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‘Poor land management denying  FG, states huge revenue’

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Professor Peter Olufemi Adeniyi is the chairman of the Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reform (PTCLR) inaugurated by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009 as a forerunner to the National Land Commission.

In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, he spoke on the controverisal Land Use Act, the dangers in retaining the 40 -year-old legislation in the constitution, dwindling fortunes of surveying in Nigeria and the need to accord the profession its pride of place to guarantee development among other issues.

The Land Use Act has been criticized by professionals in the built environment for fuelling underdevelopment in the country. Recently, surveyors also came hard on the Act saying it is not favouring the profession in Nigeria. Do you subscribe to the notion that?
Well to some extent. When the law said you should set up Land Use Allocation Committee and specified members of that committee, one will have expected that surveyors would have been part of them but surveyors were not there. There is no way you will make such a law that requires special and locational information that you will not put a surveyor there. In any case, there is no way, you will plan a place once the demand from you is on survey plan, you need a surveyor to come and do it. So to the extent that a committee that is in charge of land use allocation omitted the land surveyor, it is not good. So to that extent, yes, of course the land use act does not really favour most people and in fact it is already outdated.

What is your committee doing about it?
We are working on it. You know when you don’t have regulations anybody can continue to do whatever they like. The land use act said the council of state should make regulations that will guide the implementations of that law. That law is 40 years old and the council of state has not made any regulation and so everybody is doing whatever they want to do.

A typical example is Lagos. The land use act assigned specific jobs to local government areas that they should manage the local areas but in Lagos it is taken over by the governor by saying that the whole of Lagos is urban. Of course, we know that the whole Lagos is not urban. The fact that there is no regulation and then the implication of Section 3 of the law, that says the country is divided arbitrarily into urban and rural , and that the council of state shall specify the criteria to be used in doing so. But up till today, it has not done it. You know it is true of anything that if people who are to guide, if they are not guiding, then the people will continue to do what they think that is right in their own judgment.

Are you saying that non-implementation of land use law or the obnoxious part of that law is responsible for the hopelessness among the professionals or people?
Not that alone. It is not the land use act alone that is leading to hopelessness. There are a lot of things involved. But the land use act, the way it is couched was a reprieve for the military leaders at that time. By saying that the whole land in Nigeria particularly in any state is vested in the governor in respect of the people. What happened at that time was that the military would not want to go to any civilian to say, I want that land, they just want the authority to take it. But now that we have a civilian government, why should we keep it that way and yet you will still see posters saying, this land belongs to this family, trespassers will be prosecuted. So you can see the confusion created by that particular law. Then at the same time, not being able to give certificate to individuals who own lands is a big problem. In fact that has pauperize the people. Because, if you donít have certificates over your land, you cannot use that land as collateral. This is number one. You cannot borrow any money to expand your business; it devalues the property because you donít have it. That is what is happening now, though they are saying Lagos is the best in Nigeria but you can see a lot of buildings in the city that are yet to be titled. Government is losing revenue. In fact one of the problems that is facing the state is poor management of the land because people would have been generating a lot of revenue from using their land. If you empower somebody, that person empowered would be able to pay tax, able to do other things and at the same time, government would be able to raise sufficient money to prosecute the infrastructural needs. So it works hand in hand.

Even at the level of obtaining documents for your land, you still find it difficult to use it as a collateral in most of our mortgage institutions in Nigeria. The mortgage system does not seem to favour anybody to take his property as collateral; because there is no mortgage institution in the country that is sub-double digit, what is the way out?
Of course, we know that government is trying to work on reducing the tax you pay when you take a mortgage but it is a multiple problem we have, if you donít have title on your land, you cannot even go for mortgage. It is a condition for you and getting that certificate is terribly expensive. It is too expensive for majority of Nigerians and that is where the government needs to be talked to but you know in Nigeria, things will be happening and we remained unconcerned. If it does not concern you immediately, you don’t take a step. We need to take a step because Section 43(2) of the law says, it is the governor that should specify the rates to pay for such things, you see the governors, they look at the few people that they can get and raise the rate in order to increase their revenues where as instead of increasing the rate for only 1000 people you can bring the rate down for let say a million or two million and that would be predictable on what you can be collecting every year. But they don’t see it that way and again we donít have shared value in this country. The Governor just comes in and he wants money and so it takes whatever. If we have shared value or if we love our people, we will make regulations that will make things easy for them.

In what ways can we change this scenario?
Well, attempts have ben made in the past. I wish Yaradua were alive today; he tried when he was there. He pointed about 14 sections of the law that are not working for the people but of course he died. Since that time, efforts have been made even in the National Assembly. You know when you want the change in the law; it has to go through legislation because they put the law in the constitution. We are enslaved to our own law. I have never seen a country where the citizens are slaves to their own laws. You made the law, the law is not working, you said it is in the constitution but when you take it in, the governors will work on the legislature, they almost bring all those people there and because they are enjoying it and so when it is amended you have to send the amended law to the states, once it gets to the states, they bring it down. So it becomes very difficult. Unless Nigerians come together to really fight it because the law is not working for us. It is not working for anybody. It is not working for government but stupidly; they thought it is the best thing that would happen to them.

The use of technology among professionals in the built environment seems to be low. In what ways can surveyors being at the apex in the chain change the situation?
That is one of the reasons why the Nigeria Institution of Surveyors wants to have a talk on contemporary Geospatial technology. We need a lot of works to do in terms of technology. Technology is changing so fast and we are slow in catching on. Will you believe that there is no national policy on surveying and mapping. We only have survey Coordination Act, which is outdated by now but we have been trying to do that. We want a national geospatial data infrastructure but since 2003, they have been working on it. They passed the law in 2010 but up till now nothing has happened. So this just left the society to be doing whatsoever they want to do. We are yet to get government that really understands the critical role of surveying. The structure of surveying in the country now does not allow the advancement of the field. The structure is too bulky. If you compare it with South Africa, we know what I am talking about.


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