By Kingsley Chijioke
To clear the controversy surrounding the constitutionality of Land Use Act, delegates to the National Conference yesterday resolved to retain the Land Use Act in the Nigerian constitution but with some necessary amendments to its content.
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 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.
But yesterday, the Deputy Chairman of the conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi announced to the plenary that the issues around the Land Use Act has 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 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, conference delegates resolved that the Act be amended to take care of those concerns especially on the issue of compensation as is 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. According to the conference, since Child Rights Act had provided that persons who have attained the age of 18 can be considered as an adult.
In order to facilitate easy access to land titles, delegates called on 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 who were advocating for the abrogation of the Land Use Act from the constitution pointed to the difficult and cumbersome procedure in neffecting needed amendments to the provisions of the Act. For instance, the delegates said at present amendments on the Act would require in addition to the National Assembly 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 land in Nigeria are titled.
Further arguments supporting radical ammendments to the Land Use Act stated that there is an aparent 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 abuses the powers veted on them and allocate land arbitrarily without payment of adequate compensation.
However most of the delegates who opposed the abrogation of the Act from the constitution had expressed fears over the likelihood that land speculators may use the opportunity of any loose end in the Act to take over poor peoples land.
They said the proposed abrogation was a grand design of land merchants to grab lands at cheap price and over time make such lands more expensive for the poor to acquire.