Nigeria’s land administration needs urgent reforms. The 40-year-old Land Use Act 1978, the law that generally governs the administration of land in Nigeria, from all indications, has lost its usefulness. Whatever purpose it might have served in the past, the current realities in the country have rendered it irrelevant and inoperative. Thus, rather than being a tool for boosting economic advancement, it is now a clog in the wheel of progress.
The need for a land use reform in the country has become even more urgent as the country marches towards 2019. It is a year that has been touted as one for consolidating the nation’s democracy and ushering in economic prosperity. On this basis, experts say the presidential candidates should look towards land reforms as one of the ways to ensuring that whichever plan is eventually voted in, will translate into economic revival for the populace.
Arguably, one of the most contentious legislations in Nigeria remains the Land Use Act. The act, originally known as the Land Use Decree 1978, was rechristened Land Use Act 1978 when it found its way into the Nigerian Constitution. The provisions of the Act are responsible in part for many of the ills that have beset our agricultural and housing sectors. The Act also has become a drag on the industrial sector in some ways because it has made land acquisition a difficult process for potential industrialists and other investors.
According to Chapter 202 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, the Land Use Act is “an Act to vest all land compromised in the territory of each state (except land vested in the Federal government or its agencies) solely in the governor of the state, who would hold such land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the state and to organisations for residential, agricultural, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on Local Governments (27th March 1978) Commencement.”
The military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo enacted this Act. The law effectively transferred the ownership of land from the people to the government, specifically, the governor of a state. The implication of the act is that instead of revenues and royalties including oil incomes generated from land going to the people, the benefits are expropriated by the government, its officials and their cohorts. Analysts say the Act is responsible for the dichotomy in Niger Delta area. They argue that if the land had been in the hands of the people, the revenue accruing from oil would have been in the hands of the people. This, the analysts say, would have served their interests better than the current arrangement under which they are paid 13 percent derivation.
By conceding all lands to the state governors who assume ownership of lands within their states, the Act makes housing delivery in the country cumbersome. It also places impediments to process of land titling, assignment and foreclosure. With this Act, a governor’s consent is required for the acquisition of any piece of land. Analysts advise land reforms that will return the ownership of land to the people, as people are better users of the land than government. This will take care of unutilised government lands lying fallow across the country.
Peter Oluyede writing in the book, Modern Nigerian Land Law, said that “if the Land Use Decree is implemented in such a way as to serve the interest of the privileged, then our society must be prepared, in no distant future, for increased cases of armed robbery and the possible introduction of a western type of kidnapping demand for huge ransom.” As it stands, what Oluyede foretold in 1989 is already happening. The land Use Act 1978 seems to have created different problems. Some of the problems have been identified by different writers and legal practitioners.
In addition, land reform will take care of some legal tussles arising from mortgage, as seen in the case between Savannah Bank of Nigeria Ltd and Ammel O. Ajilo (S.C. 188/1987). Ajilo used his house as a collateral for the money he collected from Savannah Bank. Unfortunately, Ajilo refused to service his debt with Savannah Bank arguing that the governor, as the owner of the land on which the property was built, was unaware of their transaction and therefore his business with Savannah Bank was illegal.
But the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Savannah Bank citing that Ajilo had dubious intention when he transacted with the Bank. A land reform that makes the people the ownership of lands will save people from such litigation, and other prolonged title documents from the government.
It has equally been pointed out that the current land Act encourages violence. Since the lands of the country legally now belong to the government, anyone could illegally occupy any piece of land to commit evil while claiming he is occupying government land.
An example of the above is the Fulani herdsmen, who are known to have made such claims. “Whenever Fulani herdsmen take their cows to destroy people’s farms in any part of the country, one of the things they claim is that the land belongs to the government and they have rights to graze their cows in government lands”, says Nelson Oka, a Lagos-based security expert. This explains why Fulani herdsmen have not accepted in reality that they erred in occupying other people’s lands. The implication of this is that, inasmuch as the Constitution gives ownership of the land to government, and there are people who could reason like the Fulani herdsmen, the security of lives and property will continue to be compromised.
The insecurity in the land caused by the herdsmen leads to food insecurity in the country. A land reform that guarantees the security of peasant farmers in any part of the country will equally guarantee security of food for Nigerians.
On the issues of Certificate of Occupancy (CofO), experts say the present complex administrative charges and procedures, undue delays in the issuance of CofO should be reduced to the minimum in order to guarantee security of lands to their owners, especially to the rural dwellers and the poor.
The implication of this, in simple terms, bothers majorly on ownership rights. Anyone who acquires a land without a CofO cannot claim ownership of such land, but simply holds it on a lease. Such property could be seized by the government without any form of compensation because one does not technically have a freehold of such property. The power to seize such property rests within the Land Use Act.
Peter Adeniyi, a professor and chairman, Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reform (PTCLR), believes that the Systematic Land Titling and Registration (SLTR) would make land administration in Nigeria more productive.
“Someone with a well-titled land can easily get a loan from the bank to develop the land or to even buy shares. Without such titling you cannot go for any mortgage,” Adeniyi said. He noted that farmers in particular are at disadvantage completely because they don’t have the resources and they can only get the resources required by using their land. “But if they have title, that will enable them to take loan from the bank and expand their productions,’’ Adeniyi said.
Investors are also caught in the web. Whether local or foreign, investors who wish to invest in the country will equally prefer to buy lands with the proper government documents. Buying lands without such documents may end up in litigation which could drag for up to 10 years, thereby frustrating investment and potential economic prosperity of the area.
Adeniyi decries the process of getting CofO as not only cumbersome, but also expensive and centralised at the state capitals. This makes it too expensive and worrisome for people to acquire CofO, especially for the people who live in the countryside. Majority of land owners who desire to acquire the certificate either go through a lawyer or estate surveyor, which increases the price because of their service charges. According to Adeniyi, SLTR would take care of the shortcomings of acquiring CofO as it is being done at the moment, since SLTR is technologically based.
For speedy development to take place, especially in the real estate sector, experts have suggested the Act be reviewed or thrown out of the Constitution. Efforts by Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan administrations’ attempts to amend the Act were not successful, mainly because of the constitutional requirement for such amendment.
Some state governors have made efforts in their domain to adjust the local administration of the lands to suit their people. These include: Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo, Godwin Obaseki of Edo. These governors could have good intentions, but if the Land Use Act 1978 is not reviewed, their efforts will still be revolving around the Act.
In its ‘Doing Business 2019’ report, World Bank ranks Nigeria 184th on the ease of registering property, out of the 190 countries it considered. This is alarming and could easily scare away potential investors from the country. To get this broken part fixed, the next administration should look into the Land Use Act 1978 and fix its broken parts to pave way for the Nigeria’s economic prosperity.
JOSEPH MAURICE OGU
Tags: LAND USE ACT