How Land Use Act impedes socio-economic development

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Akinpelu Dada

Promulgated to make land available for development, the Land Use Act has been blamed for a plethora of problems of land acquisition and management. A legal icon, Chief Afe Babalola, joined the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors in canvassing the urgent amendment of some of its provisions. AKINPELU DADA reports

Though the Land Use Act, 1978 is necessary for regulating the acquisition and use of land because of the great importance of land in socio-economic development, it has created more problems than it seeks to solve in its current form, and, therefore, there is an urgent need to amend some of its provisions.

To do this successfully, however, the Act must be stripped of its special status, which requires rigid constitutional procedure for amendment as no meaningful amendment can be done under the present scenario.

These were the submissions of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and legal icon, Chief Afe Babablola, who was the guest speaker at the 5th Annual Surveyor Adekunle Kukoyi Memorial Lecture, which held in Lagos on Wednesday.

The lecture was organised by the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors, Lagos State Branch, in honour of a former president of the institution, Mr. Adekunle Kukoyi, who died on January 10, 2002, two weeks to his 73rd birthday.

Babalola, who was represented at the occasion by a lawyer in his chamber, Mr. Lucas Daramola, said in his introductory remarks, “I don’t want to be understood as condemning the Land Use Act, 1978 in its entirety. Nobody can deny the fact that there is a need for a law regulating the acquisition and use of land because of the great importance of land in the socio-economic development of any country.

“I have no doubt in my mind that the Land Use Act was conceived with noble objectives, but the implementation of the law over the years has created more problems and iniquities in land administration in this country than the problems it was designed to address.

“The problems created by the implementation of the Act are largely due to the fact that some of the provisions of the Act were based on the wrong assumptions that the interest of the people in relation to land in this country are the same and that the governor as a trustee will always act in the best interest of the people all the time.”

According to him, some aspects of the law have hampered the socio-economic development of the country and make land inaccessible to the people, thereby defeating its main objective of making land for development available to all.

Babalola said that it was clear from its provisions that the Act altered existing land laws, particularly in Southern Nigeria in three critical ways; by firstly removing families and chiefs as trustees of land and replacing them with the state governor.

Secondly, he noted, individual interest in land had been reduced to a mere right of occupancy; while land in rural areas were placed under the control of the local governments; with individuals no longer enjoying right of ownership over land.

On Section 1 of the LUA, which vests in the governor the ownership of land in each state to be held in trust for the people, the legal icon described as anomalous the situation whereby the governor/trustee acted as absolute owner and the beneficiary was left at the mercy of the trustee.

He said, “It is wrong to vest the entire land in a state in the governor. As far as I am concerned, the interest of the people will be more protected if they are allowed to hold free simple interest in land subject to the right of the government to acquire any land for public purpose upon payment of appropriate compensation to the owner.

“The idea of the governor holding land in trust for the people is totally misconceived as it has not adequately benefited the people, especially the land owning families and communities.

“In fact, the agitation in the Niger Delta is fuelled largely by the fact that people are dispossessed of their land without payment of appropriate compensation. Rather than land being readily available to the people, the implementation of the Land Use Act has created a new landowning class apart from the traditional land owners.”

Babalola also faulted Sections 21 and 22 of the Act, which rendered as unlawful granting of right of occupancy without the consent of the governor, noting that the provision had been used to frustrate many transactions in land.

He said that many state governors had converted the consent provision to cash cows through the imposition of several levies on consent applications, while a lot of administrative bottlenecks had been created in the procedure for obtaining consent; all of which had resulted in undue delays in completing land transactions and payment of hefty sums.

According to him, “In fact, in some states, the valuation of the land is done by government officials who usually ignore the consideration in the Deed of Assignment and impose their own valuation. Even Deeds of Gift are not exempted from payment of consent fees.

“If the intention of the consent provision is to ensure that all transactions in land comply with the provisions of the Act, its operations in practice have defeated the objective of making land readily available by adding enormously to the cost of land transactions.

“Many business people could not use their landed property to obtain facilities because all mortgage transactions require consent, which invariably adds to the cost of doing business in Nigeria.”

By virtue of Section 28 of the Act, Babalola said that the governor had the right to revoke a right of occupancy for overriding public interest or for a breach of any of the provisions of the Certificate-of-Occupancy, but that a lot of injustice had been perpetrated under the provision for overriding public interest.

Although the Act clearly defined what constituted overriding public interest, Babalola said that government officials had oftentimes substituted their personal interest for that of the public in several cases of acquisition.

On the worth of the Certificate-of-Occupancy, he noted that Section 9 of the Act empowered the governor to issue the document to evidence right of occupancy upon payment of prescribed fee.

However, he said that unlike the Deed of Conveyance, which is a title to land, the C-of-O issued under the Act did not confer any title as it was a mere evidence of it; noting that though it was a mere evidence of title, failure to pay for it was one of the grounds upon which the governor could revoke the right of occupancy.

He said, “One of the problems associated with the C-of-O is that it does not transfer any interest in land. In the case of Ogunleye vs Oni, it was held by the Supreme Court that a Certificate-of-Occupancy issued pursuant to the Land Use Act, 1978 only gives the right to use and occupy land. It neither confers nor is it necessarily an evidence of title.”

Babalola lamented that Section 315 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, had entrenched the LUA in the Constitution, thereby making it extremely difficult to amend, as it would require the approval of two-third of the members of the two houses of the National Assembly and two-thirds of state Houses of Assembly to effect any amendment.

He, therefore, recommended that while it might not be realistic to canvass the total abrogation of the LUA because of the problems such an action might cause on the existing interests in land, there was a need to remove the Act from the Constitution so that it could be amended like any other law or enactment of the National Assembly.

The provision of Section 1 of the Act, which made governors trustees of all lands in the states and the consent provision, according to him, should be expunged from the Act, while compensation for land acquired for public purposes should be based on market value.

He also canvassed that the administrative procedure for the acquisition and registration of title to land should be simplified so that title could be registered within seven days.

In his welcome address, the Chairman, Lagos Branch, NIS, Prince Afolabi Solesi, said that the institution was mindful of the very rich heritage that the late Kukoyi represented, therefore, it had put in place new guidelines to entrench ethical practice that would ensure satisfaction of clients by enabling surveyors to offer services of the highest quality.


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