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Nigeria’s Land Use Act And The Common Man

Since the enactment of  Nigeria’s Land Use Act in 1978, there have been many outcries concerning it. The controversy surrounding the Act is as heated as the corruption war of the Buhari administration. This article views the gains and the loss of Nigeria’s Land Use Act and how it affects the average Nigerian.

Nigeria the pearl of the black world with a population that seats atop the black race is undoubtedly richly endowed with natural resources, mineral, agricultural and marine. For donkey years Crude Oil has accounted for a huge chunk of the country’s total earnings.

Given the wider definition of land to include all natural resources, Nigeria can ably finance all its development needs from taxes based on land rather than other taxes.

From time immemorial there have been complaints concerning Nigeria’s Land Use Act which was promulgated in 1978. The flaws of the Land use act can be attributed to the lackadaisical approach of our leaders towards the dissemination of the act which plays out in their lack of political will to implement it. Some persons even fault some sections of the act, noting various lapses. Little wonder there have been calls to either abolish, amend and review the act.

Section One of the Nigeria’s land use act states:

“Subject to the provisions of this Act, all lands comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are vested in the Governor of the state and all such lands shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provision of the Act.” 

What this act means is that rather than own land in perpetuity, the citizen is granted a right of use.

In relation to the aforementioned, the issue of getting government consent for a land is one of the many bottlenecks associated with the land use act. Albeit amending the land use act would mean amending the whole constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.

According to Barrister Kehinde Daoda;

“Nigeria’s Land Use Act needs to be severed from the Constitution. This is because, any amendments to be made to the Land Use Act would be tantamount to amending the Constitution. The cumbersome process laid down by the Constitution for making amendments to its provisions is a major challenge to the amendment of the Land Use Act to bring it in conformity with modern realities.”

What Are The Weaknesses Of Nigeria’s Land Use Act?

The lack of political will on the part of the leaders to implement the Land Use Act, rather than ensure a common heritage to land as indicated in its objectives, has led to the confusion and land distribution distortions being experienced today.

Because the law was made to take effect from the date it was enacted, all those who laid claim to perpetual ownership of lands prior to the 1978 date of the enactment of the law were free to continue to hold onto them unquestionably under the customary land tenure system even in urban center and cities.

It is ironic that even those who were instrumental to the enactment of the Land Use Act do not appear to appreciate the aims of the land law to establish a common heritage to land so everyone could have access to land at an affordable price. Many have condemned the law as being an oppressive instrument meant to edge out the average Nigerian and community in socio-economic terms.

On paper individuals own land on leasehold, but in reality the landlords who form the elite of the society do not see their lands as being on leaseholds. Many have held on to their family lands for more than a century without any government intervention.

What Are The Threats?

Because undeveloped lands are never taxed, land speculators have cashed in on this seeming lapse by holding down vast lands out of use until such a time as it would be very profitable to sell on the market; a practice that hampers development in diverse ways.

Those involved in this evil act of land speculation in most cases are top government officials who with ill-gotten wealth can afford to buy large hectares of land that they keep out of use. Since they are those in authority that are able to effect changes in laws, it is unlikely that they would support any form of legislation that would change the status quo in terms of land distribution.

The leaders often exploit the loopholes and weaknesses in the land laws to allocate specific choice lands to themselves and their political cronies at the expense of the common man.

Ruling family members in communities(popularly called omoniles) who control large traditional lands engage in land profiteering. They also create undue conflicts that result in costly land litigations and, in many cases, physical clashes leading to deaths and sacking of villages. These people sell lands to more than one buyer resulting in a deadly clash of interests, claims and counterclaims. Land cases in the law courts take years to be decided. This is because a dissatisfied litigant can appeal an unfavourable ruling first to the High Court, then to the Appeal Court and finally to the Supreme Court.

Legal fees are often very expensive and the aggrieved parties must foot such bills themselves or risk losing the case to the richer opponent while the sellers of the land who created the problem in the first place remain on the sidelines content to play the part of court witness.

Often, cases of such multiple land sales occur when certain members of a family who own land go behind others, without a family consensus, sell the land to interested buyers.

Recognizing such social tendencies with regard to family/native lands, deeds of assignments on lands must be signed by more than one family member and in the presence of several witnesses before the government accepts to give a right of ownership to the buyer.

Resolution

The main bulk of public revenue for Nigeria comes from taxes and royalties from land and its resources, which if properly and transparently managed, ought to have translated into vastly improved living standard for all Nigerians.
The government should summon enough political will to abolish perpetual land ownership structure by holding land in trust for the community. This way access to land by everyone becomes guaranteed and not just for a privileged few who hold all to ransom.

To really do this, the government must reduce drastically the time it takes to get approval and be granted land by the government. For now getting a certificate of occupancy from the governor of a state who is authorised to hold land in trust for the people is like passing through the eye of the needle. This way vast lands that are held down by feudal landlords will be freed up for productive use.

 

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