By Festus Ahon
We don’t allocate land for purposes that are not genuine – Ossai, Delta Commissioner
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard on the activities of the ministry, the Commissioner in charge, Chika Ossai, said, “When I assumed office, I was confronted with so many protests arising from encroachment, compensation, multiple allocations of lands court litigations and I must tell you authoritatively that, to a very large extent, we have tried to tackle those issues especially on encroachment that got to do with blockage of roads and affected the Asaba master plan.
“The issue of court litigations. Yes issue that bothers on land, we are all aware that it is always full of litigation but we have tried our possible best to see how we can reduce that to barest minimum. The ministry of Justice can testify to that because they mediate in most of the cases. Of course, you cannot also rule out that case in their lands have to do with litigations but as the commissioner in the ministry of lands, we have done everything humanly possible on how we mediate on some of those cases bothering on issue of multiple allocations of lands.
“I also found out to a large extent that the ministry of lands precisely hardly engage multiple allocation but these land racketeers just walk into a business center and try to duplicate what looks like the normal C of O and that is what we battle with and to a large extent we have done everything that will put that to rest.
“If you look round the ministry, you see that it is no longer what it used to be where all Dick and Harry can just walk in and begin to make cases where there is not supposed to be case. All that we have done so far and I thank God that God has given us the initiative to handle those issues and we hope that we are still going to move on to see that the ministry of lands is no longer what people used to know it to be”.
On why lands are not readily issued to applicants, especially within the Asaba metropolis, Ossai said; “Let me start from the issue of where you say there is no land. When the ministry says no land, then there is no land because government’s acquired land is not what you just begin to bukanize and give to friends and relations. From the beginning of this government, there was executive fiat that we don’t just acquire land.
“We acquire land on demand, that means it is only when investors come to partner government. If you ask for land, we look at the profile of the investor if it requires to acquire land for that purpose because we have to look at whether it is going to be SPV where government will have share. It is on that ground that government will acquire land.
“For some areas where government does not have land, we are trying to be very careful because most of these lands were previously allocated to Deltans and friends of Deltans but they did not perfect their papers. I can give you Ugbolu an example. 10-16 years ago all that parcel of land was acquired by government and allocated to people but most people did not perfect their documents, so government thought it wise to revoke those allocations but those that have their C of O their land is intact. It is only those who did not have C of O that had their land revoked and if land was given to you 10-16 years ago and you did not have cause to come and perfect your papers at least to the level of having C of Os, that means you do not also appreciate the gift.
“When you talk of issues of compensation, the government of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa has done very well in terms of compensation because, over the years, government was not responding so much on issues of compensation and that is why we are having stiff opposition from communities over the time. So, but in this administration, we tried to attend to give them that sense belonging that this government can listen to communities in terms of compensation even when we have not paid fully.
“I can’t tell you that we have paid everything even those that have not received theirs, are relaxed knowing that they are remembered and will be paid sometime soon”.
Secretary of Ground Rent Committee, Dr Frank Nwugo, who spoke on what necessitated the payment of Ground Rent, said, “Before the oil glut which started as far back as 2008, then became terrible in 2014, worsened in 2015, degenerated in 2016, the state government was relying mainly on revenue from oil even the federal government and contributed about 98 percent of the voucher of the state of FAAC allocation.
“When it became obvious that oil revenue as the oil itself is a vanishing spirit, had become a vanishing asset, it became necessary for every level and organ of government to think outside the box, to think outside the usual to the unusual. That led to what must we do to accelerate our IGR?
“In the ingenuity of the government feelings, land asset is a veritable instrument for generation of revenue. You will agree with me that even at the local level, there is much to do with land in terms of access; there is need for government to tap from the physical element of the revenue that has bearing with land.
“By way of enlightenment, the issue of ground rent is not novel; it is as old as the Land Use Act. It is imbedded; it is both constitutional and an act of the parliament discovering this avenue of revenue generation in order to recover from the oil gloat, governments have to tap into the provisions of the constitution. If you look at the law; the Land Use Act, the issue of land especially state land, the ownership is entrusted in the Governor of the state and therefore whoever occupies the ownership is a tenant or through the instrumentality of a grant from the state government which we now call by way of lease and an instrument of conveyance of possession to anybody is why we use the C of O.
