The Land Use Act After 45 Years… Impact And Need For Review

By Oluwatobi Oyesanya, Esq.

Since the Land Use Act came into effect on 29th March, 1978, the efficacy and impact can be said to be relatively positive; it has structured and regulated the order of acquiring and developing land all over Nigeria under uniform rules with public registries situated in each state and the Federal Capital Territory. However, a cross-section of opinions by respondents reveal that in some cases, the government has made land acquisition and development more cumbersome than the traditional Customary practices. For instance, in a State like Lagos State in Nigeria where there is arguably no rural area, all lands comprised in the state are deemed to be urban areas and therefore purely vested in the Governor of the State to be held in trust and administered for the common benefit of all residents in the State who are citizens of Nigeria. Meanwhile, there are still rural occupants of these parcel of lands in different parts of the State.

 

The attendant implication of the Law is that the existing Customary rights of communities and families which were exercised from time immemorial suddenly pale into insignificance in the light of rapid urbanization going on around the state. This is amplified by the fact that many of these free holding families under Customary law are largely unlearned and ignorant of their fate under the Law of the land even despite the published global acquisition of lands in some areas in the early year 2000’s. This fact has made them sitting ducks under the hammer of the Governor who, through various Ministries Departments and Agencies, compulsorily acquire these lands for overriding public interest or private Developers Scheme in some cases by use of force. The question then arises whether these communities deserve to be compensated under the Law and whether they are eventually compensated in the manner prescribed by the Law especially where they are ignorant of their rights under the Law and are indigent.

 

In practice, there are instances where some families have been holistically deprived of their lands and livelihood by the Governor and his agents under the guise of overriding public interest but Notices prescribed under the law were not issued nor compensation paid. Whereas some families engage the 3rd arm of Government namely the Judiciary to pursue their rights, the Executive, surreptitiously referred to as the 1st arm of government in some cases ignores the judicial decision of such disputes where Orders are made against the Governor representing the State. In one instance, a respondent alluded to the fact that the Governor had issued an executive Order overriding the judgment of the High Court of the State. That is a different kettle of fish.

Meanwhile, unquantifiable damages occasioned to lives and properties by the Governor, his agents and agencies by their disproportionate use of force in enforcing the Law against innocent indigenes who are indigent are usually swept under the rug while the rights of these host communities are not properly addressed even judicially. The Land Use Allocation Committee has not responded to these issues at an administrative level leaving much to be desired in this regard.

 

The question now arises as to whether the Land Use Act and associated legislation in each state have provided a stable Legal framework for proper management of Land in each state of the Federation of Nigeria with regard to the rights of indigenes. Or could it be that the peculiarities in highly industrialized and urbanized areas were not take into consideration in the enactment of the Law 45 years ago? The mischief of the law should be to fairly apportion the use of land for the benefit of Nigerians and not a handful of privileged individuals without prejudice to the preexisting rights of occupation of customary holders. Such displaced customary holder do not only lose their rights to the land which they previously held but most times are unable to afford any other land for purchase for their own use.

Although historically, some families have attempted to procure formal Certificates of Occupancy, but such applications were either not followed through due to funding and technicalities or the terms of the Certificates of Occupancy were not complied with leading to slow development within the area granted to the family; the lack of site and serviced plots making development possible has also discouraged the Government from giving Certificates of Occupancy to the Families unless there were clear indications that they would stimulate development of the area by further improving the lands granted formally to them. Note that there is no provision for rebate of applicable fees or special consideration for the host families/communities of indigenes where they apply formally for the allocation of their own customarily held family land from the Governor distinct from what other applicants pay/go through. Whereas the Laws of Lagos makes specific provision for acquisition of land by foreigners.

Consequently, most of the issues which arise from land transactions seem to stem from the inadequate provision made for the indigenous Customary holders of land whose interests have been eroded by the swift urbanization of Lagos State for instance and the arduous process of obtaining formal Certificates of Occupancy because they, in exercise of their customary rights sell such lands issuing receipts to buyers and even Deeds of Assignment with Survey Plan notwithstanding the fact that the land may not have a valid Formal Certificate of Occupancy or Excision from Acquisition. It is noteworthy that a mere occupier is not conferred with a right of sale under the law.

It is therefore imperative that the law is revisited 45 years after for a more holistic approach to catering for the rights of indigenes rather than rely on the administrative practice of resettling indigenes from place to place after they have been displaced causing uncertainty for investors and indigenes alike in appropriating their interests in such resettlement land. More obligations in respect physical planning of functional and recreational centres in rapidly urbanising areas should also be imposed on the Governor.

Oluwatobi Oyesanya, Esq.

 


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