Maduka Nweke, [email protected]
Land plays a pivotal role in housing development with its two major roles. One of that role is that you must secure piece of land and two it is on land that you build your house. So any rule that is made to hold land or to make land not available to those who need them at any point in time will eventually effect the number of housing and the extent of deficits that we have to battle with. Prior to establishment of Land Use Act, people use land at will with no regulations on the side of government. But with the advent of the Act, it has been complaint upon complaint with may clamouring for its abrogation. Land Use Act, though helps to check use of land has become a clog in the process of acquiring land. It is the Land Use Act that gave birth to the Land Use Charge of 2018.
Today, if you buy land in Nigeria and you do not have the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) from the government, it is not yours, all you have is a lease, that is, you never have a freehold. You cannot even have access to any loan or do anything tangible if you do not have fund of your own, not even the National Housing Fund (NHF) which was set up by the government to render such assistance. Yet the Certificate of Occupancy is even more difficult than getting the land itself.
All efforts by some State Governments especially the Lagos State government to ease the procedure and collection have been described as mere gimmicks. We have heard series of cases where Governors wield their powers to revoke legally acquired rights of occupancy in the interest of the public, whereas it was obvious that they were done on political reasons especially against oppositions. The former President of the federation who was the author of the Act when it was promulgated during his first military administration had to reassure Nigerians on September 26, 2001 in Abuja that “no government owns land” and that “land belongs to the people”. This statement was made when he was condemning the excesses of the Governors. As stated above, since it is a known philosophy that laws are made by men for men and are operated, implemented and enforced by human beings through various legal institutions, our concern is how the Act has helped in the housing scheme.
The law in Lagos State is said to consolidate all property and land based charges in Lagos and makes provisions for levying and collecting land use charge in respect of property in Lagos State. The law came to force on February 8, 2018, and it repealed the 2001 version. The land use charge is a form of property tax and all the property or owners of property in Lagos are expected to pay it, apart from the property or owners that are exempted. Although, not all states in the federation adopted the Lagos style, the property that are exempted are: (i) properties belonging to religious organization and used exclusively as a place of worship or religious education; this is despite calls from different quarters that religious organizations should start paying taxes. (ii) Property used as public cemeteries and burial grounds; (iii) Property used as registered educational institutions; (iv) Property used for public or private libraries; (v) Property used as palaces of recognized Obas and Chiefs; and (vi) Property specifically exempted by the Governor of Lagos State.
However, under the old Land Use Charge Law of 2001, the person liable to pay Land Use Charge was the owner of the property. This means that occupiers of the property such as lessors, sub-lessors, lessees, tenants, licensees and trespassers are not liable to pay. This position has changed under the Land Use Charge of 2018 where liability to pay may exclusively or jointly fall on the owner on the one hand and occupiers such as lessees, tenants or trespassers on the other hand, depending on a given situation. So, understanding how the law as it relates to supply of housing in the country helps those who wants to build and their own houses, it could be understood that land use act has not helped in the availability of housing in the country. Laws in Nigeria are therefore enforced variously by the enforcement agencies. In order to make housing both available and affordable, government should remove everything that frightens builders and those aspiring to build their own houses. This include amending the land use act to make land accessible to the public or abrogate it entirely. The public have been complaining about the clog of land use act to solving the problem of housing.
Because of these and so many complaints from the public, the main problems of Land Use Act in Nigeria remains the same. It made land become super expensive. In the past, you could just purchase a piece of land from a community or individual and register it in the Land Registry. After that, you go and get the bankable document almost in no time for the adequate price. Today, the process is changed. If you want a piece of land, you will need to apply for the local government official and pay the fee for the land. After that, you will get the plan with unused lands on the map and get your piece. When you get your piece of the land, you acquire the Certificate of Occupancy. That is how you become a rightful owner of the lands. Nonetheless, to get the C of O from government authorities has become an Herculean task that discourages the people from pursuing their land titles. So, if government is serious in making housing available to the people and reducing the yearly housing deficits, the first action will be directed at making land available and affordable. Otherwise, the so much hulahula and hullabaloo for the provision of housing will make no meaning. The act has tied the operators in the built environment and the public such that repealing it or amending it to give it a human face will go a long way in reducing housing deficits in the country. The implication of this act bothers only the landowners. The landowners should acquire a Certificate of Occupancy. Without this certificate, you cannot be named a legal owner of the land. Therefore, all the rights that you have for this land is a lease. What does it mean for you? It means that the government may take your land without any compensation.
The Land Use Act remains as the most controversial legislation act in Nigeria. A lot of stakeholders still describe this act as the one that cripples the economy of the entire nation. A lot of experts may suggest that the act should be overviewed or reviewed. Moreover, this act should be removed from the Constitution. This is most imminent considering the fact that RUGA and similar issues are trying to set the country ablaze. If this act stays within the measures of the constitution and without any reviewing, then Nigerians should expect no growth in terms of the real estate industry. How can you create a strong and stable growth of anything if the land is under the control of the state governors?
The Constitutional requirements are the main reason why this act failed. It is necessary to amend the act to change the situation for the better. The previous presidents, like GoodLuck Jonathan and Umaru Musa Yar’ Dua tried to make some changes to the act but their efforts did not climax.