“And for every C of O, it has a covenant you entered into with government that this land government entrust to you for a period, normally say a period of 99 years. In that same covenant, there is a provision for the payment of ground rent. In fact, covenant 1b and C, specifically speaks on ground rent that every lease holder must pay this percentage of the lease to the government.
“The rate is there and it is annually for a period of five years and it is subject to review by the Governor who is the owner in issue. So, that has been the position, all that the government did was to highlight each provisions of the law and to domesticate it into the Delta State Internal Revenue consolidated law 2009 as amended through various gazette until the last one of July 2014.
“For many people, it sound strange because at the time of securing and procuring C of O, they pay for it without knowing but every lawyer knows that they have been paying because the provision is there, so they are paying. Most of them after payment of C of O, they no longer come back to pay the annual rent just as you are paying rent for the houses you occupy that is how land lease holders are supposed to be paying their annual rent.
“The annual rent is the ground rent to separate it from your normal house rent. Many people say we are paying tenement rate to local government why are we paying again. Will you pay to local government and pay to the state government? You cannot pay same tax twice; otherwise, we call that multiple taxation.
“There is different between ground rent and tenement rate. The word tenement have to do with building and by the provision of the constitution, it is the prerogative of the local government to collect tenement rate which I said is attach to building but the word ground rent is attached to the land, it has no bearing with building at all. Whether the land is vacant or built, you must pay ground rent on it because it is documentary evidence that this land is entrusted to you by the owner”.
So, it is advisable that everyone that buys land either by conveyance or by transfer or by lease to make sure you pay your ground rent every year because it is an evidence that the land belongs to you. So, when there are issues of trespass, encroachment, the ground rent receipt is a documentary evidence for you to prove to the court and to the world that this land is your own.
On how it has helped to boost revenue of the state government, Nwugo said; “one thing about revenue, is the dexterity of the people given the responsibility to collect it. The political will of the government and the environment, the physical policy of the environment. I have to thank the Governor who feels that there is need also to excavate for more resources through the instrumentality of other avenues outside oil. Ministry of Lands have been doing wonderfully well but they cannot drive the process at the rate government is going.
“As I told you, if we are doing more than what we are doing before, we must change our strategies. In order to improve on the revenue coming from this source, government has to change strategies through the instrumentality of engaging a consultant to the Ministry of Lands and surveys.
“I also want to thank the current Commissioner of Lands and Survey who provided a conducive atmosphere for people to work. Before now, there has been one major problem of lack of corporation between various consultants and the MDAs. It has been a running battle; to the MDAs, these people have come to take over our jobs, they want to frustrate us. To the consultants, these people are our enemies, if we work with them, we will not achieve our results. Because of lack of synergy, the revenue has not been yielding what it ought to yield but under this government, especially the governor and the Commissioner who said yes, we have one target.
The Consultant is looking for money and the money he is getting is a function of how much he collects and he believes that the principal motive is that the more he collects, the more he will get and the government objective is to collect more revenue. The MDAs is to collect more revenue. The same objective with wrong understanding. Under this government, there was a synergy of understanding that we will have a common objective and therefore if we have a common objective, we must synchronize our strategies, ideas and go forward.
“And that is why I can assure you with all sense of responsibility that the government as dated from 2015 to a level I can say to a minimum of 500 per cent increase. I have taken statistics from different MDAs by the grace of God, I am in charge of the coordination of the MDAs; in fact lands and Survey have become a very veritable source of IGR for Delta State and lands and survey has gone above 500 per cent to 700 percent of its operation before this government come to power.
“The implication is that let me a hypothetical example, if they have been collecting N1.00, they are collecting a minimum of N70.00 now. That is over 1000 per cent”.
Also speaking, the Director of lands in the Ministry, Mrs Elizabeth Dabitonmo, said; “Land administration under Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and Mr Chika Ossai has been classified as one of the best because the greatest problem in the management of government land under the previous leadership was double allocations and court cases. Now the issue of double allocation is no more which has put paid to court cases arising from double allocation.
“Like now you can see the mails. This is my incoming mails, no more double allocation cases mails again because I told you it is over and there are no more court cases in respect of that. The ministry has been sanitized. Why do I say it is sanitized? Like now civil servants in the ministry of Lands and Surveys, are now very careful and diligent. Mr Chika Ossai is God sent, he has brought sanity into the system.