By CHIKA OKEKE
There is heightened controversy bordering on Land Use Act. In this report, CHIKA OKEKE writes that the act which hits 40 years in March is jeopardising affordable housing delivery in the country.
The challenges militating against the provision of affordable housing is enormous and efforts to address the shortcomings has produced insignificant results.
From difficulties in acquiring land, titling and porous mortgage system where beneficiaries obtain loans at double digit interest rate from primary mortgage institutions (PMIs) to the obsolete land use act, the list is endless.
Findings by our reporter hinted that the provision of affordable housing between the government, community and estate developers in the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have been inundated with challenges due to lapses in the act.
The Land Use Act which is made up of eight parts in fifty-one sections has been enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Enacted on March 1978 during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s military era, it empowered state governors to control and manage all lands in urban areas while the local government managed all lands within their area of jurisdiction according to Part 1, Section 2 (a, b) of the act.
It was gathered that this section of the act has caused fracas between the government and community through transfer of land ownership to the government instead of communities, a privilege that have been terribly abused by state governors.
This, it was learnt had manifested in endless land disputes in the oil producing communities of Niger Delta region between the federal government and locals who had questioned the eligibility of the government to own greater part of proceeds from oil revenue.
Part II of the act under the ‘Principles of Land Tenure, Powers of Governor and Local Governments, and Rights of Occupiers’; Section 6 stated that it shall be lawful for a local government in respect of land not in an urban area to (a) grant customary rights of occupancy to any person or organisation for the use of land in the local government areas for agricultural, residential and other purposes.
(b) To grant customary right of occupancy to any person or organisation for the use of land for grazing purposes and such other purposes ancillary to agricultural purposes as may be customary in the local government area concerned.
(2) No single customary right of occupancy shall be granted in respect of an area of land in excess of 500 hectares if granted for agricultural purposes, or 5,000 hectares if granted for grazing purposes, except with the consent of the governor.
This explains why the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration is insisting on the establishment of grazing reserve to end farmers- herdsmen feud.
Also, the wholesome sale of community lands in FCT is prevalent as little or no compensation are paid to the aboriginals of Abuja given the weak sections of the act.
The obsolete act has also contributed to the delay in the issuance of Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) to prospective investors and Nigerians willing to invest in real estate business.
Part III on rents, Section 17 revealed that “(1) the governor may grant a statutory right of occupancy free of rent or at a reduced rent in any case in which he is satisfied that it would be in the public interest to do so.
“(2) Where a statutory right of occupancy has been granted free of rent, the governor may, subject to the express provisions of the certificate of occupancy, nevertheless impose a rent in respect of the land the subject of the right of occupancy if and when he may think fit.
“Section 18 also pointed out that “subject to the provisions of sections 20 and 21, the acceptance by of or behalf of the governor of any rent shall not operate as a waiver by the governor of any forfeiture accruing by reason of the breach of any covenant or condition, express or implied, in any certificate of occupancy granted under this Act.”
Too Little Effort
At a time when the federal government is keen on diversifying Nigeria’s economy away from over-reliance on oil, the amendment of Land Use Act should be one of the key priorities in legislative agenda.
During the 10th Abuja Housing Show organised by FESADEB Communications in July 2016, the senate president, Sen Bukola Saraki, disclosed that the senate was working assiduously to repeal the 1978 Land Use Act through constitution amendment.
He affirmed that the senate was hopeful of receiving back the report by September or before the end of the year of 2016, adding that the current national assembly must make a big difference in the housing sector.
Irrespective of the assurances, the senate had last year stepped down the amendment of the Land Use Act as contained in Bill number 32.
They feared that the proposed amendment would bolster resource control by locals who are seen as the original land owners.
With this development, the campaign promise of amending the constitution and the land use act to create freehold/leasehold interests in land along with matching grants for states to create a nationwide electronic land title register on a state by state basis made by APC administration at the build-up of 2015 general election has abruptly ended.
Nigerians are agonising that the major crux of owning lands and homes as was conceived before the enactment of the Act is broken.
Cross section of experts in the built sector argued that the act was a torn in the flesh of developers even as they called on legislators to urgently review it.
Managing director of Justin Okpu & Co Limited, a facility management company, Prince Justin Okpu, noted that one of the objectives for the enactment of Land Use Act was to assist every citizen in Nigeria irrespective of tribe, social and political affiliation to realise the ambition and aspirations of owning a piece of land or property for dwelling or for businesses in a secured and peaceful manner.
He regretted that the Act failed to achieve the objective but rather helped to impoverish people, families and communities by depriving them natural inheritance of land holdings.
