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Open grazing: Buhari and the rest of us

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Grazing

Very recently, President Muhammadu Buhari shocked many people with his multiple interviews, his many official outings and his addresses to the nation. However, it would seem that the President would have done better by maintaining his preferred silence than the seeming disaster of these outings, especially the media engagements. In retrospect, the whole essence of these media chats was purely to defend open grazing and to perpetuate the status quo, pure and simple. The President was deliberate in choosing his time to intervene in all the boiling national issues. He waited till the National Assembly Committees working on the amendment of the Constitution had travelled round the country to collate the views of citizens across board, before throwing in his hat in the ring of discourse. It was thus totally unpatriotic, for the President to declare his personal opposition to restructuring for instance, knowing well the present National Assembly of ‘yes’ men and women, would not dare enact any amendment for which the President has declared his opposition.

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Nobody forced the President when he was campaigning in 2015, to make a solemn declaration in support of true federalism, the President was not compelled to travel all the way to London, to address stakeholders at Chatham House, on his avowed commitment to restructuring and devolution of powers, with a promise to operate as a repented democrat, upon assumption of office. Further to this, his own political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, released a Manifesto, wherein it promised to amend the Constitution to achieve devolution of powers, state police, resource control and true federalism. Both personally and collectively through his political party therefore, the President is bound by his solemn undertaking to achieve true federalism and restructuring, through devolution of powers. The President cannot now shift this great burden, as he purported to do with the governors, in seeking to push the responsibility for security of lives of the people to those who have no control over the law enforcement agencies. The National Assembly is under the firm grip of the President and his party, APC. How they will mobilize their legislators to amend the Constitution is not the headache of the people of Nigeria. All we ask for is true federalism.

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Six years down the line, the President is yet to fulfill his promise of fundamental constitutional amendment to achieve devolution of powers, to the citizens and instead of apologizing for this abysmal failure, the President has turned around to attack the people, in describing those agitating for restructuring and true federalism as being ignorant and lacking in knowledge. It would then mean that the APC too, as a political party, is totally ignorant and lacking in knowledge, when it purported to set up its Committee on Restructuring headed by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. That Committee travelled all over Nigeria, claiming to collate the views of the people on restructuring and it indeed submitted its report to the President. What this means is that the President and his party deceived Nigerians and indeed the whole world, with their Manifesto. And it is no wonder that the APC has not been able to find its bearing, even as the ruling party in power.

Since the inglorious exit of its erstwhile National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, through a coup d’etat that was stage-managed by the President right in his office, the party has remained comatose ever since, as if under some kind of spell. It has not been able to organize any convention to elect its national officers, it has no enduring party structure and it is being administered by interim officers who have spent well over one year in office, without accountability or control.

The concept of open grazing, which the President is propagating with all his energy, is totally outdated. If the President had summoned the same zeal with which he has granted several media chats in support of open grazing, if the President had mobilized the same strength with which he is presently pursuing the recovery of the so-called grazing routes, to tackle insurgency and the invasion by bandits, Nigeria would have been a peaceful place to live in. According to Wikipedia, grazing is “a method of animal husbandry whereby domestic livestock are allowed outdoors to consume wild vegetation in order to convert grass and other forages into meat, milk, wool and other animal products, often on land unsuitable for arable farming.” In Nigeria, the animals being referred to are the cows, assembled together by herdsmen who are itinerant livestock farmers. From the Wikipedia definition, the grass to be grazed is usually on land not suitable for arable farming. This then takes us to the very important question of ownership of land.

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Generally, grazing is not expected to be a free for all exercise embarked upon openly and with reckless abandon, not giving care to ownership of land and farmlands. This is the major difference between the position of the President and the people of Nigeria. Open grazing simply means that herdsmen will be free to trespass upon land anywhere and at any time, with their cattle, whether or not that may lead to destruction of crops on farmlands is immaterial. On the other hand is the Land Use Act, which has vested all land in the Governor of the State on behalf of the people, since 1978. In order to preserve its provisions, the said Land Use Act has been inserted into the 1999 Constitution as one of the laws that cannot be easily amended. Under and by virtue of section 34 of the said Land Use Act, those who are in possession of land prior to its commencement are conferred with a deemed right of occupancy, over all land already occupied before the enactment of the Act.

This right has been held to be sacrosanct, by the Supreme Court and it cannot be overreached even by the Governor, without following due process of law in proper acquisition and compensation. If the Governor cannot take over land without following due process of law, how will it be possible for herdsmen to take over people’s land without their consent and even proceed to destroy their crops, at will and unquestioned? This is what the President is defending, with the votes entrusted to him twice now in 2015 and 2019.

To be continued tomorrow.

Adegboruwa is a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

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