By Jude Njoku
The 1978 Land Use Act which seeks to regulate land ownership, is unarguably one of the most contentious legislations in Nigeria today. The law, the brainchild of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo when he first presided over Nigeria as a military dictator, was “smuggled” into the 1979 Constitution by the then Supreme Military Council.
Although the Act has its own merits, most built environment stakeholders posit that it is the greatest clog in the wheel of housing development in the country. The Act, according to these experts, is overdue for a comprehensive review/amendment which cannot be done because of the constitutional requirements for such amendments.
Against the backdrop of ongoing constitutional amendments in the National Assembly, these experts have renewed the clamour for the Land Use Act to be expunged from the Constitution to make its amendment less cumbersome.
Vanguard Homes & Property recalls that Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua made some efforts to reform the land tenure system but effort was frustrated because the Act is part of our statute books. In the same vein, President Goodluck Jonathan last year, inaugurated another Land Reform Committee but all these efforts have not yielded the expected results because of the bottlenecks inherent in amending the Constitution.
Leading the campaign for the expurgation of the Land Use Act from the Constitution, the President of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, NIESV, Mr. Emeka Eleh explained that the Act should not be a constitutional issue since most lands are vested on the state governments.
He posited that all efforts to amend some contentious sections of the Act, as recommended by estate surveyors and valuers and relevant stakeholders failed because it was entrenched into the 1978 Constitution and has remained there till date. Even the constitutional reviews carried out by National Assembly in the past, did nothing to either expunge the Act from the Constitution or amend its contentious sections because the politicians were only interested in amending the electoral act and other sections they had interest in.
The NIESV President further posited that the clamour to remove the Act from the constitution is not a ploy to whittle down its efficacy but an attempt to make its amendment, as the need arises, less cumbersome. “Amending the Land Use Act is a very tedious process because it is part of the Constitution. The Act should be removed from the Constitution so that those sections that we consider the major problems like the consent provision can be amended,” he said.
Another 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. He therefore called for the removal of the land legislation from the Constitution.
“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 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,” he posited.
The Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, NIQS, Mr. Olayemi Shonubi opined that whether the Land Use Act remains in the Constitution or not, what is important is that land should be easily accessible to those who are genuinely interested in investing in housing production.
Beyond the legalistic issue of how long it takes to amend an Act that is part of the Constitution, Mr. Shonubi regretted that most states particularly Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and FCT Abuja are charging outrageous amounts of money as consent fees and transfer of mortgages because they view land as their own black gold and a resource they must maximise to boost their internally generated revenues.
“Whether it is in the Constitution or not, what is important is can we really get the kind of amendment we are clamouring for. It is only here in Nigeria that people make laws for their own selfish interests and when those who feel that such laws do not favour them come into power, they try to amend them. Any act that is good, should stand the test of time and should be in the interest of the general public,” he said..