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Opinions of Sunday, 20 June 2021

Columnist: Dr. Basiru

Analysis of grazing reserves law

Herdsman and their cattle Herdsman and their cattle

The Grazing Reserves Law is a law that makes provision for preservation and control of grazing areas with the aim of preventing loss of lives, destruction of crops and property caused by open grazing. The law provides that the state government through the commissioner responsible for Animal and Forest Resources may declare and constitute any land at the disposal of the government or in respect of which it appears that grazing on such lands should be protected or reserved or grazing management should be practised.

However, before any land can be constituted a Government Grazing Reserve, a notice containing the following particulars must be published by the Commissioner in the State Gazette:

Specifying as nearly as may be the situation and limits of the lands; declaring whether the lands are at the disposal of the government or are lands coming within paragraph (b) of section 3; declaring that it is intended to constitute such lands a Government Grazing Reserve, either for the general purposes of government or for the particular use and benefit, wholly or in part, of any class of persons or for the benefit of any community or local government; appointing an officer (hereinafter referred to as the reserve settlement officer) to inquire into and determine the existence, nature and extent of any rights claimed by or alleged to exist in favour of any persons or communities or brought to the knowledge of the said officer affecting the lands or any other rights in or over the lands.

After the publication of the notice, the Reserve Settlement Officer (RSO) will disclose the particulars of the lands proposed to constitute a Government Grazing Reserve to be made known in the district or districts in which the lands are situated by a notice to be read and interpreted in the local language in every area court in the said district or districts and also by, as far as he considers essential, informing in writing the chiefs of the communities dwelling on, and the local governments having jurisdiction over, such lands.

Also, the RSO is to fix by disclosing in a similar manner a period within which and a place any person or community claiming any right or rights in or over or affecting the lands proposed to constitute a Government Grazing Reserve, either send in a written statement of claims or appear before him and state orally the nature and extent of their alleged rights.

Upon the expiration of the period contained in the notice, the RSO will inquire into and determine the limits of the lands specified in the notice and determine the nature and extent of any claims or alleged rights affecting the lands which have been preferred or brought to his notice. In doing this, the RSO is to keep written records of the following: all such claims and alleged rights; all objections which may be made to such claims or alleged rights; and any evidence in support of or in opposition to any claim or alleged right.

It is on the basis of this inquiry, the RSO will deliver judgment, describing the limits of the lands specified in the notice setting out the particulars as may be necessary to define the nature, duration, incidence and extent, all claims and alleged rights preferred or brought to his knowledge in respect of the lands and filed at the Land Registry. Another notice will then be published in the State.

Gazette specifying the land and stating the special conditions intended to govern the reservation.

It must be noted that the commissioner, if satisfied with the objects of any grazing reserve or otherwise may extinguish all such rights or claims, other than rights or claims in respect of land; confine or restrict any rights or claims to certain areas either within or without the grazing reserve or the exercise of such rights to certain times of the year; or adopt wholly or in part anyone or any combination of the above methods of dealing with the matter, with appropriate monetary compensation.

The cumulation of the processes mentioned above is the issuance of an Order constituting the grazing reserve by the governor. From the date of the publication of the Order in the State Gazette, such lands shall be a Government Grazing Reserve. Furthermore, any person, and the chief/head of any community (on behalf of such community), notwithstanding any customary law to the contrary is entitled to enter into any agreement to grant and convey absolutely to the government any lands and any rights in and over any lands, owned by him or them which it is proposed to constitute a Government Grazing Reserve. However, no person has the right to enter any Government Grazing Reserve unless he is authorised so to do by law.

To forestall fraudulent claims to right of compensation, during the period between the dates of the publication by a commissioner of the notice of his intention to create a Government Grazing Reserve and of the Order of the governor constituting the reserve no right is to be acquired in or over the land comprised within such notice otherwise than by succession or under a grant or contract in writing entered into with the approval of the commissioner; no new house shall be built; and no new lands for farming or cultivation shall be cleared.

The governor may make regulations for any of the following matters in respect of a Government Grazing Reserve. Prescribing the person who may use the grazing reserve and the number and type of stock which may be permitted therein; prescribing the parts of the grazing reserve which may be used and the times when they may be used; providing for the issue of grazing permits to persons using the grazing reserve and prescribing the fees for such grazing permits; regulating the management generally of the grazing reserve and prescribing the activities which may be carried on therein; regulating the conditions of entry to the grazing reserve; imposing penalties not exceeding N40,000 or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both, for a breach of any regulation made under this section; and generally for the purposes of carrying out the provisions of Grazing Reserve Law.

Aside from the Grazing Reserve of the state government as stipulated in Order of the governor published in a State Gazette, there are also Local Government Grazing Reserves. A Local Government may, by Order made with the approval of the Commissioner, constitute as a local government grazing reserve any land lying within the area of its jurisdiction. The local government is to pay appropriate monetary compensation to any person whose right has been extinguished by such; and any person claiming compensation if dissatisfied with the compensation awarded, is to apply to the High Court for the determination of the matter.

However, no lands can be constituted a Local Government Grazing Reserve unless; the intention to constitute such lands a local government grazing reserve has been announced by the local government authority in a manner approved by the Commissioner; and the existence, nature and extent of any rights claimed by or alleged to exist in favour of any persons or communities affecting the lands which it is proposed to constitute a local government grazing reserve has been inquired into and determined by or under the direction of the local government.

The announcement by a local government is to require all claimants to put forward their claims within three months. Any claim not put forward within three months of the announcement is invalid.

Grazing is only permissible in grazing reserves. It is therefore an offence with the under the Grazing Reserves Law for person being the owner of a specified animal or the person in control thereof who allows such animal to graze anywhere other than in any of the grazing reserves or trade route established pursuant to this law; or fails to control such animal and the animal causes any damage to any crops; and shall on conviction be liable to in the case of a first offence to a fine not exceeding N10, 000 or to imprisonment for six months.

In the case of a second offence, to a fine not exceeding N20,000 or to imprisonment for one year; or in the case of subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding N30.000 or imprisonment for two years. If in the opinion of the court, the offence was committed by the personal act, default or culpable negligence of the person accused, and the court is of the opinion that a fine will not meet the circumstances of the case, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding five years.

In addition to a fine, the court in appropriate cases may order that the convicted person pay a sum in compensation for the value of such crops as may be determined to have been damaged by the animal. Any compensation adjudged payable other than a fine is to be enforced as if it were a fine.

Furthermore, any person who unlawfully is in possession of, or carries or uses for any purpose any firearm or other weapon, explosives, traps, poison or any dangerous substance or thing in a Grazing Reserve commits an offence. Similarly, any person who carries out any activity on any Grazing Reserve contrary to the provisions of the Grazing Reserves Law is guilty of an offence.