After a long wait, land reform gets N45.5bn attention

Daniel Obi

While we wait for the finance minister’s 2009 budget breakdown, it is important we bring to the fore the provision of N91.8 billion for Land Reform and Food Security as, announced by the president. If our calculations are right, about N45 billion of the figure would be allocated to the former. This is important lest the minister forgets to interpret the provision of such bogus amount for land reform.

However, experts postulate that government may organise conferences to examine the Land Use Act as it affects development purposes in various parts of the country. But this is just conjectural.

Again, the explanation of the huge allocation for the land reform becomes crucial in the face of the president’s declaration that the government will seek to be more efficient in the use of public resources by eliminating or rationalising areas of waste and focusing on the critical sectors that would propel the growth of our economy and help us realise the objectives of the Seven-Point Agenda.

In 1978, precisely on the 29th of March of that year, the then federal military government of Nigeria promulgated the Land Use Decree. The law was maintained by the succeeding civilian administrations and the Decree was changed to act.

The act, as reported by Biodun Aluko and Abdul Aminu, purports to take over the ownership and control of land in the country thereby providing a uniform legal basis for a comprehensive national land tenure system. It was enacted to deal with problem of uncontrolled speculations in urban lands, make land easily access to every Nigerian irrespective of gender, unify tenure system in the country ensure equity and justice in land allocation and distribution and, amongst others, prevent fragmentation of rural lands arising from the application of the traditional principle of inheritance.

According to the experts who quoted other reports, the Land Use Act approaches the control of land through three strategies: the investment of proprietary rights in land in the state; the granting of user rights in land to individuals; and the use of an administrative system rather than the market system in the allocation of right, in land.

Primarily, therefore, the act vested the ownership of land rights in the state.
Under the act as outlined at FAO.org, control and management of land in urban areas becomes the responsibility of the state governor, while all other land (rural, public, etc.) is the responsibility of the local government of the area. It is noted that state governors are empowered to designate certain areas as urban land and to grant statutory rights of occupancy of fixed periods and rights of access to any person, subject to rental arrangements fixed by and payable to the state. The local government can grant a customary right of occupancy to land in the local government area (LGA) to any person or organization for agriculture, grazing, residential or other purposes. Land so granted should not exceed 200 hectares for agricultural purposes, or 2000 hectares for grazing purposes, for any single customary grant.

Certificates of occupancy are to be issued in respect of both types of grant.
The decree which turned into act in the democratic setting, has received criticism since its promulgation with experts stating that the Act is an urban legislation which only superficially touches the tenure problems in the rural areas in the country.
Without doubt, then, the granting of rights of occupancy under the Land Use Act has radically modified previously existing notions of ownership, control and other interests in land. This is particularly manifest in the granting of land rights to wealthy individuals, corporate bodies and cooperatives in the name of public purposes for development. Lasun Mykail Olayiwola and Olufemi Adeleye in their piece Land Reform: Experience from Nigeria, noted that the objectives of the land use act have remained largely unfulfilled 30 years after its enactment and title to land appears to be more insecure now than it ever was. According to them, the deficiencies of the land use act were aptly summarized by Justice Augustine Nnamani who, as Attorney General was responsible for drafting of the act and its incorporation into constitution. He said in the course of these years, it has become clear that due to its implementation, not its structure or intent, the objectives for which the land use act was promulgated have largely remained unfulfilled; indeed, they have been distorted, abused and seriously undermined.

They argued that the position today is that land is less available to the ordinary Nigerian than it was before the Land Use Act, thus holding most of the citizens to inevitable state of perpetual tenancy.

It is also noted by the authors that the allocations policy of various governments particularly during the civilian era has been scandalous. The land use and allocation committees, which are no more than appendages of the governors merely, endorsed lists approved by them. Sometimes, as observed by the duo writers, the civilian governor, who has vowed to repeal the act before entering into office, grabs it with both hands on getting into power. The result to be expected were allocations of land mostly to friends, relatives and party faithful; land become indeed an item of patronage. Worse still the patronage was withdrawn as one government succeeded the other.

Land is usually taken to include not only the physical soil, but also everything beneath it (minerals and water) and everything extending up to the sky above it. The 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognizes and stipulates that all interests in mineral resources belong to the owner of the land and water resources containing them.
The allocation of land was hardly made to the low-income earners as Lasun Mykail Olayiwola and Olufemi Adeleye further noted. No government has yet earmarked a percentage of land available for allocation to this category of Nigerians as a deliberate policy. Nor has there been allocation of a percentage of land available forallocation to the community or family that previously owned the land now acquired by government.

On compensation to those whose lands were taken for development activities, Olayiwola and Adeleye said it seems that no amount of compensation can assuage the feelings of an average Nigerian to whom land has profound cultural and social-political values and spiritual aspects. To the subsistence farmer, land is the basis of his survival; it is to him life given. Thus to take land away from him for a public purpose, with which he cannot identify, without prompt payment of adequate compensation or resettlement, is to ask for trouble.
They say besides, the title is a misnomer; it should have appropriately been titled Land Allocation Act.

The act, according to them, has not eliminated speculation in land; it has only driven it underground or fueled it and it concentrates both economic and political powers in the hands of governors, military elites and rubber barons’ who use it to dispossess their political opponents and/or peasant farmers through large-scale acquisition of land for commercial agriculture, paying only for unexhausted improvement, stipulated by the act.
It is further said that it has not succeeded in removing the uncertainties in title to land. Instead, it seems to accentuate it. For example, a certificate of occupancy can be revoked for public purpose or a contravention of the act.

With all these contradictions against the Land Use Act, what does government intend to do with the budgeted amount. We wait for explanations from the budget breakdown.
On reform, what would happen then? Uwakonye, and Gbolahan S. Osho, say land reform is concerned with changing the institutional structure governing men’s relationship with the land, involving intervention in the prevailing pattern of land ownership, control and usage in order to change the structure of holdings, improve land productivity and broaden the distribution of benefits.

According to them, land reform is an aggregate of ideas and courses of action designed to resolve tenure problems. Nigeria is an agrarian nation with over 56.8 percent of her working force engaged in farming.
Doner and Kanel emphasize the significant contribution of the agricultural sector towards the overall economic development of underdeveloped countries, such as Nigeria where more than 50percent of the working population is engaged in farming. Agricultural reform has the advantage of provision of more employment, more equitable income distribution, a wider relevant structure for the growing manufacturing sector, a better base for farm financed welfare, and more rational investment policies in both the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors of the economy.

In order to consolidate this gain and to make the operation and implementation of the Act achieve the objectives for which it was promulgated, Olayiwola and Adeleye suggestion that the act be removed from the constitution is subject to the cumbersome provision of amending so that amendments to it can be effected.

Since the Act Constitution under section 5 of the constitution, no meaningful amendment can be carried out to it in a civilian democracy. Because the Act has become in incident of political power, the threat of abrogation which necessitated its entrenchment in 1979 is no longer present.

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