Still on legal angle of boundaries and titles – Part 2
As an advocate of restructuring, I am a little reluctant to rejoice over the decision and it is gratifying that the Lagos State Government has filed an appeal against the said judgment. However, one may not totally fault the judgment when it is realised that section 5 of the Survey Law of Lagos State has been couched in very absolute terms. The discretion granted to the Surveyor-General of Lagos State is rather too wide. This is because the power to grant consent also includes the power to refuse to grant consent. The law should have stated the criteria for granting or refusing consent and thereafter create opportunities for those who may be aggrieved with the decision of the Surveyor-General to seek redress either administratively or judicially.
And considering that the grant of consent has to do with State Government land, what this invariably means is that even surveyors acting on behalf or for the Federal Government can be faced with the embarrassing situation of refusal to grant consent. The other issue is the criminalization of non-compliance with section 5 of the Survey Law. In our clime where political persecution is prevalent, one can best imagine what would be the fate of political opponents who have one reason or the other to disagree with the government in power. In this particular case, some surveyors were already designated as those with exclusive rights to enter upon a particular land to the detriment of other surveyors who were not so lucky to be designated as such.
While we await the decision of the superior courts on the legal issues to be canvassed before them, it is necessary to commend the courage of the surveyors that filed the court case. The true practice of democracy requires that citizens must be conscious of their rights and obligations and be ready to defend, assert, protect and perform them. Our leaders should be held accountable to explain the crux of their actions and policies to the people. The joy of true federalism in this case is that laws made by the state government can be challenged in courts different from those under the control and influence of the state.
In this case, the Federal High Court held that the Surveyor-General of Lagos State lacks the power to deny the plaintiffs or any registered surveyor consent to conduct survey on any parcel of land in Lagos State, whether such land is owned by the Lagos State Government, corporate bodies or private individuals. It was also the decision of the court that the Surveyor-General of Lagos State lacked the power to reject copies of survey plans submitted to him by the plaintiffs and every other registered surveyor in Nigeria for lodgement, adding that he has no power to demand and/or insist on counter-signing a survey plan prepared by a registered surveyor.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I have come to the conclusion of this lecture. I have obviously painted a rather rough picture of the topic considering the short time availed to me by the organisers of this wonderful programme. I would have loved to offer more insight on this but time offers no man extra hours for we all have 24 hours in a day. Remember, to be successful is not enough, you must be exceptionally and distinctively successful.
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).