OPEN LETTER: THE CLASHES BETWEEN THE FULANI HERDSMEN AND FARMERS IN BENUE STATE: A LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

Posted: March 15, 2014 in BENUE, Opinion, press releases/ News letter, Uncategorized
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   BEM HANAZE & ASSOCIATES

A.V. DICEY CHAMBERS

Legal Practitioners and Consultants

Tel: 08069336674                                                    Plot 111B Opposite BSU College of Health Sciences, Gboko Road, Makurdi, Benue State

 

 

14th March, 2014

His Excellency

The Executive Governor of Benue State

Rt. Hon. Gabriel Torwua Suswam (Ph. D)

Government House, Makurdi

Benue State

 

THE CLASHES BETWEEN THE FULANI HERDSMEN AND FARMERS IN BENUE STATE: A LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

 

1.0.0 INTRODUCTION

1.1.0 The parties forming the basis of this discourse do not need much introduction. However for the benefit of a better appreciation of this discourse we shall make a brief introduction of them.

 

1.2.0 THE FULANI HERDSMEN  

1.2.1 The Fulani herdsmen otherwise known as the Nomadic Fulanis are persons of the Fulani tribe spread over most of the States in the Northern part of Nigeria and other African countries such as Chad, Niger, Sudan, Senegal, etc whose main occupation is the herding of cattle (cows and sheep) from place to place all over Nigeria for grazing purposes.

 

1.3.0 THE FARMERS IN BENUE STATE

1.3.1 The farmers in Benue are local farmers of large communities scattered all over Benue State among the various tribes in Benue State whose source of feeding and income is crop farming through which Benue state is recognized as the Food Basket of Nigeria.         

 

2.0.0 THE CLASHES BETWEEN THE FULANI HERDSMEN AND THE BENUE FARMERS

2.1.0 Since five (5) years ago a day has not passed by in Benue State without a report of a clash between the parties in reference in this discourse. The result has been maiming and killing of human beings from both sides of the clashing parties.

 

2.1.1 Four (4) Local Government Areas in Benue State have experienced clashes with the Fulanis more than any other part of Nigeria; they are, Guma, Gwer West, Agatu and Makurdi. I have consciously chosen to use the word “Clashes” instead of “Attacks” to avoid argument and prejudice.

 

3.0.0 CAUSES AND NATURE OF THE CLASHES

3.1.0 It is apparent that the clashes between the parties in this discourse occur either as a protest or retaliatory measure. Some of the clashes between the parties are reported to have occurred as a result of the Benue farmers’ protest to the Fulani herdsmen’s grazing and occupation of their farmlands while some are reported to have occurred where one of the parties sought to revenge losses supposedly incurred at the instance of the other. In most cases it has been the Fulanis killing Benue People, mostly children and women, in cold blood with the employ of guerilla war fare using mercenaries.

 

 

4.0.0 NATURE OF THE GRAZING/HERDING ACTIVITIES OF THE FULANIS IN BENUE STATE

4.1.0 The Fulani herdsmen flock with their cattle on and through crop farms and farmlands in Benue State whereof the cattle feed on and destroy crops and grasses alike. I remember when I used to farm with my father in the late 1980s where I would see the Fulanis climb up Locust Bean and Iron Trees (Nune/Gbaaye) and pluck down the fruits of these economic trees for their cattle to feed on. In Benue State Locust Beans and Iron Trees bear fruits that are nutritious and serve as soup and soup condiments for a majority of the Benue indigenes.

 

4.1.1 Apart from feeding on crop plantations and economic trees of the Benue farmers, the Fulani cattle through continuous movement on the farmlands pound and compress the farmlands and soil making it herculean to till such lands with the available subsistence farming equipment – hoes.

 

 

5.0.0 ISSUES ARISING FROM THE OCCUPATION OF PARTS OF BENUE STATE BY THE FULANI HERDSMEN FOR GRAZING PURPOSES AND THE ENSUING CLASHES

5.1.0 As a result of the occupation of parts of Benue State by the Fulani herdsmen and the ensuing clashes the Benue people have lost countless lives as well as property, comfort, farming opportunities, etc. Most of the Benue people who die in the clashes do not have even the right to a decent burial; the people of Guma, Gwer West, Agatu and Makurdi Local Government Areas of Benue State are living testimonies.

