From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Benue Development Forum (BDF) has drawn the attention of the Federal Government to a subsisting judgment of the Federal High Court restraining it from allocating land belonging to the state for the establishment of Ruga settlement, cattle colonies or any other purposes contrary to the Land Use Act, 1978 and the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.
President of the group, Comrade Terrence Kaunum in a statement on Sunday contended that until the said judgment is set aside, the Federal Government will be acting in contempt with its plans to construct houses in the state for the Fulani Community.
The position of the group is sequel to the announcement by Vice President Kashim Shettima at a public function in Maiduguri that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had approved the construction of 1,000 houses in Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger and Benue states with all the ancillary facilities of schools, clinics, veterinary clinics and ranches for the Fulani community.
In the judgment in reference, the Makurdi division of the Federal High Court had declared the Federal Government policy, plan or proclamation to establish RUGA settlement and cattle colonies in Benue State as unwarranted, unlawful and unconditional.
Delivering judgment in a suit No: FHC/MKD/CS/56/2019, filed by the State Government, Justice Mobalaji Olajuwon declared that any move by the Federal Government to compulsorily acquire land for RUGA settlement or cattle colony in Benue State without the approval of the Benue State Government is null and void.
Listed as defendants in the suit are the Attorney General of the Federation(AGF); Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Justice Olajuwon granted an order nullifying every action or decisions taken to establish RUGA settlement or cattle colonies for herdsmwn in Benue State.
The court further issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Attorney General of the Federation, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, their agents, privies, servants or whosoever from making any attempt to hold, administer, use or allocate land in Benue state for RUGA settlement, cattle colonies or any other purpose contrary to the 1999 Constitution, the Land Use Act (LUA) and the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.
The judge held that section 1 of the Land Use Act of 1978, ownership of land in any atate of the Federation is vested on the governor of the state and only the governor has the right to grant statutory right of occupancy to any person.
The Benue State had in the suit urged the court for the determination of the following questions:
“Whether on proper interpretation and construction of section 44 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution and section 1 of the Land Use Act, (LUA), 1978, the Federal Government’s policy, plan or proclamation to establish Ruga settlement or cattle colonies in all the states of the federation and in Benue state in particular constitutes a gross violation of the constitution and an infringement of the right or interest over all the plaintiffs comprising in the territory known as Benue state of Nigeria.
” Whether, having regard to section 5, 6, 7, and 19 (1) of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017, which provides for and regulates ranching, livestock rearing and grazing in Benue State, the Federal Government’s plan, policy, decision and pronouncement to establsh Ruga settlements or cattle colonies for the purpose of regulating and controlling where herders will live, grow their cattle and produce milk in Benue State; is not ultra vires and an encroachment or usurpation of the powers of the Benue State Government in that regard.
“Whether by the combined reading and construction of section 4, 9 (2), 315 (5) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution and section 1,5, 6, 26, 28 and 49 of the Land Use Act, 1978, the Federal Government, has power to make policy on land and administration by establishment grazing, resources, cow/cattle colonies, pilot ranches, Ruga settlement or by whatever name called, for use of private cattle breaders on lands other lands that were owned by the Federal Government as at March 29 1978 or May 29 1999 (as the case may be) and on lands used for farming projects.
” Whether upon a calm and dispassionate construction and interpretation of section 9 (2), 56, 58 and 315 (5) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution, it is competent for the Federal Government of Nigeria to formulate any policy relating to land use, planning and administration in Benue State, particularly any policy purporting to establish cattle grazing reserves, cow/cattle colonies, pilot ranches, RUGA settlement or by whatever name called, without recourse to the special procedure for constitutional amendment.