Policy of Massive Demolition in Lagos State – a disturbing trend

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Ostensibly the reason for the enactment of the Land Use Decree included the need to protect the citizens from the greed, avarice and violence of the so-called “land owners”. However, in a situation where government has woefully failed to address the basic needs of the citizens, housing inclusive, this moribund, retrogressive and much abuse decree calls for a second look.
Many countries have deemed it necessary in their socio-political history to effect some degree of control over land, being the priceless asset it is. China and in recent memory, Venezuela, are good examples. In this vein, the introduction of the Nigerian Land Use Decree in 1978 was deemed revolutionary. However, with the passage of time, this decree or act as it is now known, has been abused, manipulated and twisted to achieve various parochial and anti-social interests. While the menace posed by land owners has not been curtailed as much as expected, the act itself has turned out to be a monster that would continue to divide the Nigerian nation, unless it is abolished or modified. The unfortunate aspect of it is that the all-knowing Nigerian military decided to include this act in the doctored document called the Nigerian constitution, thereby making it a constitutional matter to change. The import of this is clear to all.

The rationale for the enactment of the Land Use Act appeared altruistic, to say the least. The act aimed at creating a nationally uniform law governing access to and equitable distribution of land, such that rancour, confusion and litigations are minimised. However, in achieving this laudable objective, extreme power was vested in state governments, being the sole custodians of land within their jurisdictions. Decree 52 of 1993 promulgated by the Babangida administration further strengthened federal control of land by appropriating all lands within 100 metres of the 1967 shoreline of Nigeria. In summary, all occupiers of land in any given state are all tenants of the respective state governments, are expected to pay yearly ground rents, state governors reserve the rights to revoke the rights of occupancy on any piece of land for reasons of “overriding public interest” and by virtue of the Act, land in the federation has no economic value. An occupier of a land, where legal channels were appropriately followed, remains a statutory occupier and not one of ownership.

The implementation of the Land Use Act has not being as altruistic as its intended aim. And in the murky waters of the Nigerian political climate, it has been abused and mutilated. It has turned to a monster much hated by the majority but actively embraced by the minority. A point of view held that the greatest undoing of this decree is its empowerment of an “amorphous” organ called “government”. It is a well known fact in Nigeria that those constituting “government” are of different breeds, who often times fail to work for the interest of the masses. This rather unfortunate situation is being exemplified by the current Lagos State government.

By virtue of the Land Use Act, the occupiers of the organ of government in Lagos State are the owners of all lands in the state. Naturally, as an owner, one is free to manage one’s property as deemed fit. However, the act of governance calls for responsibilities and sensitivities. Thus, Lagos State government cannot just manage lands in the state on the basis of whims and caprices of the governor or the relevant commissioner or officers. The obvious problems of Lagos as relates to land mostly bother on the construction of unapproved structures, illegal conversion of approved structures, structures blocking drainages, industrialisation and the almost manic pre-occupation with the mega-city concept. One key weapon being actively employed by the state government as a major panacea to tackle all the listed problems is the policy of massive demolition. The level of commitment to this policy as being demonstrated by this state government remains amazing.

While provision of suitable housing remains one of the duties of a responsible government, our experience in the Third World, Nigeria inclusive, is that a citizen has to struggle to meet that aspect of his needs. We are really hazy as regards the duties and commitments of governance. What government means to us is a set of elitist, above-board and extremely powerful group with total disdain for the wishes and well-being of the masses. We are daily being terrorised by the apparatus of power and appear so powerless to counter these forces. We live at the mercy of those in “government and power” and tremble at their every utterances. These anomalies are daily being put to effect in Lagos State. Lagos State government does not view provision of housing as its priority; rather it counts more on the active demolition of existing structures under various guises.

It is ironic that governments in Lagos State would appear ignorant when villages were being turned into towns and again, well-developed towns, ostensibly without compliance with the provisions of the Land Use Act. In the course of the developments of such villages, necessary non-functional amenities like water and power would be brought in. Often times, local governments would come in at much later stages to construct drainages and so on. After so many years of living in such developed towns, the mighty and amorphous government would suddenly wake up and realise that all structures on such lands were illegal as they never complied with the provisions of the Land Use Act. This is interpreted to mean that they had no permission from the government to build on such lands, that such lands were earmarked for markets, schools, agricultural purposes and so on. During the time of Lateef Jakande, such pieces of land most times survived with negotiable solutions called rectification or regularisation. With this approach, most popular towns in Lagos today like Ojota, Maryland, Owutu and so on survived.

The relevant question is that where were the organs of government directly responsible for the control, monitoring and administration of land when such villages were being developed into town? I am not holding brief for landlords who chose this route, but the process of obtaining certificate of occupancy and governor’s consent on land in Lagos State remains tedious despite numerous modifications. In any case, simply demolishing such structures would not be a reasonable solution. Two wrongs will never make a right. A question I hope the State government can provide answer to is the number of houses that has been constructed within the tenure of Babatunde Fashola as the head of government in Lagos State. It is not right for a government to create a legion of homeless people within its boundaries. This is a message I wish to leave for the government of Fashola.

While it is inevitable that the act of governance will inevitably lead to some degree of re-construction and modernisation of its geographical boundaries, demolition inclusive, the position is that such demolitions should have real developmental purposes and should be sensitive to the needs and desires of the populace. While it is acceptable that the minority may have to face difficulties for the benefits of the majority, as applies to the demolition of houses blocking drainages and those constructed in hazardous and sub-standard manners. While it is also acceptable that sometimes the state may have to move under the auspices of health and safety to remove houses constructed under high-tension cables, it is totally illogically for structures to be demolished on the grounds of lack of permit and to make way for super-conglomerations interested in erecting factories on such lands. This has been happening in Lagos State. A government that cannot provide sufficient houses for its people should not take the pleasure in removing existing ones. This is an area that calls for care and flexibility.

The obsession of the state government with transforming Lagos into a mega-city, while commendable, probably needs a review for it to start off on the right pedestal. No mega-city survives without well-planned transportation, regular energy supply, sufficient and decent accommodation and creation of employment for its teeming masses. These are areas where the government has not made much impact.

The aim of this write-up is to tell the state government that the people are tired of its high handedness on the issue of demolition. Consultations and sensitivity to the wishes of the people can effect a lasting solution and save many homes. For crying out loud, this is supposed to be a democracy and not a military regime!

 On the part of Lagosians, please speak out and very loud. The Lekki Pennisula and the Free Trade Zone scheme should be reviewed. We cannot hand over more than half of Lagos State to the Chinese in the name of agriculture or what have you. The land policies being implemented in Lagos State portend doom and agony for the people. While agriculture is important, the people must equally have places to live in. I hope Governor Babatunde Fashola is listening!

CSN: 56002-2008-22-53

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