Nigeria people’s manifesto: Land

Posted on Wednesday, 13 April 2011 13:12

As election season continues in Nigeria, The Africa Report canvassed Nigerians from across the country for their top priorities. We will be publishing seven people’s manifesto points ahead of the presidential poll, now scheduled for 16 April.

Nigeria’s antiquated land tenure laws are to be overhauled, and decent housing provided for Nigeria’s army of landless poor in the cities.

Swindles and shortages dominate Nigerians’ concerns about land and housing. Last August, The Daily Sun reported that Rotimi Olubeko had pronounced himself the proud owner of a plot of prime real estate in Lekki Peninsula. Olubeko insisted he paid the legal owner, Francisca Awolaja, N6m for the plot and saw her cash the cheque he gave her in 2001. But Ms. Awolaja died in 1992 – as her family angrily pointed out.

Nigerians spend millions of dollars and months, if not years, battling over property rights. The root problem is the chaotic land tenure system, an uneasy mix of customary law, military decree and precedent based on British law. In principle, there is a national land registry but that hasn’t stopped recurring disputes over ownership.

Law-reform groups are pressing for the establishment of a simpler system of registering land titles online, subject to an independent ombudsman. Lack of title prevents tens of millions of Nigerians from using their holdings as collateral to raise loans and develop enterprises, business people across Nigeria told The Africa Report.

“Land is the second most popular subject on our show, after security,” says Adeola Austin Oyinlade, host of the radio programme Know your Constitution. “People always complain that the land they bought has also been sold to several other people already.”?

There are economic implications to the land crisis as companies seek land to build factories or establish agribusiness projects. The military regime under then-leader General Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the Land Use Decree in 1978, effectively giving the federal and state governments the right to requisition land. The idea was to promote large-scale investment in agriculture. But the decree provoked constitutional challenges and has become a despised legacy of military rule.

Lack of decent housing for Nigeria’s more than 150 million people is a national crisis: some 50 people an hour come to Lagos looking for accommodation, according to UN surveys.

Kalibi Bilali, who works for the Asset Management Company of Nigeria in Abuja warns that the housing shortage in Northern Nigeria is fuelling volatility: “Millions of almajiris (child beggars) roam the country. Without a future to look forward to they can ­become foot-soldiers of militant sects.”

Read more from the people’s manifesto on Jobs, Security, Power & water, Health, Reform, and Education

This article was first published in the April 2011 edition of The Africa Report.

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