 

5.1.1 Even within four (4) kilometers radius of the capital city of Benue State – Makurdi, clashes between the parties occur and the people of Benue State are now restless, insecure and afraid wherever they live in the state.

 

6.0.0 THE EXPECTED ROLE OF BOTH THE BENUE STATE GOVERNMENT AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA IN THE CLASHES 

6.1.0 It is enacted in Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of Government”. Can it therefore be said that the Benue State Government (BNSG) or the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has done enough or perhaps done the needful at all to give security and welfare to the hapless, hopeless and helpless Benue farmers or people who have become homeless in their homes? Your Excellency your response to these clashes has been immense but the nature of these clashes makes it difficult for most people to actually appreciate your responsiveness to the whole issue. I also appreciate the fact that the FGN and BNSG has mobilized and lost a number of personnel of the police and the military of this country in a bid to tackle the clashes between the parties here in context but I think there is a legal perspective to it all.

 

 

7.0.0 THE EXTENT OF THE RIGHT OF EVERY CITIZEN OF NIGERIA TO MOVE FREELY IN NIGERIA AND TO RESIDE IN ANY PART THEREOF

7.1.0 Section 41(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) 1999 provides as follows: “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof…”

 

7.1.1 The provisions of Section 41(1) of the Constitution of the FRN 1999 (supra) does not however invalidate the provisions of Criminal and Civil Laws operating in Nigeria and contained in the various sources of law in Nigeria such as Statutes, Judicial precedent, Common law, etc.

7.1.2 It follows that even though every Nigerian citizen has a Fundamental Right under Section 41(1) of the Constitution to move freely and reside any where in Nigeria such movement and residence must be in observance of the relevant laws such as the laws regarding trespass, land ownership, mischief, etc.

 

8.0.0 THE LEGALITY OR OTHERWISE OF THE OCCUPATION AND GRAZING OF BENUE LAND BY THE FULANI HERDSMEN

8.1.0 In Benue State each and every stretch/parcel of land is owned by an individual or a group of individuals even if such stretch or parcel of land has not been inhabited, occupied or tilled for fifty (50) years. Thus, the occupation of any parcel of land in Benue State by the Fulani herdsmen and grazing thereof without the permission of the land owner is trespass and mischief, unlawful and both a criminal and civil wrong.

 

8.1.1 It is not surprising that there are few or rather no instances of prosecutions of the Fulani herdsmen for trespass or mischief even as the Fulani herdsmen are fast occupying the entirety of Guma, Gwer West, Agatu and Makurdi LGAs of Benue State and feeding their cattle on farm crops because the land owners do not have what it takes to confront the trespassers or cause their arrest and prosecution. I doubt if any law enforcement agent can accept the task of investigating a report regarding an alleged unlawful occupation of ones land by the Fulani herdsmen in Benue State, the helpless land owner is therefore left to help himself.

 

9.0.0 THE ERRONEOUS CLAIM THAT “LAND BELONGS TO THE GOVERNMENT”

9.1.0 The Fulani herdsmen and of course many other persons erroneously claim that “land belongs to the Government”. Section 44(1) of the Constitution of the FRN 1999 (supra) provides that: “No moveable property or any interest in an immoveable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired except in the manner and for the purposes prescribed by law, that among other things –

          (a)    Requires the prompt payment of compensation, and

(b)    gives to any person claiming such compensation a right of access for the determination of his interest in the property and the amount of compensation to a court of law or tribunal or body having jurisdiction in that part of Nigeria.”                                            

          The provision quoted above recognizes the vesting of interest in immovable property (land) in the individual/person but not the Government. Empirically, land in Benue State in particular and Nigeria at large at the present day is owned either by the family or individual but not the Government.

