By Jude Njoku
The setting was the Federal High Court, in the highbrow Ikoyi area of Lagos. A politician from one of the eastern states who was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for allegedly enriching himself, had just being granted bail by the court.
The bail condition required one of the two sureties to own a landed property in Lagos and that the certificate of occupancy, C of O to the property must be verified by officials of the anti-graft agency as a genuine document.
Aides and relations of the docked politician were approached by a horde of touts who promised to get somebody who has landed property with C of O to stand as surety for the him to regain his freedom. But all the Cs of O presented by these touts were found to be fake.
The plethora of fake and cloned certificates of occupancy must have prompted the decision of the Lagos State Government to dump the yellow certificates for an electronic or digitalized version.
Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola who disclosed this had at a ceremony to mark his 1,800 days in office, said the e-C of O would be forge free.
His words:”Because we understand very clearly the importance of proper land documentation to our collective prosperity and economic growth, we are also finalising the plans for the issuance of a new certificate of occupancy, different from the yellow certificate that you are accustomed to.
The new certificate will be much more secure, tamper and forge-proof document that is bar-coded and electronically readable, and in the next few months, we will be announcing details of its implementation in a way that will ensure a seamless transition from the old to the new”.
The decision to dump the yellow certificates has been adduced as the reason why Governor Fashola is reluctant to sign new ones. In fact, between May 2011 and March this year, only 920 C-of-Os on state land were processed. The Governor is said to have returned about 3,000 ready applications sent to him unsigned because he wanted them to serve as the first batch of electronic C-of-Os to be issued by the state.
Giving further insight on the introduction of the electronic C of O, the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Land Bureau, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola said the e-C-of-O is expected to come on stream before the end of this year.
Muri-Okunola who spoke at a press briefing to mark Fashola’ one year anniversary said:”The bureau is working relentlessly on the introduction of the e-C-of-O, which is expected to come on stream before the end of this year.
“The introduction of the e-C-of-O will bring to an end the issuance of the present C-of-O, which has been in existence in the state since 1978. The e-C-of-O is designed to prevent all forms of unwholesome activities perpetrated by fraudsters and to deliver to the people a current international acceptable format.”
This decision has received kudos from built environment experts who see it as a way of restoring integrity to the C of O.
President of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, NIESV, Mr. Emeka Eleh dismissed the notion that the introduction of e- c of o is cosmetic.
“No! It is not cosmetic; the whole idea is to ensure the integrity of the document being given. The C of O is an evidence of title and every evidence of title in whatever for must have integrity. It must be such that anybody holding it is certain that what he is holding is what its salt and that is what the Lagos State Government is doing. Whatever name they call it, the idea is to increase the integrity of a document called the C of O in Lagos,” he said.
Going down memory lane, the NIESV President said: “ You know what happened in the past, people have cloned the document, you have one, some other person has one. The idea is to increase the integrity of the document with more features, like the Naira, dollar or whatever currency.
“If you hold a 100dollar bill, you know it is a 100dollar bill anywhere. That is the idea, to increase the integrity of the document so that anywhere you go, you are sure that the document you are transacting on is the right document and you are sure it is”.
Also hailing the introduction of digital c of o, immediate past NIESV president, Mr. Bode Adediji, said its introduction is long overdue.
His words: “When you digitalize, you save time, money and minimise if not not eliminate the fraudulent tendencies associated with some aspects of C of O. It is something that we welcome and it is something that all professionals must support Lagos State to achieve”.
On how to transmit from the old to the new, Adediji warned against blanket cancellation of the old Cs of O. He was of the opinion that both the yellow certificates and the e-version should be allowed to run simultaneously.
“The blanket cancellation of the old without allowing both of them to run parallel is what I would not canvass. Lagos state must learn from the Abuja experience where having gone digital, problems arose here and there. I know that with the capacity in-house of the Lagos State government and their tendency to always seek for consultations, and advice here and there, such a project of digitalizing the C of O will be successful,” he said.
One of the perceived flaws of the digital C of O is the fact that the governor would not have to sign each certificate personally under the new dispensation, but instead have his signature digitally embossed on the document, But officials of the government and the experts said there was no cause for apprehension as the e-C-of-O had many security features. Moreover, the new Evidence Act accepted electronic signature in place of life signature.