Barrister Jiti Ogunye writes and clears the air of any misconceptions :
“The right to freedom of movement and the right of the citizens of Nigeria to reside in any part of the Country guaranteed by the Constitution do not vest in citizens, indigenous or non indigenous, the right to trespass on private, communal or publicly acquired and controlled lands or forest.
Every land in Ondo State ( and in virtually all the other states in the “ Federation “ of Nigeria ) is owned by individuals, communities, villages , towns , sub-ethnic groups or the government ( Federal and State Government). Indeed, the lands that were acquired and controlled by the government, under the old Public Lands Acquisition Act or the extant Land Use Act were acquired from aboriginal and indigenous communities.
Compensation was usually but not always paid by government for such acquisitions.
This implies that government itself recognizes that there are no “ free, unowned, unpossessed lands “ within the boundaries of Ondo State.
There are no free forest zones anywhere. For the forest reserves that are owned by the State Government, people ( including indigenes ) may not lawfully hunt for games or carry on logging activities therein without permit. It is criminal to do so.
There is a “ Forest Guards Department” in the Agricultural Ministry that enforces restrictions and disallows unauthorized entry!
The forests are owned by peoples and government of the State.
This being the case, it is indubitably an act of trespass ( criminal or civil ) for any herder or non- herder for that matter, to invade the lands, possess same and carry economic activities thereon; either of a nomadic/ itinerant kind or permanent type .
This is why individuals, communities, villages and towns engage in land disputes, including court litigations .
The right to freedom of movement and settlement do not permit a herder to constitutionally migrate from his part of the Country but to unlawfully settle on another’s person’s land temporarily or permanently.
For example , cocoa farmers from Ondo State cannot lawfully, while exercising their right to freedom of movement, go to Katsina State, clear large expanse of lands in any community, and without buying or legally acquiring the lands, start planting cocoa seedlings there ( assuming cocoa could be cultivated and plantations could flourish in that State ).
The other issue , however, is that of criminality and armed banditry, including kidnapping , ransom harvests and murders of innocent citizens in the forests. In Ondo State, there are people of northern, eastern and southern extractions who are lawfully and legitimately working as farmhands and labourers on the farms and in the forests.
With the permission of their hosts, they settle in the farms with their families .
No order has been made for their “ expulsion “.
The indisputable fact is that some non- indigenes have taken over or substantially infiltrated the Ondo State forests , including foreigners ( Malians and Niger Republic Citizens , posing as Fulani Herdsmen) Unfortunately, some rogue elements associated with the herders have been found in the past to be amongst the criminals.
The pretext or alibi used in invading the forests and staging violent kidnappings therefrom is that they are herdsmen.
To extirpate this excuse, the State has a bounding duty to order these “ herdsmen “ out of the forests. In any case , cattle breeders look for grazing fields to feed their cows ; they do not adamantly insist on a continued occupation of dense, rain forests.
Only recently, when government or military officials were giving reasons why some farmers were killed in Borno State by terrorists, it was alleged that the farmers went to their farms , under the shadow of a raging war, without securing security clearance or permit to return to the farms .
This indicates that for security imperatives , farming may be prohibited or suspended. If this could happen , why, in your “ humble view “ will a responsible state government not have the power to expel “ armed herders “ from its forests to protect the lives and property of its people .
Doesn’t the Constitution provide in Section 14(2)(b) that the “ security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government “ ?
- Barrister Jiti Ogunye