Government has the power to this, states do not have.
“In fact, states have more involvement in the matter of providing security for their people. The Federal Government is an abstract at the Centre. It is only in charge of the Police at the Centre. “But it is the states that feel progress being made, not at Abuja, the Federal Centre.
“That is why states are also right to promulgate laws such as the one setting up Amotekun’, ‘Ebube-Agu’ and Eastern Security Network at their various levels to take care of their security. It is their constitutional right to do so; they do not need any permission from the Federal Government. If the Federal Government is not happy about what the states have done, it should go to the Supreme Court to invoke the original jurisdiction of the apex court.
“It is even the states that should challenge the Federal Government. Why is the Federal Government so insensitive that it will say that other Nigerians have freedom of movement and carry out their job.
“Do they know that where the freedom of one stops, that is where the others’ starts. The state governors should not deter in their resolve to stop open grazing in their respective states,” he said.
Kalu questioned the basis on which the Presidency wants to open grazing routes in various states against the wishes of the governors. “How can that be interpreted? Is it within the federal domain? If it is within the states, how will the Presidency claim that governors do not have the constitutional power to enforce it? “On what premise did the Presidency make its claim? Is it on Constitutional law, factual consideration or ‘ogboju’ basis.
“For me as a lawyer, there is no basis to interpret it. Can anybody tell me that I don’t have the power to put the type of food I want to put in my mouth? “Then, the person can tell me why I cannot take the food I want to take. If a governor has the power to control land in his state and then he said, don’t be carrying cattle up and down, then you say he does not have the power to enforce it?
“Enforceability has a very wide implication in law. Is it because the Federal Government is in control of the Police? Is it because they have an Army?” Kalu explained.
Also weighing in, Ahamba said that the governors were empowered to maintain security in their own places. He said: “I am not aware of the law where open grazing is written. Once it has been established that open grazing is the origin of insecurity, then governors can stop it. “If they think it is not constitutional, they head to the court.
“They can’t just stay there as an unidentified body called the presidency and be saying what the law did not say”. However, in his own submission, another lawyer, Dr. Jerry Majekodunmi, submitted that, “the menace of open grazing is a matter that cannot be wished away.
The right to freely move is very fundamental, but in all these, I believe there is no need to heighten the tension. Whoever is aggrieved by the plans of the Federal Government to open a grazing route can approach the court so that we don’t dissipate energy on a matter that can be easily resolved and thereby diverting attention from the main problem of the party.
“I hope, either the Federal Government challenges the law to be made by various states, or they get the herdsmen or the people into open grazing to challenge the law of their right to move. The court will guide us. I think that is the best civilized way to go about it” he stated.