Facts emerged on Thursday that prior to the ultimatum issued by the Ondo State government to unregistered herdsmen and farmers in the state to vacate all forest reserves within seven days, the state government had already reactivated the 1969 Cattle Trade Law to pronounce the ultimatum in the state.
It was revealed that the state governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, has quoted relevant portions of two laws to pronounce an ultimatum that herders should vacate Government Reserved Forests.
The portions of the law were drawn from the Land Use Act of 1978 and the 1969 Trade Cattle Tax Law of Ondo which was promulgated in 1969 prior to the creation of the state, which still sufficed to meet the needs.
This is as the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development in the state, Mr Gboyega Adefarati, disclosed that registration of farmers and their businesses is not new, adding that over 50,000 farmers have registered with the state in the last four years.
Speaking on the two laws, an official of the state Ministry of Justice who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said both laws had given enormous powers to the state executive council as well as the governor on land matters, especially reserved forests.
He disclosed that “two of such laws which fully back the pronouncement of the Ondo State government on herdsmen’s activities within the state are the Land Use Act and the Trade Cattle Tax Law of Ondo State, promulgated as far back as 1969;
“Section 315 (5) of the constitution specifically states that nothing in the constitution shall invalidate enactments listed under items ‘a’ to ‘d’ thereof, one of which is the Land Use Act.
“In other words, nothing in the constitution, including the fundamental rights provisions therein, can invalidate the provisions of the Land Use Act.”
He explained that “Section 1 of the said Land Use Act categorically states that all land comprised in the territory of state in the federation are hereby vested in the governor of that state and such land shall be administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
Section 12 (1) of the same Act also states that: “It shall be lawful for the governor to grant a licence to any person to enter upon any land” and explained further that while sub-section 5 thereof clearly states that “the governor may cancel any such licence if the licensee fails to comply with any of the conditions of the licence.”
He said: “The word ‘licence’ here simply means permit. Basically, therefore, it is within the powers of a state governor to grant a licence, permit or right to anyone to enter any land within the state, and to cancel or withdraw such permit or licence if the holder violates any condition attendant to same.
“It goes without saying, therefore, that the governor can impose conditions on anyone to enter and/or be licensed to enter any land within the state.
“The Ondo State governor, therefore, has the power to order herdsmen or any other persons carrying on any other business on lands within the territory of the state to apply for permit or licence to do so under the above clear provisions of the Land Use Act. That cannot, in any way, be interpreted as a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of movement.”
The Justice Ministry official said the Trade Cattle Tax Law of Ondo State as earlier stated was promulgated as far back as 1969, with a commencement date of July 3, 1969.
He said: “The law is contained in Chapter (Cap.) 153, Vol. 4, Laws of Ondo State of Nigeria, 2006. It has 18 sections. Section 2 of the law talks about “movement permit, which is defined as a movement permit issued in the state under the Control Trade Cattle Regulations or a permit relating to the movement of trade cattle issued by any authority having power to issue the same under any law in force in any other part of Nigeria.”
The expression, according to him, is “any law in force in any other part of Nigeria” in this context of course includes the Land Use Act, as earlier established.
In the same vein, “Trade Cattle” is defined in Section 2 of the Law as “any of the type of animals specified in the first schedule hereto which are in the possession of or under the control of any person within the State for the purposes of the trade or business of that person or any other person as a dealer in such animals, but does not include any animal which is possessed by or under the control of any person for any domestic purpose or animals proceeding to grazing grounds or which are for use only as pack animals.
“Among the animals listed in the first schedule to the law are cow, bull, sheep and goat. So, the law applies to those who carry on the business of herding such animals other than as domestic animals. “Section 5 of the law again recognises the legitimacy of issuing trade cattle movement permit along ‘recognisable trade cattle route’, while Section 4 thereof provides for the establishment of ‘a cattle control post or inspection station, as the case may be, for the purposes of the Law’.
Section 6 of the law goes further to state that: “Trade cattle tax shall be payable at the prescribed rates at the appropriate control post or inspection station described in Section 5”, while Section 9 of the law makes it a criminal offence punishable, upon summary conviction, with a fine of N50,000 or to imprisonment for three years or to both such fine and imprisonment for any person who, being the owner or agent of the owner or one in charge of trade cattle, fails to pay any trade cattle tax or take such trade in cattle to the appropriate control post or inspection station in accordance with the law “Instructively, Section 16 of the law gives the state executive council the power to make regulations for the purpose of enforcing the law.”
Throwing more light to the issue, Adefarati said over 70 per cent of government reserve forests had been encroached upon when the Akeredolu administration came on board in 2017.
Adefarati said “When our administration came on board in 2017, we discovered that over 70 per cent of government reserves had been encroached by farmers. Many of whom desired the fertile, arable and virgin land to grow non-perennial crops. The previous administration of Olusegun Mimiko arrested many and punished them. “Many of the farmers, irrespective of their states of origin served varying terms in jail, some paid heavy fines and many left their crops wastefully unharvested.
“After a diligent research and report on Ondo State government forest reserves in 2018, we came up with a symbiotic policy of taungya system. With stiff adherence to all regulations that protect animals and trees, farmers are registered to farm on Ondo State government reserves.
“With this, if you desire land to farm, you have to apply to the Ondo State Ministry of Agriculture and the government, after considering your application, shall grant the considered hectares of land in which you are regulated to do your legal and legitimate farming.
“In retrospect, we have registered over 50,000 thousand farmers who engage in different forms of agricultural activities in Ondo State government forest reserves. “With this, we regulate their activities and reduce criminality as we interface daily with farmers.
“Farming is farming, be it crop production or animal husbandry. If any Nigerian, irrespective of his/her state of origin desires land for farming in government forest reserves, he/she must apply to Ondo State ministry of agriculture and pay the normal fee for the required hectares of land.
“It is illegal for herdsmen to encroach Ondo State government forest reserves without permission and graze on the farms, many of which will be destroyed,” Adefarati said.
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