Lawyers say there are no special or absolute rights for herders or any set of citizens in the Nigerian constitution, arguing that a state governor has the right to make decisions that will guarantee safety of lives and properties of the people.
Their reaction is sequel to the impasse between Ondo State governor and herders resulting from an order to vacate state forest reserves.
INIBEHE Effiong, a human rights lawyer, on Thursday, said that the nation’s constitution did not give any special rights and preference to herders found in different parts of the country.
The lawyer queried if the herders were tenants in the forests, stressing that the 1978 Land Use Act subjected the entire lands under the control of state governments. He noted that if any part was to be used, there should be a permission from the state authority.
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Besides, he argued that Section 41 of the Constitution only guaranteed freedom of movement and not freedom to trespass on state’s property.
“My understanding is that the governor has not asked them to vacate the state. What he said was that they should leave the forest. I do not think that is the business of the federal government because all lands under the Land Use Act of 1978 are under the control of governors. Governors own lands in trust. The federal government has no control over land,” Effiong said, in an interview in Abuja.
“Given the criminal activities that have been established, which have also been linked to some of these herdsmen, the governor has the right constitutionally and legally to give that directive and he is not saying they should not do their business. In any event, herdsmen do not have any special rights under the constitution.
“It is also shameful that the federal government is sharing so much passion in the matter when they have thoroughly failed to address…Herdsmen have been given the impression that they own the government and the president is one of them. You can now see the sentiment that Garba Shehu expressed. I don’t think the governor has infringed on their rights in any way,” he added.
Akeredolu had, on Monday, blamed the persistent kidnappings and related criminal activities on individuals who hid in the forest reserves, ‘masquerading as herdsmen,’ to perpetrate atrocities
“As the chief law and security officer of the state, it is my constitutional obligation to do everything lawful to protect the lives and property of all residents of the state…,” he stated in his verified social media account.
The presidency, has, however, kicked against the quit notice issued to the herders.
Garba Shehu, presidential spokesperson, acknowledged efforts of the state government in the past four years towards fighting criminality in the state. But, he described, as the least expected, unilateral decision of Akeredolu to send packing ‘thousands of herders’ who had reportedly lived their all lives in the state.
He criticised the state government for linking the herdsmen to criminalities in the state, especially kidnapping and demanding of ransoms to free victims of abductions.
“…kidnapping, banditry and rustling are crimes, no matter the motive or who is involved. But to define crime from the nameplates, as a number of commentators have erroneously done, which group they belong to, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith is atavistic and cruel,” Shehu stated.
But, in its reaction, the state government, through Donald Ojogo, its commissioner for information, criticised presidency’s position, describing it as emotionally attached to the herdsmen. He, however, explained that the directive was targeted at unregistered herdsmen residing in the forest, and the Fulani herders were not asked to vacate the state.
Meanwhile, elders in the Yoruba ethnic group threw their weight behind Akeredolu, chastising the presidency for meddling into the state’s affair.
In a statement issued by Tunde Aremu, national coordinator of Coalition of Oduduwa Elders, the elders said Buhari had failed to protect the citizens, despite being the custodian of the normal security architecture in the country.
Ayo Oluseye, a lawyer, supported the governor but noted he should have sought the support of the Ondo State Assembly beyond mere pronouncement.
“Just like states which legislated they wanted to be practising Sharia, they went through the state assembly and it became the state’s religion. It is the same way Ondo State could legislate against actions of the open grazing,” Oluseye said.
Solomon Okedara, another lawyer and co-founder of Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative (DRLI), cited Section 41 of the Constitution, saying that no right was absolute, especially as it concerned security breach or public safety.
He advised the state government to achieve the same objective without breaching the constitution by leveraging existing criminal law in the state dealing with the destruction of lives and property.
“When you look at it, the Ondo State government, which made that declaration, seeks the peace and goodwill of his people,” he said.
In his remarks, Joseph Dabo, a lawyer, shared a similar position on the governor being the chief security officer of the state. He said, within the power surrounding the appellation, Akeredolu had the right to make decisions that would ensure the safety of lives and properties of his people.
“You can imagine the impunity in our administration. Of course, the laws are clear. Once it’s a matter of security threat, we all know it is within rights of the governor to give such directives.”
Ayo Yinka, also a lawyer, alluded to other similar arguments that the action was within the rights of the governor. She claimed that some of the herders who came into the country were from as far as Niger, Chad and could not be considered Nigerians, as such might lack the legal right to reside in the countr. She further said that the state government would not jeopardise residents’ safety over herders.’