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The land use decree, 40 years on!

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On the 29th of March 2018 the Land Use Decree known as Decree 6 of 1978 promulgated by the General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime was 40 years. Barely a year later, the decree was made part of the Nigerian constitution before the hand over to the civilian Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and therefore became an Act. As a student of the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), I wrote an article on the decree which was published by the Nigerian Tribune on May 12 and 13, 1978. I had expressed my reservations on the new law then, pointing out several areas of concern. In subsequent articles thereafter I continued to call for a review of the law in order to correct some areas of concern. On April 27, 1998, I wrote a particular article in The Guardian where I highlighted 10 areas that needed examination and review.

Today, 40 years after no part of the law has ever been reviewed because of the intricacies involved in constitutional amendment! Calls for the removal of the Act from the constitution have all fallen on deaf ears! For the umpteenth time, I am again drawing the attention of the National Assembly (NASS) to this law which affects the generality of Nigerians more than the order of election, which had become a matter of do or die for some of our “Honourable” members of recent.

Imagine a law made 40 years ago which vested all lands in the state in the “military governor” of the state! There is the need to amend this sentence to simply read “governor” since we are no longer under a military junta. I wonder why nobody has gone to court to challenge any of the civilian governors for operating under a law that allows only military governors to operate it.

The law vested all land in any state in the Military Governor of the state without giving the Federal Government power to acquire land in the states. Before the law, the power of “eminent domain” existed for the Federal Government to invoke if it needed to acquire land in any part of the Federation for overriding public purposes. Under the Land Use Act, the Federal Government must go and beg the states for land in order to do anything in the state no matter how important it is to National affair. I think the Federal Government should have an unfettered access to land in any part of the Federation for public uses. The law only allows a person to own a maximum of half a hectare of undeveloped land at any particular time. This is not good for estate developers who need several hectares to develop houses which they sell to the public. All allocations that have been done to developers or industrialist which exceed half a hectare is a violation of the law. There is therefore the need to distinguish between individuals and corporate bodies who should be allowed to acquire large parcels of land for industrial or estate development.

The law had made provisions for the establishment of land use and allocation committees for the purposes of advising the governors on the management and allocation of land in their states. As at today, I am not aware that any state has such a committee. This has given room to the Governor being the sole allocator of land who may give land to only those whose faces he likes! This is not the intention of the law. It does not seek to create a monopoly of the authority to allocate land. The law should therefore be amended to make it compulsory for the state governors to always have a Land Use and Allocation Committee in place for the allocation of land to be valid. This will curb the abuses we have witnessed all over the country in the way state land is being distributed to family members and cronies of the governors only. The clause on governor’s consent to all subsequent transactions need to be revisited as it has become a cog in the wheel of progress in the process of transfer of interest in land in some states.

Some states have turned it into a money making exercise by demanding a very high percentage of the value of the land as consent fees. It used to be 15% in Lagos State but has been reduced now to 3% which to me is still too high! Besides the monetary payment, the process of obtaining this “almighty” consent can be very tortuous and time consuming. The clause should be expunged or set a procedure which will be less cumbersome and expensive. The aspect that deals with compensation for land whose certificate of occupancy (C of O) has been revoked is the most unfair and oppressive of the whole law; (Section 29-33). For example, it limits compensation to only improvements on the land and ground rent paid in the year of acquisition! This means that if you buy a piece of land in, say Lekki phase 1 today for hundred million Naira and while you are perfecting your title (going through the complex route of obtaining governors consent and building approval), the land is acquired for public purposes, you will be entitled to compensation for only the ground rent paid in the year of acquisition. You will not be compensated for the purchase price which you paid at all!

It goes further to say that if you are provided an alternative to your acquired property and the value of the alternative is higher than the value of your property, you shall be made to pay the difference. But if it is lower, you will not be entitled to the difference! The principle of compensation is to put you in the same position as you were before your property was acquired. Above cannot do that. There is therefore the need to revisit this section and make it more equitable and fair to all concerned as the Rotarians say! In addition, with some states such as Lagos state, now using a Land Use Charge in place of Ground rent, does it then mean that such a person whose land has been acquired is not entitled to any compensation whatsoever, since ground rent no longer exists?!

Some part of the Land Use Act, especially the area of compensation, is in conflict with the constitution. The 1979 constitution has provided that “no person’s property shall be acquired without adequate compensation”. Section 29 – 33 of the Land Use Act does not make provision for adequate provision, thereby creating a conflict. Since the Land Use Act has been made part of the same constitution, this conflict must be removed. There has also been a little controversy over the real status of a C of O! Is it a title to land or amere evidence of occupation of the land as the name suggests? Sometimes ago, a minister of the federal Capital Territory (FCT) woke up one day and cancelled or revoked all C of Os on all lands in the FCT because some were defective or obtained fraudulently! All allottees were then directed to recertify their documents and get another C of O. If the C of Os were title like the previous land certificate or deed of conveyance, it would not have been possible to cancel them by such a mere directive.

Since the promulgation of the decree, banks and other financial institutions have not been accepting bare land (no matter the size and value) as collateral for loans and advances, despite the high price paid to purchase same. This is as a result of the compensation clause which has nothing for the owner of bare land if C of O is revoked! These has been a source of serious problem for those who have land and will like to use it as collateral for loans either to develop the land or for other businesses. The value of the land can be greater than the value of the development on the land in most high end locations. It is therefore not right to ignore the value of the land and pay compensations only on the land. As private citizens, this is one more way that the Land Use Act is unfavourable towards the housing development in the country.

The Land Use Decree has been operated for 40 years and we have all seen the areas that need amendment in other to reduce the inconveniences and illegalities contained therein. The National Assembly must therefore take a serious look at the law and either set in motion the machinery to carry out a review or remove the law from the constitution to make it amenable to review as and when the need arises.
Akomolede wrote in from Lagos.


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