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Land Reforms and the Future of the Land Use Act in Nigeria

Human society the world over is heavily dependent on land and its resources. It is not an overstatement to say that without land there would be no human existence. In this article we take a critical look at land reforms and the future of Land use act in Nigeria.

Man gets items very essential for his survival such as food, fuel, clothing, shelter, medication and others from land. Every person requires land for his support, preservation and self-actualization within the general ideals of the society.

Land is the foundation of shelter, food and employment. Man lives on land during his life and upon his demise, his remains are kept in it permanently. Even where the remains are cremated, the ashes eventually settle on land. It is therefore crucial to the existence of the individual and the society. It is inseparable from the concept of the society. Man has been aptly described as a land animal.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the life of man and that of the society revolve around land and its resources. Thus, it is apposite that man’s fulfillment of his potentials in life depends largely on his relationship with land.

Global recognition of the relevance of land to the life of man can be gleaned from the proceedings at the United Nations Conference on Human Settlement (Habitat II) 1996 where many countries committed themselves to promoting optimal use of productive land in urban and rural areas and protecting fragile ecosystems and environmentally vulnerable areas from the negative impacts of human settlements, inter alia, through developing and supporting the implementation of improved land management practices that deal comprehensively with potentially competing land requirements for agriculture, industry, transport, urban development, green space, protected areas and other vital needs.

It is this importance of land to man and the society that influenced the state intrusion into property legislation in order to ensure adequate and efficient land management technique for the benefits of the greatest number of the members of the society.

Virtually every form of investment or development by government and private entities is dependent upon land in one way or another. It is now generally accepted that poor land administration can impede economic development and social welfare.

Therefore, no nation can fold its arms and allow its land use management to fall in disarray as “no nation handles the issue of land management within its borders with levity”.

It is this nexus between land and economic prosperity of an individual and a nation that probably informed the Constitutional provision respecting the inviolability of private property rights in various jurisdictions around the world.

In Nigeria, the provision of section 43 of the Constitution stipulates that no right or interest in movable or immovable property shall be compulsorily acquired anywhere in Nigeria without the payment of adequate compensation.

Thus while the Constitution recognizes the importance of land to personal economic growth by preserving individual property rights; it also recognizes the eminent domain status of the state to take private property upon the payment of adequate compensation to the victim.

It is therefore imperative that the state should endeavour to strike an equitable balance between private property rights and state rights to compulsorily acquire private lands for public good. This balancing posture is to ensure that land, the scarce and limited resources of the nation is put to an optimal judicious use.

The Land Use Act, 1978 was enacted to address this importance of land to mankind and therefore provide viable management options to land administration in Nigeria.

With the present precarious situation in land administration in Nigeria, the Government needs to take a stand and take steps to review the current legal regime.

In particular, the government could administratively introduce a scheme whereby it makes the possession of a certificate of occupancy over land the only recognized legal instrument evidencing title to land in Nigeria.

This is with a view to introducing a uniform tenurial system of land ownership throughout the country. This will do away with the current uncertainty as to the duration of the interest of the deemed grantee vis a vis that of an express grant.

Such a policy may also compel owners of unregistered land to come forward to take the Certificate of Occupancy. This way every landowner will have certainty of duration of his interest.

On the other hand, the government could liberalize the process and procedure for the procurement and issuance of certificate of occupancy so as to encourage deemed grantee to apply for the certificate, thereby making their tenure certain.

This process will not only bring more people into paying property taxes in form of land charges and ground rents, thus increasing the source of funds into state’s purse, but will also bring sanity and certainty into the property market.

The process would also engender the growth of a system of a uniform land tenure for all land holding interest throughout the length and breadth of the country. The process will further improve the land instrument registration system in the country, as most land will be registered.

Arguably, this will foster a predictable and coherent land market economics and growth in the country.

Above all, given the multitude of criticism and adverse comments on the imports and effects of the Land Use Act on the individual property rights, the land economic and management, commercial activities and social harmony within the country, it is ripe time for a total and comprehensive review and amendment of the Act.

This position is underscored because of the crucial position of land in the social, cultural, economic and political life of an individual in particular and the nation in general.

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