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A periscope on reviewed Lagos land use charge law

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Lagos Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Mr. Adeniji Kazeem‎

What is happening to us? Where are our voices? This is not the Lagos I grew up and still live in. Lagos is a city with so much socio-political energy driven by the finest of our intellectual class since 1999. The raison d’être for the Land Use Charge Law at that material time was tenable then and tenable now without prejudice to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

At that time collection of rates dealing with tenements was vested in the Local Governments according to the constitution but unfortunately the local governments lacked the organogram and the expertise to assess and apply the right rates. Hence the Local governments in Lagos delegated their collection powers by a written agreement to the State who by that token became the Collection Agency for the Local Governments.
REVIEW REGIMES

The First Review
The Governor of Lagos State had said publicly with so much confidence that the rates were never ever reviewed since 2001. The Commissioner for    Information and Strategic Planning Lagos State was reported to have repeated the same narrative on Channels TV. Lies are wicked traits, they are always coming back to haunt and hunt the maker, no matter how beautiful and comforting the words used in making out the lies. It’s very shameful as a citizen of Nigeria and a Lagosian by association that Lagos State would justify ad naseam good intentions with lies by saying that the Land Use Charge has never been reviewed.

Who says the Land Use Charge should not be reviewed? It is only someone who does not love Lagos State that would insist that the rates are not reviewable. It is however not decent to justify the review on lies such as there existed some invincible provision in the Land Use Charge Law, which provided for a review every five years.

At inception meaning from 2001, the rates for properties in Lagos State under the Land Use Charge Law was between 0 per cent and 3.5 per cent and this rate was to remain in effect until further notice. See Section 5 and 24-(1) of the Land Use Charge Law.  It is interesting to say that the rates suggested by the Law was even subjected to a review by a very Special Committee chaired by a renown philanthropist, and an elder statesman per excellence in the person of Alhaji L.O. Okunnu (SAN). Of course you know that the then Governor of Lagos State was so passionate and still is about the people of the State that at all cost he wanted every property owner to be comfortable to pay the Land Use Charge Rates. The thrust of that Special Committee was therefore to suggest a downward review of the rates.

For example based on the communiqué of 2003 Commercial Properties assessed at 1.75 percent was reviewed downward to 0.375 percent, residential generating revenue from 0.65 percent to 3.75 percent, residential partly income generating from 0.65 percent to 0.125 percent whilst owner occupied non-income generating was reduced from 0.15 percent to 0.375 percent and Industrial from 0.50 percent to 0.125 percent respectively.

This was therefore the first review that was done as at February 24, 2003 by the Special Review Committee. The Special Review Committee was well and robustly constituted in terms of its membership. Apart from the Chairman of the said Special Committee, members included one Chief John A. Adeyemi (then President LCCI), Mr L.A.O. Osayemi (then Vice President M.A.N), Mr. Oshinowo (Director General, NECA) and representing the Government of Lagos State on that Special Committee were the then Hon. Commissioner for Finance Mr. Olawale Edun and Mr. Ade Ipaye who represented the office of the Attorney General at that time. The Committee did not only review the rates but also came out with a communiqué titled: “COMMUNIQUE OF THE MEETING OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON THE       REVIEW OF THE LAND USE CHARGE LAW HELD ON FEBRUARY 24,2003.”

We must commend the chairman of that Special committee, Alhaji L.O. Okunnu (SAN) who ensured that some serious undertakings were extracted against future reviews. Accordingly in Paragraph 4 of that   communiqué it was expressly stated as follows: “…The current valuations made under the Land Use Charge       Under Law No.11 of 2001 shall not be unreasonably increased in   future. All proposals for review shall be taken in conjunction with    Independent Registered Estate Surveyors and Valuers.”

Thereafter the Government of Lagos State came out with a public notice to reflect the views expressed in the communiqué. Paragraph five of that notice remains so touching and one cannot but reproduce it in this piece. It reads as follows: “… Government wishes to make it known that its major concern in this process is to establish a rate that would be bearable and fair to property owners and yet yield sufficient revenue to enable state and local Government authorities to discharge their obligations to the general public in a satisfactory manner.”

See the public notice Ministry of Information and Strategy signed   by the then Honourable Commissioner. See also the attached public notice.

