Nigeria: Land Tenure Matters Spark Debates At National Conference
Debates, applause and condemnation trailed the report of the Committee on Land Tenure Matters and National Boundaries on Thursday as the National Conference sitting in Abuja opened discussions on the committee's report.
While most of the delegates declared the various recommendations submitted by the committee as remarkable and daring, others said they were not implementable as they were drafted to favour certain classes of people or ethnic groups against the others.
High points of the committee's recommendation was that the Land Use Act should be expunged from the constitution and replaced with new provisions that would guarantee the right of Nigerians to have access to land irrespective of ethnic origin.
Such removal, according to the committee would also ensure the right of communities to have their land protected from human activities that would hinder or degrade the productivity of such land through such activities as pollution, flooding, among others.
The committee, headed by General A. B. Mamman with Oba Michael Adedeji as deputy, viewed the controversial Land Use Act as an attempt at codification of all laws in Nigeria pertaining to land administration.
It said before the Act came into effect, land belonged to specific owners or group of owners, families, or communities that could alienate, sell and dispose same without the requirement of obtaining any authorization or ratification by the state government.
The committee noted that the original land tenure systems, in which the community exercised management and control powers, guaranteed that community members have access to land for farming and habitation and other economic activities.
Land ownership, it said, provided the foundation for agricultural and economic development of Nigeria and was supported by traditional land tenure systems.
With the introduction of the Land Use Act, stated the committee, land ownership became vested in the governor of a state and the local government within the area of the jurisdiction on which the land is situated.
The Act, it said, was made to override all other laws relating to land, made from time immemorial before the commencement of the Act; and that to further worsen the situation, the Act was entrenched in the constitution; thus making it emphatically impossible for a change through the normal process of legislation.
After an exhaustive review of the disadvantages of the Act since inception, the committee said the Act should be abrogated to allow for successor legislations on land tenure and administration by states of the federation 'which should and must vest ownership of land in the hands of those with customary right of ownership, subject to the right of state to register titles and provide guidelines for land transactions within their jurisdictions.'
Its argument was that apart from protecting the natural rights of communities to survival, such new legislations would enable land owners to use land as collateral for financing land development and economic activities.
It also recommended establishment of a National Land Commission through an Act of the National Assembly to be responsible for land administration in the states with the objective of promoting harmony in land administration.
The commission is also envisaged to create and maintain a national land databank in collaboration with states; and make recommendations on issues pertaining to land already acquired by the Federal Government or any land that the Federal Government may wish to acquire.
On compensation, the committee said the right of land owners to adequate compensation commensurate with current value and social attributes of land in the event of acquisition of such land by the government for public use must be guaranteed.
It noted further, 'whenever the government intends to compulsorily acquire land for public purpose, adequate compensation and necessary resettlement must be made prior to entry of the said land by the government.
'Provided always that if after 10 years of government entry, the land is not utilized for the said public purpose, then the acquired land reverts to the original owners and the compensation earlier paid shall be forfeited by the government.
'It is our recommendation that the provisions of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 should serve as the minimum standard for dealing with communities, land owners and land users in legislations relating to the extraction of all minerals and the setting aside of forest to serve as carbon sink.'
Shortly after the presentation by the committee chairman, speaker after speaker took time to analyse the report and make further recommendations either in support or in rejection of the previous ones.
Some of the delegates said the proposal for the establishment of a National Land Commission would further push the issue of land tenure back to the Federal Government; and that it would serve as a replacement to the Land Use Act.
During consideration by the Committee of the Whole, delegates out-rightly rejected the recommendation on the establishment of the National Land Commission describing it as unnecessary and an attempt to duplicate the Land Use Act.
Professor, Auwalu Yadudu argued against the abrogation of the Act or its removal from the constitution but supported compensation for lands acquired by the government.
Abubakar Buba Galadima from Yobe State said removing the Land Use Act from the constitution was bound to create problems as those who have money would buy over land from the poor owners.
He was supported by Dr Junaid Mohammed who, while dangling the report, said, 'This is the most capitalistic report this conference has had the misfortune to receive.'
Mohammed said he was completely convinced that expunging the Land Use Act from the constitution would create problems as land still remains a very valuable resource.
'What is behind the recommendation is nothing but class interest,' he said explaining that those who have money would corner everything; adding, 'It is in the interest of this country that land is left in trust with government.'
However, during clause-by-clause consideration of the recommendations, the proviso for reversion of land to original owners 10 years after acquisition without being put to use was reversed by the Conference to the effect once compensation is paid, the original owner cannot take the land back.
On mining of mineral resources, the Conference in session agreed that a certain percentage of royalty on mineral resources should be paid to the communities and land owners where such resources are found.
On internal boundaries, the Conference decided that a National Boundary Tribunal be established by the Federal Government to adjudicate on boundary matters in a bid to avoid disputes necessitated by the absence of such a body.
After tracing the history of Bakassi takeover by Cameroon, the committee said the Nigerian government must revisit the issue to ensure that the national interest, national security and the rights and livelihood of Nigerians are not undermined in the final delineation of boundaries between and Cameroon.
The debates that followed were garnished with deep passions as some delegates asked for compensation in perpetuity to Cross River State and other areas of the country where such dislocation has been experienced.
Some of the delegates demanded outright retrieval of Bakassi Peninsular from the Cameroons in spite of the existing ruling of the International Court of Justice in favour of that country.
However, the Conference in a Committee of the Whole said since Nigeria had appeared before the ICJ and defended its position before ruling was given, the country remains legally bound to accept and abide by the judgment of the court.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY, MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS
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