The four months national conference held in Abuja, the nation’s capital came to a final close with the conference handing over its report to President Goodluck Jonathan. Unfortunately, the fact that it has not been able to resolve those issues that are germane to the making of a new Nigeria and perhaps, people’s oriented constitution is however bothersome. Ochiaka Ugwu writes on the controversial Land Use Act.
One relevant and contentious issue that divided the delegates along ethnic lines was whether the Land Use Act should be retained in the constitution. The matter was so controversial that the principle officers of the conference at the plenary were unable to resolve it. It had to be resolved through a special committee that sat for weeks. Upon this, most delegates voiced out that there was never a meeting of mind concerning the resolution on land tenure matter.
Debates on whether or not to abrogate the Land Use Act from the constitution became controversial when most delegates contributing their views on the report by the committee on Land Tenure Matters were first divided along regional lines. This led to the issue being put on hold and later referred to a consensus building committee of elders to try and find amicable resolution to the disagreement.
At the plenary of the confab, the Deputy Chairman of the conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi announced that the issues around the Land Use Act have finally been resolved. He said the consensus committee report has reconciled all differences in the debate on the Land Use Act and thus urged the delegates to approve it.
Akinyemi thus called for a motion for the formal adoption of the whole report which was moved and adopted by the majority of the delegates through a voice vote.
While arriving at a consensus to retain the Land Use Act in the Nigerian constitution, delegates resolved that the Act be amended to take care of those concerns especially on the issue of compensation as provided in Section 29(4) of the Act. The amendment provides that owners of land should determine the price and value of their land and that government should henceforth negotiate with land owners and not just to compensate land owners.
It also resolved that the customary rights of occupancy in Section 21 of the Act be amended to ensure that it enjoys this same status as the statutory right of occupancy. It said the new measure will be extended to urban land. In the same vein, Section 7 of the Land Act which provided for the restriction on right of persons under the age of 21 to be granted statutory right of occupancy is to be amended to allow the lowering the age limit to 18 years, since according to Child Rights Act, persons who have attained the age of 18 can be considered an adult.
In order to facilitate easy access to land titles, delegates called on state chief executives (governors) to hasten the titling of land so that fees paid by land owners for certificates of occupancy should indemnify them from further taxation, when leveraging on their land.
Those delegates that advocated for the abrogation of the Land Use Act from the constitution pointed to the difficult and cumbersome procedure in effecting needed amendments to the provisions of the Act.
For instance, they noted that at present, amendments on the Act would require in addition to the National Assembly’s approval, a concurrence of two-thirds of the State Houses of Assembly in the country.
Apart from lamenting the injustice done to original land owners through the poor compensation paid by governments, they said only 3% of lands in Nigeria are titled. Further arguments supporting radical amendments to the Land Use Act stated that there is an apparent lack of fluidity in the land market arising from the requirement that governors must give his consent for all land transfer transactions.
This group of delegates also alleged that governors normally abuse the powers vested in them and allocate land arbitrarily without payment of adequate compensation. However, most of the delegates, who had opposed the abrogation of the Act, had expressed fears over the likelihood that land speculators may use the opportunity of any loose end in the Act to take over poor people’s lands. They said the proposed abrogation was a grand design by land merchants to grab lands at cheap price and over time make such lands more expensive for the poor to acquire.
However, it was said that at the time the Land Use Act168 was promulgated there was a dire need for land policy which was thought was very crucial for the development objective of Nigeria. The government wanted to be firm on the new law which was thought only as panacea for the realization of development objectives at that time. To show Nigeria that land policy and administration which was to quicken development process was of the utmost priority of the government, The Federal Military Government decided to annex the Act to the 1979 Constitution169 with a view that the its provision should not be easily annulled. The incorporation of the Act into the constitution has led to confusion as to the actual status of the Act.
Besides, it was also alleged that there are a lot of inconsistencies between the provisions of the Act and the Constitution. The highlights of these areas of inconsistencies are as follows:
Firstly, section 1 of the Act vests all land in the Government, thus living the individual with certain rights in form of rights of occupancy devoid of ownership. This drastically curtails the property right of the individual as regards his ultimate ownership in land under section 43 of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees the individual right to acquire and own immovable property (i.e., land) anywhere in Nigeria.
Secondly, section 47(1) of the Act makes the Act to have effect on any law or rule of law including the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This subsection also ousts the jurisdiction of the court in inquiring into any question concerning the vesting of all land in the Governor, the right to grant statutory and customary rights of occupancy by the Governor and the Local Government respectively and in section 2, any question as to the amount or adequacy of any compensation paid or payable under the Act. Section 47(1) above is inconsistent, with and an affront to the supremacy of the constitution as contain in section 1(1) and (3) of the 1999 Constitution. Also the ouster clauses contained in section 47(1), (2) above are in consistent with section 272 of the 1999 constitution which guarantees the jurisdiction of the High Court of a state to hear and determine any civil or criminal proceeding involving the existence or extent of legal right,
power, duty, liability, privilege, obligation or any claim in any issue, penalty, forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of an offence committed by any person. Thus, the jurisdictions of the court which are really important to enforce the intention of the Act are seriously undermined or curtailed by the provision of the section 47 of the Act. This is really undesirable.
Thirdly, the finality of the Land Use and Allocation Committee’s decision on disputes referred to Act 170 as regard the amount of compensation payable under section 29 in respect of land compulsory acquired in the public interest without appeal to court is ultra vires to section 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution which gives any person claiming compensation or amount of compensation payable (in the event of compulsory acquisition of his property) a right of access to court to determine his interest.