AFTER weeks of controversies over whether or not the Land Use Act should be removed from the constitution, delegates yesterday resolved to retain the law after some amendments.

Confab: From left, Mr Christian Udechukwu, Chief Dan Nwanyanu, Chief Victor Umeh and Senator Ike Nwachukwu discussing during National Conference in Abuja . Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

The conference, which had earlier suspended the matter after series of disagreements among delegates, later referred the issue to a special group it called “Consensus Building Committee”, comprising elders, to resolve.
The special committee comprising leaders of geo-political zones and other selected delegates was to handle the contentious argument of whether or not it should be removed from the constitution.

The argument for its retention in the 1999 Constitution was based on the belief that allowing the Act to go would allow oligarchs to take over lands which the Land Use Act has democratized with government as the intervening body.

Supporters of this school of thought also said that since land is not a renewable commodity, it must not be left at the mercy of land speculators; and that removing it from the constitution would be discriminatory and unjust to the poor.

It was their position that removing the Act from the constitution would create dichotomy apart from being a grand design for the rich to buy land at cheap prices, a situation they said would lead to crisis that cannot be managed.

On the other side, the argument was that the Land Use Act should remain a law but must be removed from the constitution to make it easy for amendment.

They argued that at present, amending the Act through the constitution has become too cumbersome and that in other countries, land tenure is universal while governments nearest to the communities serve land tenure better.

They complained that governments had taken peoples land and have refused to pay compensation; and that since the promulgation of the Act, access to land has remained a major problem thus hindering economic development.

It was also stated that the power of compulsory acquisition vested on state governors has been, in most cases, used arbitrarily without adequate compensation to land owners.
The committee noted that both sides of the argument were convincing; unfortunately none of them agreed with the other and no side agreed to back down.

Thus, in its decision which was accepted by the Conference, it was stated that the Act would be retained in the constitution while certain amendments would be carried out.
For instance, one of such amendment would enable land owners to determine the price and value of their land. It allows government to negotiate with land owners and not compensate them.

It was also resolved that the customary right of occupancy in Section 21 of the Act be amended to read:  “Customary Right of Occupancy should have the same status as statutory Right of Occupancy, and should also be extended to urban land”.

It was also agreed that Section 7 of the Act which deals with the restriction on rights of persons under the age of 21 to be granted statutory right of occupancy should be amended to read “restriction of persons under the age of 18”.
This, it was argued, is because the Child Rights Act stipulates that a person attains adulthood at the age of 18.


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