 

9.1.2 Even though Section 1 of the Land Use Act, 1978 charges the Governor to hold the land in a state in trust for the people that provision hardly applies in empirical land dealings in Nigeria more so that Section 28 of the Land Use Act (supra) requires the Government to pay compensation to land owners upon acquiring their lands and provides for deemed ownership of land.

 

10.00         THE CLAIM OF THE EXISTENCE OF GRAZING ROUTES AND REARING GROUNDS IN NIGERIA

10.1.0 There are claims in certain quarters that a long time ago grazing routes and rearing grounds were carved right from Senegal through Nigeria to Sudan, however, the Government white paper or whatever law, policy or document containing the carved routes or grounds has not been bared before us to know and possibly observe the carved areas.

 

10.1.1 Even if routes or grounds were earmarked, can they be maintained given the wave of development/urbanization that is taken place in Nigeria today? I think the people of Benue State need to see the document carving the said routes and grounds.

 

11.0.0 THE EFFORTS BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES TO TACKLE THE CLASHES

11.1.0 On the 16th day of February, 2014 I was watching a television channel – NTA Parliament at about 11.00pm where I watched a replay of the proceedings of the House of Representatives (the Lower Chamber of the Nigerian parliament). In the feature one Hon. Sunday Karimi from Kogi State moved a motion praying the House to among other things cause a convention of stake holders to tackle the ugly clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria: he made reference to Newspaper reports citing various instances from Yelwata, Udei and other places in Guma LGA of Benue State and other places in Nigeria.

11.1.1 Many members of the House supported Hon. Sunday Karimi’s motion and provided further materials in support of the motion some even citing their personal experiences. Hon. Christie Alaaga representing Gwer East/Gwer West Federal Constituency in Benue State also supported the motion.

 

11.1.2 Dishearteningly, an elderly member of the House whose name I could not grasp rather spoke (in a Hausa accentuated English) almost in opposition to the motion when he said that grazing routes and rearing grounds were carved in Nigeria long ago and that if farmers would observe those routes and grounds issues will not arise! I was keen to learn of the document containing such delineated routes and grounds but the Honourable Member only said the delineation ran from Senegal all the way to Khartoum in Sudan. 

 

11.1.3 In the same feature it was stated that already a Bill for a Law to guide grazing and allied matters in Nigeria has already undergone first reading and it was urged to be given accelerated hearing in view of the increasing clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria as a whole.

 

12.0.0 THE VITAL QUESTIONS

12.1.0 From the discourse so far the following questions arise:

(i)      Can a person occupy or use land in Nigeria without the owner’s permission but for the reason that he is a Nigerian and entitled to live anywhere in Nigeria? Any one seeking to live on, use or occupy land which is not his must buy or rent the land from the owner else such occupation or use of the land must be regarded as a civil and criminal wrong.

(ii)     Is there any guarantee that the Fulanis will maintain and strictly observe the grazing routes and rearing grounds if they really exist or are eventually delineated by law? Your guess is as good as mine.

(iii)    If grazing routes and rearing grounds were truly carved would they override human development and or provisions of the Constitution and other laws of Nigeria?

(iv)    Is the Bill for a Law to provide for grazing and allied matters in Nigeria considering the payment of compensation to land owners upon acquiring their interests in their respective lands for delineating grazing routes and rearing grounds?

(v)     Is the Bill for a Law to provide for grazing and allied matters in Nigeria going to be passed into Law any soon given the upcoming political contests in year 2015 that is likely to preoccupy or has already preoccupied Parliamentarians at all levels?

(vi)    Is this how the Benue people will continue to die in their clashes with the Fulani herdsmen ad infinitum?

(vii)   Is the Benue State Government considering the possibility of completely avoiding the clashes with the Fulani herdsmen and the Benue farmers or people?

(viii)  Is it not obvious that the Benue farmers/people have lost too much in their clashes with the Fulani herdsmen and truly need a break?

