Nuisance, Fulani herdsmen and the law

T HE The word ‘nuisance’ in law is perhaps the most frequently used in the legal parlance. Due to its antique nature and wide scope, numerous cases and various academic pieces just to fit in the nuisance puzzle. I vividly recollect how long tort law classes became when the topic was taught; of course not due to indolence or laziness, but for the lengthy notes and the different questions coming from all corners of the class; even from the back seats.

In fact, even the domestic use of the word by lay-men is ambiguous. Let me indulge you; when the class is rowdy, the comment is “you people are a nuisance.” When you don’t enter your halls of residence early also, it is “you are just a nuisance to this great school.” When parents wake up to the noise of the kids … well you know what the comment is.

I do not intend to chart the waters of the gamut of nuisance, but the recent actions of the Fulani herdsmen trying to turn every patch of green into a grazing space for their cattle, with no regard for occupiers of such lands across the country, has moved my thinking to the tort of nuisance.

Basically, the acts of these Fulani herdsmen as cause of nuisance is the main view of this write up, as well as the swift and commendable action of a famous governor, but before I delve into the crux of the matter, allow me to elucidate the word nuisance with a few definitions.

Generally, English language defines nuisance as something or someone that annoys another or causes trouble for another. It can also be defined as an obnoxious or annoying, person, thing, condition or practice. In the legal parlance, it is defined by the Black’s Law Dictionary as “that class of wrongs that arise from the unreasonable, unwarrantable, or unlawful use by a person of his own property, either real or personal in a manner that substantially interferes with the enjoyment or use of another individual’s property”.

Nuisance can be classed into private and public. The issue here is an aspect of private nuisance; this is because a public nuisance does not exactly affect an individual personally, but, however, the whole community whereas, a private nuisance is an interference with a person’s enjoyment and use of his land.

Clearly, these Fulani herdsmen are guilty of these tort and while the humour part of me is saying “how can they possibly know what that means, they are Fulani herdsmen,” the white and black side of me is of this opinion: “ignorantia legis neminem excusat,” that is, ignorance of the law excuses no man.

Let us, however, put the law aside for a minute and evaluate this situation. It is common sense, moral, right thinking, humanly to know that feeding the crops of another to your animals so they would not starve at the expense of the farmer is bad; I mean, can they even spot the irony of that? Like it is not enough that the deadly horns of some these animals might cause harm and injuries to the farmers, the herdsmen carry guns, adding the offence of murder.

This cruelty, has been, for some time, the fate of the residents of Enugu, Benue and Ekiti states. Hundreds of people killed in cold blood, even more have been put in debts and a lot more battle starvation.

Reading the popular classicus on private nuisance case of St. Helen’s Smelting Co v Tripping (1965) 11 E.R 1483) where the trees and shrubs of the plaintiff were damaged by the fumes from the defendant’s industry, I felt sorry because the plaintiff must have spent a great deal of time and money on the trees and shrubs.

Sadly, however, seeing and reading about the actions of these Fulani herdsmen devastates me beyond expression due to the loss of not just time and money, but of lives, properties and food.

In the wake of these events, various moves, talks, forums, conferences, bills and threats have been issued by the government and concerned stakeholders as well as the security operatives. While the weight of the response is not exactly adequate to answer the problem, it has been steady and almost commendable, after all, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a step.

However, as much as I would want to do more brain and literary engagement to pressurise the government, today, I would rather engage myself with commending the Ekiti State House of Assembly and, of course, one of my favorite governors, Dr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, on the giant, promising step of signing the Ekiti State Open Grazing Prohibition Bill into law on Monday, August 29, 2016. Under this new legislation, herdsmen are prohibited from grazing their cattle in areas that are not designated for grazing and forbidden from carrying arms. The law prescribes six months imprisonment without option of fine for any herdsman who violates the grazing prohibition while any herdsman found with arms will be charged with terrorism.

With the knowledge of this new legislation in one of the tagged “backward” states in Nigeria, I have been wearing a smile that is definitely bigger than any laughter of the Ekiti farmers, and rightly so, because I was part of the Afe Babalola University (ABUAD) Law students who had a session with the Ekiti farmers. Consequently, I know what they have been through. I hope other state governors would learn from this giant stride Ekiti State has taken. While happy with this new law, I also share the opinion of Mr. Femi-Fani Kayode, a man whose literary ability I admire, that the six months imprisonment is small. I would say these herdsmen deserve more than that, yes! Dare call me wicked? The popular law phrase, “sue the bastard,” has never been so sweet, although in this case, I would rightly say “charge the bastards.”


  • Oluwasegun is a law student of the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD).