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Land for all

By Morenike Taire
A COUPLE of weeks back, a London based Dubai estate agent was trying to persuade me to put money to a piece of land. There was no doubting the fact that it was cheap, relative to what obtains here at home in, let’s face it, less wholesome surroundings and living circumstances.

He told me of how land in his part of the world had increased in value 1000 per cent over the last 20 years, while futures and stocks had crashed, or at best become uncertain. It is the best investment I could be making in these tough times, he assured me. He was, after all, a seasoned salesman who needed to expand his horizons. The conventional notion, whatever you think, is that Nigeria is awash with petro-dollars, and we’ve all got some of it.

I explained to the gentleman that land, where I come from, is an almost sacred thing. You did not buy land as an investment as an individual, unless you were in the real estate business and have caught on to the bubble that is about now to burst.

There is the fact that land does not really belong to anyone but to government. There are also the omo oniles who have become quite a law unto themselves and will disturb non-omo oniles for years, collecting taxes and issuing threats over land once owned by their ancestors. Or perhaps not.

Nigerians whose relatives die abroad would go to great lengths to bring the dearly beloved back home to be buried on their native soil. Those who die at home and have land would sometimes be buried on their own land, often residential.

There are ethnic groups in Nigeria which do not believe in selling land to strangers, or anyone for that matter. In such places, land is communally owned. The whole community is the custodian of the land, and it is the duty of all to disburse accordingly and make the land serve the people.

In such places, women are not even allowed to inherit land, to reduce the danger ownership of such lands being transferred to other villages or towns. When libations are poured, they are poured on the land.

In Yorubaland, dead people are referred to as residents of the land. It is believed that there is another city in the ground inhabited by the spirits of the dead, which must be appeased at all times for the affairs of the people on the land to run smoothly. The bonds so created between the living and the dead, as it were, is one that runs very strong in Yoruba traditional religions and mythology.

There are people who swear, for instance, that they conceived after having been barren for several years, as a result of drinking water from the Oshun river during the world famous Oshun Oshogbo festivals.

The paradox therefore is, what is it that seems to be inherent in our political class and others aspiring to be part of it that has been promoting the primitive accumulation of land, real estate and other resources in every conceivable corner of the world in the last few decades.

People have lost their sense of shock, and the mention of vast amounts of property holdings accumulated, according to EFCC and CBN, by bank chiefs past and immediate present, simply have no meaning anymore. We hear of wealthy people in other places who are custodians of wealth accumulated over generations, and yet have only two or three houses: a town house, a country house and perhaps a house at a favorite vacation destination or two?

The other side of that is the question of whether our culture of corruption has not so compromised our traditional beliefs that land has become something so important that people are prepared to die for it and, worse still, to kill for it. Just as they did recently in Jos. That culture is also responsible for the inability of the Nigerian to be mobile in his own country.

Traditionally, nearly every Nigerian culture is hospitable to a fault, and would welcome strangers to their midst as long as they are willing to abide by existing laws of the land. Even those that would not sell land would at least lend some to the stranger in order that he may eke out a living for himself. Not so these days!

Nigeria must be one of the countries where mobility of labour is lowest. Diversity, even in the most urban of our centers, is at best contrived. It makes it difficult or impossible for people who have made or stolen enough money to invest in real estate outside of their home towns or the urban center in which they reside.

If nothing else has to change, this must. Diversity, along with small business, are the main drivers not only of the economy but the very essence of our nationhood.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.