Nigeria News

A nation without defined property rights will continue to be at war with itself

The challenge facing Nigeria today is not being tackled at the roots. It seems the symptoms are what those in position of authority are chasing after. It is like chasing shadows.

A Housing Estates in Lagos

The war between the Fulani cattle rearers and the Beroms, the South-South and the country at large, the various clashes among communities that have led to loss of lives in Nigeria, are all about right to land or claims of ownership of one property or the other.

The dichotomy between the North and South is all about right to property. The struggle over resource control is about property rights. The call for fiscal federalism is about property rights.

The question of state of origin as basis for accessing office and position is about right to property in the country.

One would have thought that the National Conference would look critically at this issue and proffer long- lasting solutions. The dispute over land and property ownership has been the bane of modern Nigeria.

In days past, community and family ownership of property had made it difficult for individuals to make final claim to some property. The social setting therefore, encouraged communal land and property ownership.

Down the line, with the national economy without a well defined right of individuals to property ownership, the community continued to set the pace for land and property ownership.

Over the years, many that ordinarily would have had access to land that would have yielded some resources for them to live on, were deprived of access to such property.

At the national level, the Federal Government took over all the mineral resources in the land but the title to such land comes from the state.

This lack of a well defined right to property has become a social malaise that is haunting the nation. Each day, hundreds of Nigerians die fighting over one form of property or the other.

The key driver in President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda is massive investment. This is why the ministries of Commerce and Industry were merged to form the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.

While it is important to seek to attract foreign direct investment into the country, creating the ministry is no bait for foreign investors to want to come to Nigeria. Globally, investors are interested in places where return on their investments is high. Nigeria certainly qualifies as investors have found out that they reap higher benefit if they invest in Nigeria.

The few that have done so have found this to be true. Yet, Nigeria is not a haven to foreign investors.

There must be reasons why they shy away from Nigeria. Many investors out there who speak privately to Nigerians at investment fora are quick to point out that in Nigeria, there is no sanctity of contract and property rights are not clearly defined.

Most foreign investors see this as the most inhibiting factor that scares away would-be investors. They are not worried about the lack of infrastructure as is always claimed by those who explain away the Nigeria situation.

Shell, Mobil, Chevron, MTN, UACN and others know too well the infrastructural deficiency in the country, yet they invested and are reaping the benefits.

The truth is that both local and foreign investors are wary of investing in Nigeria because the state and its agents have no respect for property rights and sanctity of contracts.

They are worried that if they invest in Nigeria, their investment can be taken over by the state. The recent termination of Lekki concession agreement by Lagos State Government, the taking over of private banks by the Sanusi-led CBN are examples of such impunity that scare investors away from Nigeria.

Property rights, according to Professor Pat Utomi, constitutes a major part of the constitutional arrangement that makes an economy advance. Now, until this entity called Nigeria has a philosophical understanding of what property rights means, Nigeria is not going to make any major economic progress.

To say the least, investors are scared and skeptical about Nigeria because there is impunity, and property rights are not guaranteed.

Sanctity of contract is a general idea that once parties duly enter into a contract, they must honour their obligations under that contract. Contracts have been breached with impunity by federal and states agents and servants who outrightly disregard or disobey court orders.

Normally, before any foreign investor commits his capital into a project, he will want to be assured that there shall be stability in the investment regime.

That is to say, the whole or key aspects of the agreement will be respected by the host state and that the rules of the game will not be changed unilaterally.

The foreign investor needs such an assurance not only as a means of ensuring that he realises the expected benefits for his shareholders, but also to convince other sponsors of the project that the project will generate enough capital to pay off their loans and meet their supply requirements.

These objectives may only be realised if the terms of the investment agreement are respected by the host state. Hence, for that reason, the principle of sanctity of contract is regarded as one of the most important legal concepts in the investment process.

The Federal Military Government in 1978 promulgated the Land Use Decree in which it delegated authority over land allocation to the 36 states and their local governments in an effort to ensure that rural and urban populations had access and secure tenure to land.

While the physical land area is under the control of state governments, the minerals contained in such land belongs to the Federal Government in the Mineral Act.

While a corporate body or individual seeking land for investment goes to the state to obtain certificate of occupancy, he has to obtain mining lease licence from the Federal  . Government.

It is this confused and lack of defined property rights that have resulted in the contention between the Federal Government and the states as to who owns what.

Enforcing individual rights to property in the Nigerian courts is tortuous, time- wasting as it takes years to get judgments and is costly. In most cases, federal agencies without due process encroach on individual property rights. Is Nigeria going to continue like this forever?

There must be a break from the past. Nigerians must brace up and do the right thing. A well defined property rights rule of engagement is what Nigeria needs, not national conference.

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC and CEO of Portia Web Solutions. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websites. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.
https://www.codewit.com

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