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Less than five per cent of Nigeria’s land is properly documented – Ex-FUTA VC

In this interview with DAMILOLA AINA, the Chairman, Presidential Technical Committee on Lands Reforms and former Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Prof. Peter Adeniyi, speaks on land reform policies in Nigeria

The Presidential Committee on Land Reforms was inaugurated in 2009 to address land governance. What have been your findings since its inauguration?

Well, first of all, I think it is important to state the terms of reference given to the committee because it is in that context that would make it easier for readers to know what we are addressing or to allow readers to know the assignment given to the committee.

We were given about eight-point agenda as terms of reference. The first four were actually to deal with knowing who owns what, and where and that was because of what the constitution says that the state and local governments are the ones to implement the Land Use Act. So the first term of reference for us was to collaborate and provide technical assistance to states and local governments to undertake land cadastration nationwide.

In doing so, we have the second term of reference that determines the individual possession rights using best practices and the most appropriate technology.

The third says that we are to ensure that land cadastral boundaries and title holdings are demarcated in such a way that communities, armlets, village areas and towns will be recognisable. And the last one is to encourage and assist states and local governments to establish an arbitration mechanism for land ownership conflict resolution.

To make recommendations for the establishment of a National Depository for land title holdings and records in all states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. The next one was to make recommendations for the establishment of a mechanism for land valuation in both rural and urban areas in all parts of the federation and lastly, to make any other recommendations that will ensure effective, simplified, sustained, and successful land administration in Nigeria.

These were the terms of reference given to us by late President Musa Yar’adua at that time. As we know, land reform takes a lot of time and we were only eight members of this committee and the country is that big. So Mr President at that time recognised that there was no way an ad-hoc committee like ours could complete the land reform at a stretch, so he decided to send a bill to the National Assembly for the establishment of a National Land Reform Commission.

In other words, the Presidential Technical Committee of Land Reform was conceived as a mere forerunner to the National Land Reform Commission because the belief was that the assembly would consider it, and that would have terminated our appointment.

What are the major things you have done in 14 years?

It will appear that we have been on the ground for 14 years, but actually, we only worked within the first seven to eight years due to some administrative bottleneck that did not allow us to achieve some of our objectives.

What were our findings? We discovered that we lack the knowledge of who owns or has an interest in properties, what interests are, and where the property is located. The second was the difficulty of registering properties, resulting to less than five percent of lands in Nigeria being registered and documented using the current sporadic registration system. Although we started land registration in Nigeria in 1883, that is 140 years ago and all that we could say we’ve achieved is less than five percent of the land that is properly documented and registered.

The next thing we discovered was the unavailability of authoritative information to support effective and efficient land administration. I am not surprised about this because as far back as 1982, the International Labour Organisation said that planning in Nigeria was like going through the bush in the night without a torchlight. That was the situation we met on ground because we have leaders, governors, and local governments, we have everybody there but there is no adequate information about the land. Who owns what, they don’t have it and yet we’re planning, so the difficulty of gaining access to available land records, even the few that had been done was very difficult to access.

At that time, it was difficult for anybody to buy land and not sure whether the person selling the land was the rightful owner. And so, investors are so afraid, even if they’re eager to do it. It takes years to be able to finalise the acquisition of land because it is not readily available. And then the method we were using, just to explain why it has been like that if I have land now and somebody wants to buy land, the owner will just take you to the land and he will show you that this is my land, then you will go and take a surveyor and go there and survey without having an idea whether the parcel of land shown is appropriately owned. You will only run into problems now when you want to develop, then the true owner will come up and you might lose the land.

Look at what is happening to us today, in all the cities in Lagos, and Abuja, why is the government pulling buildings down? Because even when the government has planned that this area will be used for something, the knowledge of the thing is not made public. We are not that transparent for everybody to be able to see it. Somebody is selling the land to those people, estate is developing in those areas as a result of speculation.

The Land Use Act cap LS 2004 with all the necessary and essential regulations to facilitate and enhance its implementation; Section 46 of the Land Use Act states that the Council of State shall make regulations for the effective implementation of the Land Use Act. But since 1978, the Council of State has failed to provide that and yet, we are implementing the law the way we want it from state to state.

Then, there is an absence of a national institution to advise the Council of State who is constitutionally empowered to make regulations, to facilitate the implementation of the Act. In the state and local government, there is a land advisor committee to advise the government and local government chairman, but when it comes to the federal there is nothing on ground, the law does not specify any other thing.

The members of the Council of States include the President, former presidents, former justices of the federation, the senate president, the speaker of the House of Assembly, and all the governors of the states. Can these people have the opportunity to sit down to make regulations without an institution to support them? That institution was not placed on group and it was not provided for in that law.

Then, the existence inadequate data and information for effective and efficient land valuation in both urban and rural areas. Even if you buy land, or even if the government wants to take over your land, the land must be properly evaluated in order to know the quantum of compensation they will give to the person, but the system is so bad because the original information that must be there, on who owns what, how large is that land, what kind of land is it, which will inform the valuation is always absent.