Okpu listed the negative consequences caused by obsolete Land Use Act as inadequate land holdings by citizens, speculation & land racketeering, high cost of lands, non-availability and affordability of housing provision, increase in slumpish occupation by citizens, sluggish and unsuccessful urbanisation policies by successive governments.
He noted that the problems created an uphill task for the development of real estate sector in the country.
To this end, he suggested that the Act should be amended to revert land holdings to communities, whom he described as original owners of lands adding that communities has been the custodians of lands from time immemorial.
This is even as he noted that reverting land ownership to communities would cripple the powers of each state government to control land, advising that it would enable prospective buyers and investors access land through the community leadership.
According to him, “In the amended Act, key areas to be revisited include removing the vesting of land from state governors and given to community leaders, tenors of land should be in perpetuity (freeholding) rather than in certainty (leaseholding).”
He was optimistic that family and community ownership of lands would eliminate racketeering.
Group property manager of Efab Properties, Peace Ugo, inquired if the Act was still functional and economical.
“If it’s the part people use government powers to collect land from Nigerians and use it for their private gains, then it becomes a problem but if it’s been used for public benefit, then the Act is still relevant,” he argued.
He regretted that Nigeria operated rigid land system where land acquisition from genuine owners were difficult except through the government adding that unless developers bought lands at a cheaper rate , the prices of houses would continue to hit the roof.
“The Act is still relevant but there should be a review because of its age and functionality in previous years. The lacunas inherent in the law like people acquiring land through the government and converting it to private use should be reviewed,” he said.
On senate’s failure to present the reviewed act, he said, “That shows the seriousness of the government but I believe the reviewed Act will help resolve some bottlenecks in land acquisition.”
Ugo pleaded with the senate to fast track the review to reflect the current economic reality that would encourage housing development.
For the vice chairman of Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON), Samson Opaluwah, the Land Use Act vested land ownership to state governors and local governments.
“By this development, access to land has not only been centralised but subject to bureaucratic nuances and of course corruption thus making it difficult for developers to ply their trade,” he said.
He lamented the bottlenecks assowwciated with obtaining land titles which he believed has obstructed many developers from raising funds for construction.
The expert maintained that the difficulties in obtaining titles occasioned by bureaucracy and sometimes corruption have prevented developers from transferring titles to prospective buyers.
He noted that the process further prevented buyers from using their homes as collateral for business transactions, a situation he believed tied down funds to the detriment of economic growth.
Opaluwah added, “It’s unfair for government to claim ownership of ancestral land resources because even when developers have reached an agreement with the local communities, title processes with government still takes longer time.”
To address the anomalies, the builder said that access to land titles should be liberalised adding that temporary bankable titles should be designed for developers for construction purposes pending the issuance of the permanent title to prospective homeowners.
He pointed out that the signing of title documents should be controlled but decentralised saying that land resource control should be released to rural communities to enable them generate income for the development of local economy.
Also, the consultant to RIC Divine Investment Company Limited, Dr Haruna Audu, said that one of his company’s missions was to construct houses for low income earners in the public and private sectors using its 180 hectares of land in Zuba, Niger State.
He concurred that there were bottlenecks associated with land acquisition in Nigeria which he appealed to the senate to abolish through constitution amendment.
“For instance, if you have paid for a land, it’s automatically your own, so going back to government again to seek for permission for either reselling or mortgaging the land is problematic; it will make a lot of difference if it can be flattened,” he pointed out.
The chairman of Ataisi Consulting Company, a real estate development institution, Dr Paul Udayi , was emphatic that waiting for government alone to make titles available ‘is a very serious issue’ saying that there was the need for the review given the dire challenges faced by developers in land acquisition.
“By the time the government is not so disposed to providing affordable housing and titles for developers who will in turn create mortgages and also create deeds of assignments for would be owners of the houses, there are bound to be issues,” he said.
According to him, “Personally, I have been able to secure my titles, my estate is covered with Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) and its over 25.123 hectares and I have over 300 houses constructed, finished and ready for use in Cross Rivers State.”
Udayi maintained that reviewing the Land Use Act was a crucial issue when raising issues on housing development.
However, the executive chairman of Bauhaus International Limited, Dr. Victor Onukwugha, described the obsolete Land Use Act as a major challenge hindering effective mortgage financing and land acquisition in Nigeria.
Onukwugha, who is also a real estate developer called on the federal government to review the Land Use Act, and foreclosure law and titling processes for increased private sector participation.
According to him, “Once the Land Use Act is reviewed, it will create good funding for construction and mortgage loan and this has to be addressed through real estate and private developers partnering with the government on the provision of affordable housing.”
Onukwugha noted that the review would address the problems of funding hindering the provision of affordable housing saying that it would lure international financing institutions to Nigeria’s mortgage system thereby making provision of housing less cumbersome.