Governor Tinubu at that time even agreed and allowed 75 percent discount of all the bills that had been served on property owners prior to the communiqué. It meant that properties that had been served in 2002 were allowed a discount representing 75 percent of their bill to reflect the downward reviewed rates. How humane could Asiwaju have been? Here was a Governor who felt more for his people than amassing revenues for the government.    He was a man for the people first before the Government, because he knew anyways and always that the people are themselves the government.

The Second Review
The second review was done under Governor Fashola (SAN) and very impressive of him, he followed through the tenor of paragraph 4 of the communiqué of February 24, 2003 by making sure that the reviews were not unreasonable. If there is any Governor in Lagos State that must be labelled the Governor of infrastructure, it must be Governor Fashola. He did a lot with minimal resources yet he was never tempted to burden the people by instantly considering a review of the land use charge rates as a means to an end. In fact he did not consider a review until 2012.

In 2012 the Lagos State Government under Governor Fashola did the second review of the land use charge rates. The review was so humane that people including Governor Ambode did not know that there was a review.    People did not know because the words of Alhaji Okunnu as reflected in the communiqué of February 24, 2003 were perhaps resonating in the minds of Governor Fashola at that time. Following the pattern of his predecessor, the Government of Fashola reviewed the rates of commercial properties from 0.375 to 0.394, residential revenue generating from 0.375 to 0.394, whilst residential partly income generating was reviewed from 0.125 to 0.132, owner occupied non income generating property from 0.0375 to 0.0394 and industrial premises from 0.125 to 0.132. See Lagos State Government Ministry of Finance Land Use Charge Office PUBLIC NOTICE on this.

The attraction that one can take away is that the review of any tax or levy must have a human face. The review done by Asiwaju through the special committee of Alhaji Okunnu was so angelic because only angels can review Statutory Rates downward as to make the rates bearable for the citizens.

The review done by Governor Fashola even though not angelic but one would not miss the points, if one says the review was so humane and very commensurate with the economy of that time.    Lagosians and Governor Ambode hardly notice any upward review perhaps because the review was reasonable. No doubt Governor Fashola bore constantly in mind Alhaji Okunnu’s paragraph four of the communiqué of the said special committee, which is to the effect that all future reviews must not be unreasonable.

Granted, Governor Ambode is a wonderful Governor with burning desires to turn Lagos to Las Vegas at all cost. Yes, we love Governor Ambode for that beautiful desires, but in doing so, he must constantly bear in mind that aged long maxim: suprema lois salus populi that is to say, the welfare of the people is the supreme law. What impact would this review have on Lagosians? What impact would this review have on business premises?

We respectfully urge him to have a second thought about this astronomical review of the Land Use Charge Rates under the amended land use law bearing in mind the communiqué of 2003. The Governor must look for that communiqué and read it thoroughly and I am very sure some people might have hidden these facts from the Governor. People who want the Governor to fail at all cost so that 2019 would not be a success.

As       responsible citizens, the citizens that you love, we also owe you a sacred duty, which duty is to tell you the truth as against praise chanters.

We have seen the budget, and there is so much work to be done in Lagos but we cannot do everything all at once. What you have in the infrastructural renewing is the foundation laid by Asiwaju and built by Fashola. It therefore means that you should do your good piece one at a time without having to increase the burden of your citizens, especially when the burden is premised on some lies about the history of the review of the law. There are many others coming after Governor Ambode and will continue from wherever he stops.

It is not true to say that there has never been a review of the land use charge rates. There have been two reviews done on two occasions in the most godly and reasonable way.

It is not true to say that the land use charge law has a provision for a review every five years. There is no such provision in the land use charge law. I however know that if Ambode were apprised of these previous reviews, he would not have said that the land use charge rates have never been reviewed.

Who do we hold responsible for this stately faus paux? The civil servants are to be held responsible because they cannot claim that they are oblivion of those two earlier reviews that were not only made but also    published as Public Notices.  And on the ‘every five year review’ provision in the land use charge law, the governor himself knows who to hold responsible.

I agree with him that there may be serious need for a    review. But the review must be cultivated using the communiqué of Alhaji L.O. Okunnu’s special committee as the tabula rasa.

Finally we must not forget that paying our taxes and statutory levies are our constitutional responsibilities. If we fail to pay, there may be penalties. Without us paying our taxes as rightfully assessed, there is no way the government would be able to deliver on promises.

If you are served with notices do not refuse to pay. If you have any objection, the law is that you are to pay the half of your assessment whilst you appeal. The chances are always high that your appeal may very well succeed.
Julius is a Lagos—based lawyer.


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