And lastly, we discovered the life of adequate basic infrastructure such as geomatic station, land use and township map, land use plans, as well as lack of functional land registries. In South Africa, there’s a saying that a nation without maps is like a blind person, that is what the surveyor-general in South Africa told us when we visited the place. Because as of today, there’s no town you can go to and say you want the map or the detailed map of a local government, you can’t get them and yet you say you’re planning.

Geodetics stations, they’re still farfetched, during our work we produced four in other to assist what we’re doing because we need it to be more dense in the country so that the surveyors can rely on accurate measurement.

So having stated all of these, the committee then decided that first of all, we have to prioritise our activities, we then decided to say let us focus on how do we get to know who owns what, and what method is available globally to use. So that’s how we decided that we are to adopt and design and implement a systematic land titling and registration.

Then, we develop the bill for the establishment of a National Land Commission because the bill was submitted to the sixth national assembly during late Yar’adua, they didn’t complete it and so we rejigged it and tried to make it better and we completed and submitted it. So we carried out land evaluation study which we submitted the report to the government as well as land appreciation service delivery.

These issues you raised during your findings, are they still the same today?

It has not changed, I can tell you that. I mean about 95 percent of Nigeria’s lands are not properly documented and we are still practicing sporadic methods of registering lands. Even, the Land Use Act is not properly obeyed. As weak as it is, it’s not properly obeyed, everything is over-centralised. All lands are processed through the state. It is as if the local government does not exist. And it’s unfortunate, that is part of what the land reform is trying to correct. The law specifics what the local government should do and then what the State Government should do but everything is centralised and to be honest with you, the poor people are the ones suffering.

For example, in Lagos, you want somebody coming from Epe, Badagry, and Ikorodu to be coming to Ikeja just to process land registration. Not forgetting the fact that not everybody is knowledgeable. There are farmers there, what do they know? who are they going to see in Ikeja? And that is part of the problem. And people would tell you so disappointingly that we don’t have people in Local Government. Where does the president come from, is it not from one local government? Where does the governor come from, isn’t it from one local government?

But when it comes to administration, they’ll say there’s nobody in the Local Government, or they will say they are corrupt, and I ask who is not corrupt? Everyone in Nigeria, corruption is another thing for us. So why do you ascribe it to local government? So the situation is still on ground and it’s very difficult. Even, workers should not be the ones to run around to go and buy cement, and blocks. The mortgage is not functioning, and a mortgage can only work when you know who owns what. That is the only way we can make it easier, but we don’t.

From your findings what are the likely challenges that may impede the solutions offered?

Firstly, it’s lack of shared vision by our political and professional leaders. When the late Yar’adua died, his idea died with him, the idea was not shared with our political leaders. Today, if President Bola Tinubu is to deal with land, he must bring the whole idea to the Council of State, where all governors are there so that they can have a proper understanding, think about the resources they’ll use and agree together that this is the path we want to follow.

It is not just the question of Mr President taking the decision alone. We spent the first two years trying to convince the political leaders, the economic council, and even the professionals. We were moving to them to explain this is what the government is trying to do and so on. Whereas, if right from day one the idea has been shared and they all agreed that this is where Nigeria is moving to, this is the way we want to get there, then whichever body the government puts up, will make it easier to achieve the goals.

The second challenge is uninterested and uncommitted public servants. Our public servants in this country are deadly selfish. I don’t know if it’s the system because I remember when I joined UNILAG in 1973, within a month I was given a car loan, given a house and that made me concentrate fully on my job; but I am not sure if anybody can do so today. I remember the guy appointed to lead the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission. He made it very clear that our system allows corruption. We have to deal with that completely, and so our public servants did not help the situation in whatever form. Bring a new idea, they’ll want to kill it, as long as they won’t benefit from it they’ll want to kill it.

Then the third challenge is corruption and this corruption is led by the elites. Speculation is part of corruption and it’s been perpetrated by the political elites.

And then fear of the unknown by the elites who benefit from the rot including professionals like surveyors too. When you bring new technology, the first reaction is that maybe it’s going to take their job away from them, or maybe not much benefit as much as they’re doing and so they’re likely to go against them.

We faced that in Akure when we were doing pilot there the practicing surveyors rushed to the traditional rulers that the Federal Government was trying to steal their lands and that’s why they set up the committee, which was wrong. Of course, they knew it was wrong but the thinking was that if systematic land titling was adopted and used the same way as it was done in Rwanda, because that would be the beginning of an economic revolution in Rwanda.

In three years, they completed every piece of land in Rwanda. Each time we mention it here, the reaction is that Rwanda is small, but I can tell you that 21 states in Nigeria are smaller than Rwanda. In other words, it is possible to achieve that if they can do it in three years, there’s no state in Nigeria that shouldn’t be able to do it.

Even when Rwanda was on it, they didn’t have a Geospatial Information Officer, they had to send their children to Kenya to learn GIS before they could apply it. But in Nigeria, we are blessed, we have the people, it’s just getting the interest of the people.

So those are the few challenges apart from the ones I’ve mentioned before that are facing us. Those people who are to assist the process, are the people benefiting and so they want to work against it so that it’ll remain like this and unless we get political leaders with clearer minds who love the people, who want to take the people out of poverty, not somebody who wants to keep them in poverty to continue exploiting them.

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