December 12, 2012

Land Use Act: A monster crippling housing development

Land Use Act: A monster crippling housing development

*Oba Elegushi Housing Estate



THE Land Use Act vests all land in the territory of a State on the Governor of that State, and vests the Governor with the power to grant statutory right of occupancy to persons. It prohibits the alienation of a statutory right of occupancy without the consent of the Governor.

The Act  is made up of eight parts of fifty-one sections. It addresses four important issues arising from the former land tenure systems in Nigeria: The problem of lack of uniformity in the laws governing land-use and ownership; the issue of uncontrolled speculation in urban land; the question of access to land rights by Nigerians on equal legal basis; and the issue of fragmentation of rural lands arising from either the application of traditional principles of inheritance or population growth and the consequent pressure on land.

The Act altered the existing land laws in the Southern part of the country as it removed corporate  groups, families and chiefs from the trusteeship of land and replaced them with the State Governor.

While on the one hand urban lands were placed under the control and management of the Governor of the State with a ‘Land Use and Allocation Committee’ as an advisory body, on the other, ‘other lands’ were placed under the control and management of the Local Government in which the land is situated with ‘the Land Allocation Advisory Committee’

*Oba Elegushi Housing Estate

MR. CHRIS Okechukwu works with a Shipping company in Lagos. He bought a piece of land from a family at Isheri Oshun,off the Lagos-Badagry expressway a few years ago and was in the process of developing it  when the Government masquerading under the Law Use Act, confiscated the property.

Okechukwu who got a notice from his landlord to quit his three-bedroom accommodation ruminated over the loss and told Vanguard Features, VF  that he would have packed into his own apartment long ago but for the seizure of the land without compensation because he didn’t have a certificate of occupancy,  C of O. There are many Nigerians in Okechukwu’s shoes in various parts of the country who have lost their  land, courtesy of this 34 year-old legislation.

The 1978 Land Use Act is unarguably one of the most contentious legislations in the Nigeria today. The law which seeks to regulate ownership of land was the brainchild of the immediate past president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo when he first presided over Nigeria as a Military dictator between 1975 and 1979.

In a bid to retain the law in the statute books even after he had left office, the Obasanjo-led Supreme Military Council made the Land Use Decree an integral part of the Constitution which he handed over to the Alhaji Shehu Shagari-led Federal Government.

Since then, the Act which is seen as the greatest clog in the wheel of housing development in the country, has remained  part of the constitution, despite sustained efforts by built environment stakeholders to have it expunged and reviewed so as to make access to land for housing and other developmental initiatives, less cumbersome.


The Act, as implemented by the government of most states, according to Mr. Joseph Osakwe, a Fellow of the Nigerian Economic Society, has become a source of political and social abuse. Most importantly, it has given rise to unprecedented corruption in the Ministry that processes the Certificate of Occupancy.

“The level of corruption starts from the messenger that carries applicants’ files and rises to the level of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry. The Governor gives the final approval. In the states, social miscreants who call themselves Omo Oniles particularly in the South-West states, insist on having their share before any meaningful construction work can be done, to the detriment of the land owners.

C of O at mercy of government

As a result, the process of obtaining the C of O is not only time-consuming but also  unduly expensive. Meanwhile, citizens who have C of O are generally at the mercy of government which frequently uses the document as an instrument of generating revenues, which can be increased at will,” he said.

Continuing, he noted that some state governments have introduced new Land Use Decrees which could circumvent the provisions of the Land Use Act 1987 and attempt to persuade all those who were under 1978 Act to embrace the new law.

“Since the various state governments have grossly abused the implementation of the 1978 Act, such that the law can no longer tackle the problems it was intended to solve before 1978, the Act should be removed from the constitution and abolished,” he said, adding that the country should  return to the pre-1978 status.

A Lagos-based Estate Surveyor and Valuer, Mr. Stephen Jagun argued that there would be no meaningful growth in the real sector if land continues to be under  the firm grips of state governors

“Land has become so expensive because unlike what used to obtain, you could buy a piece of land from either  the community, an individual or from even a company and you go and register that title at the Land Registry. Once it is registered, it becomes a bankable document. Today, it is not so; you go and pay the usual fee and you take the document that they give to you and the survey plan to the government who will then issue you a certificate of occupancy, C of O.

At the end of it all, it is just double payment, and the C of O is a document that one waits for ages for. The whole process has failed. The Military which promulgated the Land Use Decree said the reason they did so was to make land accessible to more Nigerians than before. But from our own experience, the reverse has been the case.

Fewer people now have access to land. Instead of the variety of supply that we had, now we have only one supplier, that is the government. Once the supply is restricted, the effect is an increase in price. The principal beneficiary of the Land Use Act is the Governor and nobody else,” he said.