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New land use charge legally, economically unfair, says NBA

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Adeshina Ogunlana

Chairman of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Adesina Ogunlana, in this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, explains why the NBA is against the 2018 Lagos State Land Use Law.

Why is the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) against the new Lagos Land Use Charge Law?

We are against it for two fundamental reasons- that is jurisprudential and economic reasons. When you want to make a legislation, you consult widely.

That something as radical as that was planned and there was no consultation is unacceptable. Forget what officials of government are now saying that the legislation passed through the first and second readings.

I don’t want to use harsh words on government functionaries, but for us, the legislation remains a secret document. Democracy and sovereignty belongs to the people.

All the so-called rulers, whether, the governors or the president are all subject to the people, and it is the people that are their masters … no governor gets into office except he is put there by the people and so, there has to be prior consultations.

Legally, the state government has no power to do what it did because the truth is that the land use charge rate is in the domain of the local governments.

I have seen some attempted legal wizardry at taking these powers and ascribing it to the state commissioner for finance. It is not right, and it is not true because the constitution supersedes all other enactments, and puts all land use charge rates on the local governments, and not on the state.

The funny attempt at legislation ascribing the assessment and the collection to the state government and the signed agreement between local government that they are delegating their powers to the state government is a funny thing. It is not going to work.

Finally, economically, the state government’s statement is being vague with the mathematics and figures it is bandying. We have a concrete example of somebody who paid N135, 000 last year, and received a N2m bill this year. How do you justify that?

But the government is saying these figures in the public domains are speculative.

That is not true. Do you know how many arrears you will accumulate in order N135, 000 to become N2m? Does it means that the person has not been paying for the past 15 years. See, government is just looking for excuses.

The truth is that there may be some instances, where the figures can be speculative, but the fact is that, if the government says it is a responsible government, why has it not been collecting its money?

How can you have all the apparatus of state and you are so lackadaisical? As far as I am concerned, this is a lame excuse for them to just save their faces. Akinwumni Ambode as a governor of Lagos State is taking our goodwill for granted.

But your branch appears not to be united in fighting this issue?

You were not at the press conference, which we gave. Before the conference, we had our monthly meeting, and it was at the monthly meeting that the whole house arrived at the decision to protest. If we had any dissenting voice, it was only one person.

The person was not even dissenting, but was only talking about modalities, but the unanimity of opposition to this new land use charge unanimous. There are two things that have a bandwagon effect in Nigeria, these two things are oil and accommodation.

Once any of these two escalates, food prices, transport and other services will be affected. So we are affected, and I am talking about the most consistent, activist branch of the NBA in the country.

What amicable solution would you be advocating?

Is this not an amicable solution? Are we fighting? We have the right to say no, and it is our constitutional right, our right of expression.

So, we are not fighting, but are only saying, our servant, Akinwumi Ambode, this is not what we sent you to do. We are not happy about what you are doing, and we put you there because all of us cannot be governors at the same time.

That is why I said the important thing for us is the jurisprudence of understanding the philosophy of democracy. Once you are a democrat, your government must be responsive to the people because sovereignty belongs not to the parliament, not the executive, not even the judiciary, but to the people.

Will the association likely offer free legal advice to property owners who may need same?

The NBA is interested in the protection of fundamental human rights. Anybody that has been billed outrageously and irresponsibly should come to the association and see what we can do, rather than sit in the comfort of their homes and expect some foot soldiers to bake the bread for them.

Eternal vigilance is the price you pay for democracy because democracy is watered by constantly being at the neck of those at the helm of affairs. If you succumb to the rule of power, then you know that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

How about taking advantage of government’s dialogue window to reach a compromise?

This is lawyers’ association and we will not run away from dialogue. So, if Governor Ambode will want to sit down with us, it is okay. We are not averse to dialogue with the governor.

What do you make of the 50 per cent reduction announced for commercial buildings and 25 per cent for residential buildings?

We are not comfortable with it, and it is not acceptable to us.

Why are you not comfortable with it?

The reason is both economic and political. The political is that you cannot amend a legislation by mere proclamation. This people still have the mindset of a military junta. How can you do legislation by words of mouth? In other words, you repeal a law and bring in an amendment verbally.

It is not something that can be rushed that way. While you are amending it, you can only announce that while we are amending to what we feel the people want, we will not make demands on people.

That is the democratic way to go. That is our main problem with them and they don’t understand democracy. We are not in a military regime, where you will rule by decree, appoint people by mouth and remove them from office by mouth.

The second reason is that when they said 50 per cent reduction just like that, the challenge is that they created the 100 per cent arbitrarily. So, it could be that all what they are actually doing is to buy one and take two.

So, when they said they are now reducing it, they have not actually reduced anything. They are only deceiving people because their cost price is actually high. What we are saying is that until we negotiate, we will not accept it.

How do they come with the figures they came with in the first instance? Which house have they assessed properly? How can you assess a house without inspecting it? Which house did they inspect?

So, my challenge is that when you say this house is worth N350m and has been assessed for the owner to pay N70, 000, how did you come to N350m charge in the first instance? There is no good ground to trust the government that has tried to rape people in broad daylight. So, in the evening, you now want to suddenly become a gentle man. We cannot trust the government.

As far as taxes and laws are concerned, what approaches would you recommend to government to adopt?

Democratic governance is not difficult if you are pro-people. This is because you would listen to the people you are leading. Most times, politicians think that once they assume office as governors or presidents they have become wiser than everybody combined.

That is why they go ahead to say, ‘this is how I want it,’ ‘this is where I want it,’ and ‘this is how I want you to do it.’ This is what brings about conflict, but when you know that you are a servant, a servant can only persuade his master and seek for his understanding.

In governance, the people are the masters. As a governor, you have to educate your people to see the benefits of your intentions, and persuade them to see your reforms in the right light.


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