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Land Use Act 2004: Its effects on engineers and engineering

Dafe (SAN)

Dafe (SAN)

THE Land Use Act of 2004 is made up of eight parts of fifty-one sections. It addresses four important issues arising from the former land tenure systems in Nigeria: the problem of lack of uniformity in the laws governing land-use and ownership; the issue of uncontrolled speculation in urban land; the question of access to land rights by Nigerians on equal legal basis; and the issue of fragmentation of rural lands arising from either the application of traditional principles of inheritance and/or population growth and the consequent pressure on land.

It approaches these issues via three related strategies: the vesting of proprietary rights in land in the State; the granting ofusufructuaryrights in land to individuals; and the use of an administrative system rather than market forces in the allocation of rights in land.

The General principles of the Act state that: subject to the provisions of this Decree, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of the State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians.

The legal status of the Nigerian land user becomes that of statutory occupancy, not one of ownership’; and the economic interests and benefits of ‘statutory rights of occupancy are severely limited by law since proprietary interests in land are lost and claims are restricted to improvements made on the land.

While the Governor is empowered to grant statutory rights of occupancy within his State, the Local Governments may grant customary rights of occupancy essentially for agricultural purposes. The grant, however, may not exceed 500 hectares if used for agricultural purposes or 5,000 hectares if used for grazing.

Section 26 of the Land Use Act states that any transaction in land which purports to confer on, or vest in any persons, any right or interest over land other than as stated in the Act, shall be ‘null and void.’ The Act (in Part V) empowers the Governor to revoke rights of occupancy for reasons of overriding public interest: such as alienation of the land by the occupier without due approval, requirement of the land by Federal, State or Local Government for public purposes. In such cases, compensation may be paid but only for ‘unexhausted improvements’ on land and not for the land itself since with the Act, land no longer has an economic value.

Furthermore, a breach of any of the provisions of the Act or a refusal or neglect to accept and pay for a certificate issued as evidence of a right of occupancy could lead to one’s land being expropriated.
It is important to note that the provisions of the Land Use Act of 2004 have been enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This implies that the provisions of the Act cannot be amended or expunged, altered or repealed except as provided by the stringent conditions stated in the constitution for the alteration of its provisions.

It is clear from the foregoing analysis that land management under the Land Use Act has provided an appropriate enabling environment for prospective investors, private individuals and other corporate bodies. The various criticisms of the Land Use Act have provided elements that can move the nation forward. They clarify options to deal with the issues of the complexity of rights now streamlined in the Act. This can lead to efficient system of land management. The legal, institutional and technical frameworks for land management should be linked. It must be noted however that such legal, institutional and technical frameworks alone do not determine the policy choices. Rather, the choices define the framework with which to design an appropriate system of land management.

There is no doubt that land is the most vital ingredient of national socioeconomic development of a nation. Land is wealth no matter its nature or conditions. No land is ever without its purpose. This is because on it depends every economic activity. However a community or country utilizes land determines the level and kind of economic development that takes place in that community or country. The history of land utilization and development in Nigeria dates back to the pre-colonial era. The enactment of Land Use Act in March 1978 by the then Obasanjo military dictatorship marked a watershed in the history of land development in Nigeria. Ever since, there has been countless litigation in courts both on hitherto customary ownership and the new methods of land acquisition that have set individuals, communities and the state against one another. These conflicts are most manifest in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria where the people there are vociferously claiming ownership of lands and all the mineral resources inherent in them. The pains of land disputes and conflicts remain gruesome and indelible in the memories of the victims and the collective consciousness of the country.

The main fault of the Land Use Act as earlier reiterated was that it transferred title and ownership of land from individuals and communities to the Governors who hold the land in trust but many of whom have been known to have abused the power and privileges conferred on them by the Act. It also made acquisition of land by individuals and corporate bodies for commercial and economic development purposes extremely difficult.
Effects on Engineers

It is pertinent to state unequivocally that the Land Use Act in its present form has same effect on all individuals, be it a lawyer, a banker, an engineer or whatever professional. The rights, restrictions, liabilities and responsibilities are same for anybody with title to any piece of land.

Section 22 of the Act requires the acquisition of Governor’s consent before a statutory right of occupancy can be alienated. This is necessary where there is a transfer of title from a vendor to a purchaser.

Furthermore, Section 28 of the Act empowers the Governor to revoke a right of occupancy for overriding public interest. It applies to all persons concerned in that the government can acquire a person’s or communal land on grounds of public interest, with the requirement of just paying for improvements on same land.

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