 

13.0.0 SUGGESTIONS

13.1.0 The Governor of Benue State is the Chief Security Officer of the State. He also holds the entirety of the land in Benue State in trust for the people of Benue State and administers it for their benefit. Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution of Nigeria makes security and welfare of the people the primary purpose of Government. The clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the people of Benue State has drastically affected the security and welfare of the people of Benue State and is so inimical to the development of the State that it needs a quick and lasting solution. Based on the foregoing, I suggest as follows:

IMMEDIATE MEASURES

(i)      The BNSG either alone or in collaboration with the FGN may by law or policy declare all Fulani herdsmen occupying Benue State as trespassers and through public media give them seven (7) days notice to leave Benue State or be arrested by whatever means and prosecuted.  

(ii)     The BNSG either alone or in collaboration with the FGN may by law or policy disallow the entry into Benue State of any Fulani herdsmen till further notice for security reasons to enable the Government comprehensively deal with the clashes.

(iii)    The BNSG either alone or in collaboration with the FGN may upon gathering decisive intelligence station security operatives at the likely entry points of the Fulani herdsmen into Benue State especially the Benue State borderline shared with Nasarawa and Taraba States.

  • It may be recalled that some time in year 2012 the Yobe State Governor shutdown entry into and exit from the state for forty (40) days to enable security operatives move from house to house in search of the members of Boko Haram when the Religious Sect declared Yobe State as its stronghold.

 

 

LONG TERM MEASURES

BNSG may pass a law that will among other things require Registration of Fulani herdsmen upon their arrival in Benue State whereof the persons on whose land the Fulani herdsmen are to settle shall give their consent and also agree to compensate any person whose crops, economic trees or property may be damaged by any act of the Fulani herdsmen.

14.0.0 CONCLUSION

14.1.0 Your Excellency, truly a crop farmer cannot be friends with a cattle herder for a long time because apart from the cattle straying into his crop plantation and causing destruction, the movement of the cattle pounds/compresses the soil making it herculean to till. The best option is to figure out a way of totally avoiding the occupation or use of Benue State land by Fulani herdsmen, howsoever it may be achieved.

 

          APOLOGY

          This write up is borne out of concern and the desire to contribute to finding a solution to the unrest, insecurity and losses occasioned to the entire Benue people as a result of their clashes with Fulani herdsmen. This write up is not superb but I expect everyone to make the best out of it and to accept it as a clarion call to clamour for a legal and proactive measure towards totally ending the ugly clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the Benue State people.

 

Long Live Benue State.

 

Yours faithfully,                    

Bem Hanaze, Esq.

Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria

 

 

CC: (without prejudice to their respective order of protocols)

  1. David Mark

Senate President

Nigeria

 

  1. 2.      Senator George Akume

                  Senate Minority Leader

 

  1. The Speaker

         Benue State House of Assembly

 

  1. The Hon. Attorney-General &

        Commissioner for Justice, Benue State

 

  1. The Tor Tiv

 

  1. The Ter Makurdi

 

  1. The Director

SSS, Benue State

 

  1. The Commissioner of Police

         Benue State Command

 

  1. Hon. Emmanuel Jime

        National Assembly, Abuja

 

  1. Hon. Christie Alaaga

        National Assembly, Abuja

 

  1. The Chairman

         Makurdi Local Government Council

 

  1. Hon. J. K. I. Ugela,

        President General, Mzough U Tiv

 

  1. Chief Akange Audu

 

  1. Hon S.O Utoo

 

  1. Col. Ayough (Rtd)    

 

  1. Member Representing Guma

 

  1. Member Representing Agatu

 

  1. Member Representing Makurdi North

 

  1. Member Representing Makurdi South

 

 

Sirs, above for your information and necessary action, please.

Bem Hanaze, Esq. 

Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria

 

Comments
  1. chris Tyever says:

    Barr Bem has said the minds of many. The fulanis in their “conquest to occupy style” must never be allowed to take over the legitimate farmlands of the Benue people under whatever guise,either as grazing route (which never existed through Benue state) or as Nigerians who are free to live anywhere in the country.Thanks to the Gov. for his intervention but the security agencies should accompany the famers into the vilages to reclaim their occupied lands.

    Like

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