Activities of land grabbers, scam agents and the number professionals required are some of the biggest challenges in legitimately and successfully acquiring a land in Nigeria. To get a better view of how land ownership works in Nigeria, it is important to understand the Land Use Act in Nigeria and how it affects you.
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The Land use act (formerly called the Land Use Decree) was promulgated on 29th of March 1978. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo takes credit for being the man who made the Land Use Act an integral part of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during the military regime before he eventually handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari-led Federal Government.
According to Chapter 202 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, the Land Use Act is:
“An Act to Vest all Land compromised in the territory of each State (except land vested in the Federal government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State , who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on Local Governments (27th March 1978) Commencement.”
Features of the Land Use Act
The main objectives of the Land Use Act were:
- to effect structural change in the system of land tenure;
- to achieve fast economic and social transformation;
- to negate economic inequality caused by the appropriation of rising land values by land speculators and landholders and;
- to make land available easily and cheaply, to both the government and private individual developers. Although, experts have argued that rather than make land cheaper, the contrary has happened.
Some of the key features of the land use act of 1978 are the four major issues it addresses, which includes: The problem of lack of uniformity in the laws governing ownership and land-use; the issue of uncontrolled speculation in urban land; the question of access to land rights by Nigerians on equal legal basis; 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.
Implications of the Land Use Act
Implications of the Land Use Act bothers majorly on ownership rights. If you acquired a land without a Certificate of Occupancy, C of O, then the land is not yours, all you have is a lease. You never have a freehold because the government can seize your land or property without any form of compensation. The power to do this rests within the Land Use Act, which reads: “All the rights formerly vested in the holder in respect of the excess of the land shall in the commencement of this Act be extinguished and the excess of the land shall be taken over by the Governor and administered as provided in this Act.”
Under the Land Use Act, the governor is responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals’ resident in the state or to organisations for residential, agricultural, commercial and other purposes while similar powers with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on the Local Government.
The act altered the existing land laws in the Southern part of the country by removing corporate groups, families and chiefs from the trusteeship of land and replaced them with the state governors. This poses as both an advantage and disadvantage of the Land Use Act.
Controversies and Problems of the Land Use Act
One of the most contentious legislations in Nigeria remains the Land Use Act. Many of the stakeholders in the real estate industry have described it as monster crippling the housing development in the country. Experts have opined that the Act is overdue for a comprehensive review. They have also repeatedly called for the Act to be removed from the Constitution to make its amendment more realistic and less cumbersome. Arguing that there will be no meaningful growth in the real estate sector if land continues to be under the firm grips of the State governors.
Constitutional requirements are the main reason for the failures experienced in amending the Land Use Act as moves to amend proved abortive. Past Presidents Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Good luck Jonathan during their administrations attempted to amend the Act but their efforts did not yield expected results as a direct result of inherent bottlenecks involved in amending the Constitution.
Experts have asserted that land has become so expensive because unlike in the past, 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, however, the process has changed. Now, you go and pay the usual fee and you take the document given to you and the survey plan to the government who will then issue you a Certificate of Occupancy also known as the C of O.
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One of the biggest problems of the Land Use Act is the process of acquiring the Certificate of Occupancy from the state governor or the President in the case of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja, who exercises this power through the Minister of the FCT. The sensitivity of the document has given rise to high-level corruption in the ministry that processes the C of O. Over the years, the process has suffered political and social abuse.
For example, in 2016, the Delta State Government reduced the cost of procuring the Certificates of Occupancy from N425,000 to N200,000 per plot of land. The corruption in the process persists and has seen the cost of obtaining this document inflated by self-serving government officials.
The land use act of 1978 appraisal, problems and prospects if not properly nipped in the bud might pose a major problem to sustainable housing in Nigeria.