Senator Monsurat Sunmonu, representing Oyo Central Senatorial District, has lent her voice to the controversial Grazing Reserve Bill believed to awaiting passage in the National Assembly.
Senator Sunmonu, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, wrote the piece below, in which she posited that the Grazing Reserve Bill or any bill like it, cannot fly.
My thoughts on the #GrazingReserveBill and “Herdsmen”
By Senator Monsurat Sunmonu
In the past few days and weeks I have been inundated with telephone calls from concerned citizens of Oyo Central about the “Grazing Reserve Bill” and the massacre of Nigerians by people alleged to be “Herdsmen”.
I have read a number of articles and followed the news on these issues and there is no doubt that there is a connection of some sort between the two issues. As a Nigerian, a legislator and representative of the people I have had recourse to think long and hard about these issues and ask myself what I, as a member of the Senate can do to help solve the problem.
It was widely publicised that there was a “Grazing Reserve Bill” pending before the 8th Senate. Therefore, my first point of call was to check the pending Bills and I found that there was no such thing. To demonstrate the extent of the research my office did we found out that such a Bill had been introduced in the 7th Senate, but it didn’t see the light of day.
However, it has come to my knowledge that a sister Bill has surfaced and is currently pending before the House of Representatives. In the interest of preserving the privileges enjoyed by the independent Houses of the National Assembly, I will limit my comments to the legal issues surrounding such a Bill.
The genesis of land law in Nigeria is the Land Use Act 1990, CAP 202, Laws of the Federation (“the Act”). Section 1 of the Act unequivocally vests all land in a State in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The tenors of the law are very clear: Governors are in control of land within their states on trust for the people.
Section 49 of the Act goes on to state that the provisions of the Act shall not affect any land that the Federal Government (or any of its agencies) already has title to (i.e. the Federal Government shall continue to own land it already owns irrespective of section 1). This is further to section 297 of the Constitution, which provides that the FCT and national boundaries are vested in the Federal Government.
Section 315(5)(d) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (“the Constitution”) provides thus:
“Nothing in this Constitution shall invalidate the following enactments, that is to say –
(d) the Land Use Act,
and the provisions of those enactments shall continue to apply and have full effect in accordance with their tenor and to the like extent as any other provisions forming part of this Constitution and shall not be altered or repealed except in accordance with the provisions of section 9 (2) of this Constitution.”
In effect, what the Constitution has done is to incorporate the Land Use Act as part of it (the Constitution). The Constitution unequivocally provides that the Act shall not only apply, but shall have full effect just like any other part of the Constitution.
The intendment of the draftsman to incorporate the Act as part of the Constitution is unambiguous and is further demonstrated by the provision that any alteration or repeal to the Act shall be done in accordance with section 9(2) of the Constitution (i.e. the section that deals with amendments to the Constitution). The Land Use Act has been elevated beyond the realms of being a normal Act of National Assembly, because it can only be amended in the same way that the Constitution can be amended.
It is significant to realise that normal Acts of National Assembly can be amended by passing the amendment in the National Assembly followed by Presidential assent. However, constitutional amendments need to be passed in the National Assembly and also in 2/3 of the State Houses of Assembly (i.e. 23 states) before the President can assent.
The consequence of the foregoing is clear; the Land Use Act is now in pari passu with the Constitution. Lest I forget that section 1(1) and 1(3) of the Constitution provide that:
(1) This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void
Section 1 of the Constitution is unambiguous that the Constitution is binding on all authorities and persons and that any law that is inconsistent with the Constitution shall be void to the extent of the inconsistency.
To tie it all together therefore, the Land Use Act has been elevated beyond the dominion of an ordinary Act of the National Assembly and has in fact been incorporated as part of the Constitution. It is now part of the foundation upon which our society is built.
The foregoing begs the question as to whether an act of the National Assembly can be used to excise the clear provisions of the Constitution that all land is vested in the Governor of a State? Can there legally be an Act of National Assembly providing for the compulsory provision or confiscation of land? I’m afraid the answer is in the negative. Any such law will undoubtedly be unconstitutional and therefore void.
My contention is that if there is to be anything similar to a Grazing Reserve Bill it necessarily needs the cooperation of States who are willing to pass such laws in their State Houses of Assembly. And of course, the Governor will need to assent. We must not forget that land matters are not listed in the Exclusive or Concurrent list in the Constitution meaning they cannot be legislated on at the Federal level.
How therefore do we solve the problems of the “Herdsmen” grazing cattle around Nigeria?
Landowners in Nigeria will argue that nomadic herdsmen are a bother. Their reason is that farmers cultivate their land with the motive of yielding crop to sell for profit. However, when a herdsman grazes his cattle on the land of a fellow Nigerian, the hard work of the farmer goes to waste.
It is beyond doubt that in such circumstances, tensions between the two sets of people will heighten, particularly if they are from two different ethnic tribes and of different religions. The herdsman has a way of life that has been passed down through generations, and, the farmer also has his right to use his legally acquired land as he sees fit in line with Constitutional provisions.
In the current economic climate and with the targeted push towards diversification of the economy, where we are actively encouraging people to invest in agriculture, we must ask how appealing the current set of circumstances are to potential investors? Would an investor invest huge amounts of capital in agriculture just to have his land grazed on, without his consent, by cattle that does not belong to him?
What therefore is the solution? I am of the opinion, that this is a problem that takes a little initiative to solve. In other parts of the world (UK, US etc.), people who want to rear cattle purchase land/ranches on which they graze their cattle. This land is not provided for free by government, it is bought. Payment can be made in a number of ways and can be staggered over a period of time. Rearing cattle is no different to conducting any other business and should be treated like any other business.
It is generally known that these cattle do not belong to herdsmen but well endowed financial businessmen. The people rearing cows for business should be subsumed into the normal business realm and approach banks for loans to buy land; in the same way farmers buy land to grow their crops. This will mean that we have statistics on cattle rearing for taxation purposes also.
I need not address the fact that some of these herdsmen are carrying arms. The laws of our beloved nation are clear that it is illegal to carry firearms without a valid license. If the herdsmen (or anyone else for that matter) do not have the relevant permits for their firearms then they should feel the full forces of the law.