Adesegun Ajibola, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Principal Partner, Bola Ajibola & Co, bares his mind on demolitions and state of housing in Lagos State. He also touched on why Lagos State Tenancy Law seems not to have a bite.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he said government of Lagos State and by extension the Federal Government, should take a bold step in curbing official corruption that has persistently obstructed low-income earners, particularly the masses from accessing the housing facilities provided for them by government. Excerpts:
By Bashir Adefaka
The Lagos State government is planning to demolish some buildings at the Jakande Estate, Isolo, in Lagos. What is your view on this?
What I am aware of is that some buildings are of age and need to be demolished and rebuilt. If that is what the government is doing, which of course I’m told it is, there is no problem with that going by the recent past experiences that we have had of building collapses here and there.
Some believe that the Lagos government housing policy and tenancy law failed because the government itself gives room for the circumvention of the law by private landlords. Don’t you agree?
The question you have just asked now reminds me of a situation under the military regime. I think when late Major-General AbdulKarim Adisa was Minister of Works and Housing and he constructed the Obalende Housing Scheme, on the day of the commissioning, which was also to handover the keys and the apartments to whosoever had subscribed and purchased them.
There was an occasion for that and the minister was there physically and more than half of the seats meant for the applicants and those purchases were empty. The minister then made enquiry as to what was going on.
He then found out that almost over 60 percent of those who claimed to own those houses were all civil servants working in the ministry or working in some government departments and had purchased the apartments whereas, these are supposed to be houses for low income earners.
Now, when the officials within the system who are themselves responsible for implementing government policy, i.e. the housing programme, are themselves the beneficiaries and the very people who circumvent that policy by putting the door as it were and obstructing the movement of the low income masses to access what government has provided for them, then you can see that the programme always seemed to have failed even before it began!
I dare say, with due respect, that we may have some of these problems affecting Lagos State government themselves. And one of the ways of curbing it is by arresting the situation which is always affecting such programme.
If houses are meant for low income earners, there must be a means by which those who are truly low income earners can be determined before they are qualified to have access in purchasing or getting involved in the housing programme.
After the tenancy law was enacted, very little have been done to implement it, do you think the government is being hampered in anyway and why would you say the Lagos State Tenancy Law is not working?
Well, I think in order to appreciate the extent of its efficiency and the impact of the law on the lives of the citizens of Lagos State to which it was designed, there will be need for very intensive kind of survey across the state so that we can have at our disposal facts and figures which will be the direction as to the percent of compliances and degree of lack of compliance like the problems that besiege the implication of the law.
But by and large, I think there was a kind of stakeholders summit prior to the enactment of that law; there were consultations within the legislative arm and there were a number of people who were invited to express their opinions.
But nevertheless, the efficiency of a law; the degree of acceptability of a law within the society can only be expected after the law itself has been passed into existence. And it is not a thing that you can measure.
Now a number of landlords particularly seem to have the grouse, in my understanding, with the law in the sense that the law tends to limit them to the collection of rent within a limited period of time that is one year as against the two, three years that they were taking. But the problem with that is that, it is difficult to legislate the intention of the parties (landlord and tenant) and their desire. The law tends to impose sanctions on the landlord who put forward that proposal and against the tenant who accepts that offer. But it then becomes a situation where the landlord makes the proposal and leaves it to the tenant to comply with outside the law, circumvent that position of the law and still achieve the purpose and the desire.
So, once you have a willing tenant and the landlord who has made such a proposal to be paid years of rent beyond what the law has prescribed, it is difficult to legislate the enforcement of that provision of the law to ensure that it never happens. It’s like you have a legislation against armed robbery but there is still armed robbery.
The law is against armed robbery but you
cannot remove the desire from the hearts of criminals who conspire to carry out that act from time to time. All you can do is to say, if you do so and you are caught by the law, these are the sanctions that will definitely apply to your situation.
But when you look at the housing stock in the country generally, the availability of houses is limited and largely in the hands of the private sector. The contribution of the state government over the years is still comparatively lower than the contribution of the private sector in housing sector.
So, the advantage of the control of that sector is largely in the hands of the private sector against whom the state is trying to legislate and control its activities in that area.
So, you can expect that the influence, as long as it remains so, would continue to encourage the circumvention of that law in a manner which the tenants which that law is enacted to protect cannot adequately be protected because they don’t have choice.
If you go to a landlord and say the law says you should not pay more than one year advance for rent, he will ask you to go Lagos State government and ask them to give you the house of your desire to rent and that, “If you want my own, this is the condition. We will give you a receipt for one year but you pay for two years.