The federal government of Nigeria in its bid to end the perennial and incessant crisis between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers in the local areas of different parts of the country threw caution to the wind by concocting an idea of establishing a secluded settlement in various cities whereby herdsmen can go about their cattle rearing business without any interference or clash with other settlers, hence the proposed establishment called Rural Grazing Area shortly called RUGA. Since the infiltration of the idea of RUGA, there have been tongue wailing and cacophony of voices for or against the proposed establishment of RUGA, thus making the idea a dead on arrival. While an inconsequential number of the citizens; predominantly northerners, have argued for the implementation of the proposed policy, a large number of the citizens have vehemently argued against it, which seems to have polarised the country and threatened the existence of our dear nation as a country,hence putting of the program in abeyance. Amidst of this raging controversy and hoopla, this writer seeks to analyse the relevant laws, factsand a critique of the exercise of power of states governors on the one hand and the federal government constitutional obligation to formulate policy for the peace and order to reign in the country on the other hand with a view to concluding by offering a viable solutions to the menace. It is trite at this juncture to give an overview of the derivation of power to control state land as enacted by the extant law.
The principal enactment that regulates the allocation of land in Nigeria is the Land Use Act; cap L5 LFN 2004. Hitherto to the enactment of the Land Use Act, the power of control and allocation of land was purely customary and the control of which was vested in the family and community heads. However, by section 1 of the Act, radical title in land has been expunged from individual Nigerians and vested in the governor—on this see Abioye v Yakubu (1991) 5 NWLR pt.190 at 256; Akinloye v Ogungbe (1998) 2 NWLR pr. 541 p. 315.
Admittedly, much ink has been spilled on the pages of newspapers on the raging RUGA programme with arguments for or against, however this writer is moved by the fact that the extant applicable laws have not been x- rayed for better understanding and juxtaposition of the relevant various legal position and facts. It is apt at this juncture to produce section 1 of the Land Use Act.
Section 1 of the Land Use Act states that subject to the provisions of this Act, al land comprised in the territory of each state in the federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that state (with the exclusion of the FederalCapital which is controlled by the Federal Government) 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… emphasis mine.
From the foregoing, it can be submitted that section 1of the Land Use Act purposely vests the administration and management of lands in the state on the state governor and section 2 of the Act further empowers the governor to delineate the lands in the state into urban and rural based on the discretion of the governor.
It must be noted that the Land Use Act did not create any new principle of trust as it is often widely credited with. It merely adopted and extended the customary principle of trust by which the head of the family or village head or the head of the community held land in trust for the family, the village or the community, thus Land Use Act did not reinvent the wheel, it was evolutionary not revolutionary.
Having expressed the nature of the power granted to the governor to deal with state’s lands, it is trite at this juncture to offer a critique of the governor’s power wherein I would like to raise three questions.
Firstly, going by the concept of trust in section 1 of the Act can it be said that the governor possess a legal or equitable trust? Secondly, does a bonafide purchaser who bought land with or without notice from another party or the state itself be said to have acquired title bonafide? What can be inferred here is a situation where herdsmen come in group and buy land in hect- ares then convert it to the purpose of rearing cattle can the rustler acquire bonafide and extinguish the power of expropriation? Where the governor who is the custodian of the state territorial land exercised his power based on his own parochial and personal aggrandisement or for political interest, what court would the action of the governor be subject to, court of law or court of science or court of public opinion?
In response to the first question raised above, it has been held in plethora of cases that the trust bestowed to the governor by section 1 of the Act is an equitable trust which merely requires the governor to exercise his power on the basis of fairness and honesty in dealing with the alienation or management of the land among Nigerians as regards the land in his state-Moh’d vDantsoho (2003) 6NWLRpt.817
The answer to the second question is that a bonafide purchaser for a value without prior notice can defeat the interest of a beneficiary. This is premised on the fact that a governor cannot validly grant a right of occupancy in which a prior right of occupancy legally subsisting in another person-Ogunleye v Oni (1990) 2 NWLR pt. 135 p.745.
The third question raised above is what could be regarded as one of the prime reasons why the RUGA establishment has been subject to public criticism. Going by the nature of powers given to the governor by the Act, it can be inferred that the Act does not give a gauge or barometer for the measurement of the ex- ercise of the governor’s interest as a trustee of the land in the state. One of the issues that maybe raised here is that what if the exercise of power is exercised on ground of personal aggrandisement or benefits to the governor at the expense of the masses whose governor is mandated to hold the land in trust for?
The advocates of RUGA policy have frantically argued that all parochial and personal interests need be jettisoned so as to imbibe and look at the benefits inherent in the establishment of RUGA in the whole 36 states of the federation and FCT. The advocates see business giant, money, jobs, food and peace in RUGA initiatives. Some proposed that a business giant like Dangote will own 50,000 cows by the end of 2019 and start producing 500 million litres of milk per year. Taxes and other levies will be imposed on the rustlers which will have a consequential effect of boosting the Internal Generated Revenue of the respective states. Also that unemployment rate would be reduced drastically by the establishment of RUGA
On the other hand, however the antagonists are of the view that the establishment of RUGA will result in permanently but surreptitious infiltration of the Fulani rustlers into their territory against their will. It can be recalled that incessant crises have engulfed various communities in Nigeria between the original settlers and the accommodated brethren even within same tribe. One would not forget in a hurry the civil battle between the Modakeke and the Ife, the crises between the Hausa settlers and the Yorubas in Sag- amu, the southern Kaduna and the Northern Kaduna among others.
Balogun Writes from Lagos