Nigeria: Fashola’s unserious attitude to tenancy law

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The first time I visited the United States of America, one programme that I loved to watch on TV in my hotel room was American Justice. It was a documentary on how security agents went after criminals and got them arrested. But the most interesting aspect was the one in which criminally-minded people were sought, enticed, arrested and jailed. That way, many paedophiles, rapists, drug dealers, armed robbers and other criminals were smoked out and imprisoned.

Some police officers would go online, pose as minors (of 13 or 14 years old) and start chatting with adults. They would make it clear to such adults that they were below the age of consent. Soon the adult would start sending sexual messages to them. They would even exchange phone numbers and start communicating on phone. Days or weeks later, the officers would tell them that their parents would travel for the weekend, leaving them home alone. The paedophile would latch on the bait and promise to come visit them for a raunchy weekend. All this while, all the conversations would be recorded.

Once the paedophile arrived the building, he would announce his arrival and confirm if his victim was still home alone. Once he got the all-clear, he would burst into the house with great expectations. Some would undress completely by the gate and run in naked into the waiting arms of law enforcement officers. They would be video-taped and have no way of denying planning to commit the crime. The person would get a summary trial and be sent straight to jail.

This same method is used to arrest drug dealers, robbers and others. It was used to arrest and jail Grammy-award winning reggae musician, Buju Banton (real name Mark Myrie), for 10 years in 2011. An agent provocateur posed as a drug dealer and approached him for drug trafficking. He got involved in the discussions. When enough evidence had been got on him, he was arrested, tried and jailed by a Florida, USA court for 10 years, his global status notwithstanding.

This is a wonderful method of preventing crime in society. A government that is concerned about crime does not just wait for it to be committed; it prevents it and arrests those who have the potential to pose a threat to society.

Given the status of Governor Babatunde Fashola as a well-travelled and exposed man as well as Senior Advocate of Nigeria, one had expected that this approach would have been adopted in fighting all the lawbreakers in Lagos State in various arms of his government, including the Lagos State Civil Service, his commissioners and others.

But the law that we want to focus on is the Lagos State Tenancy Law that was introduced with much fanfare in August 2011. When it was introduced, Lagosians hailed Fashola as a Daniel that had come to judgment, a man that had come to save them from the asphyxiating conditions given by Lagos landlords. But almost two years after, it is obvious that the tenancy law is a fairy tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Highlights of that law include that no landlord should collect more than one-year rent from a tenant; if a landlord employs the services of an agent, he and not the tenant should pay the agent a commission or a fee; a tenant who paid an annual rent initially would subsequently pay a rent every six months instead of annually.

Because of the shortage of accommodation in Lagos, tenants have always been at the mercy of the landlords. A landlord would collect a two-year rent or more from a new tenant in addition to 10 per cent agency fee and another 10 per cent agreement fee as well as another fee called caution fee. And almost annually, the rent would be increased. If he could not pay, he would be given a notice to quit. Most times, the landlord would obtain an order from a court without the tenant’s knowledge, and then gets the tenant’s property thrown out on a day he is not around.

Some lawyers have been making efforts to execute the new tenancy law, but there are many challenges. One is that most tenants who are looking for accommodation in Lagos are usually desperate because there are few alternatives. For one to get a defaulting landlord implicated, one has to pay the rent first, so as to have the evidence to use against the landlord in court. Not many people have such money to tie down, pending the determination of the case.

But if the Lagos State Government had wanted the tenancy law to be effective, it would have sent agent provocateurs all over Lagos to pose as prospective tenants. If some two or three landlords had been arrested and penalised, the message would have gone round and many landlords would be eager to obey the law to avoid any form of trouble.

When the Lagos State Government of Fashola wanted to introduce toll fares on the Lekki Expressway, it had its way despite all the opposition from Lagosians. When it wanted to increase the school fees of students of the Lagos State University from about N25,000 per annum to about N300,000, it also had its way, in spite of all the opposition against it. In the same, the government of Fashola recently banned commercial motorcycles from all major roads in Lagos despite the outcry against it. It is therefore surprising that the same supposedly determined governor has not made any serious effort to ensure that its tenancy law is obeyed. The reason could be that the government is not directly affected by the problem. The party loyalists and stalwarts of the governor could be landlords that benefit from the status quo, and an implementation of the law would not augur well for them.

But one of the things that have made Fashola stand out among the governors in Nigeria is that without making much noise, he gets things done, and he is keen on ensuring that laws are kept irrespective of the status of those involved. One then wonders why he has treated the tenancy law with levity. He will not seek another term in 2015, but being a governor should not be his biggest dream in Nigeria. He will be increasing his brand equity and positioning himself for highest posts if he ensures that the tenancy law becomes effective as quickly as possible, thereby saving millions of tenants from anguish and hypertension.

About Post Author

Anthony-Claret Ifeanyi Onwutalobi

Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC. 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.
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