Why States May Kick against Bid to Amend Land Use Act


Our Correspondents

Indications emerged at the weekend that state governors are determined to frustrate planned efforts by the Senate to amend the Land Use Act, contending the proposal aims at removing the most potent power the states’ chief executives have, particularly over land.

Checks by THISDAY in 18 states showed that the helmsmen of the second tier of government are baying for blood, arguing that not only would the proposed amendment undermine their power but would also undercut the huge financial resources many of them are making from land administration, including land charges.

A few respondents feared that the proposal was a veiled move to surreptitiously implement the suspended Rural Grassing Area (RUGA) policy of the federal government.

In an apparent bid to cede more powers to the federal government, the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, had at the 13th Abuja International Housing Show in Abuja, hinted that the Senate would pursue the amendment of the Land Use Act of 1978 to address problems of housing deficit in the country.

He reinforced this at the opening of a two-day public hearing on the 2020 Appropriation Bill last week.

But several states’ officials told THISDAY last weekend that the proposal was dead on arrival as they would block move at their various Houses of Assembly.

The amendment requires majority votes in two-thirds of the 36 states of Houses of Assembly to sail through. This, said political analysts at the weekend would be an uphill task given the adversarial position of the governors.

The Land Use Act, which came into effect on March 27, 1978, vests all land, comprised in the territory of each state (except land vested in the federal government or its agencies), solely in the governor of the state, who would hold such land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the state and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are  conferred on local governments.”

Section 1 of the Land Use Act of Laws of Federation of 1990, states that “subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of this Act.”

Pressing for the proposal, Lawan said the attempt was not new, explaining that there was an effort made in 2007 to 2008 that fizzled out.

“I think there is a lot that needs to be done for consultation with state and local governments because land belongs to them at that level,” adding: “Until there is a buy-in from states, the land reform will be a difficult thing to do.”

Recognising the herculean task, he stated: “The Land Use Act is in the Constitution and if you have to reform the land use in Nigeria, you have to carry out a constitutional amendment to that effect. Even if you pass it here in the National Assembly, the state assemblies have to concur with 24 out of 36.”

However, reacting to the proposal by the Senate president, many states across the six zones have objected to the idea of amending the Act.

Adamawa State Governor, Mr. Ahmadu Fintiri, said he preferred the status quo to remain.

Speaking through his Director-General on Media and Communications, Mr. Solomon Kumangar, he said any amendment would amount to accruing more powers to the federal government, which he described as needless. 

“We prefer to leave the arrangement as it is not minding that under the Land Use act, the federal government has a commanding role over land matters. The current move will amount to adding more powers to the federal government, which is needless,” he said. 

The Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Ahaji Iya Abbas, could not be reached but his close associate who spoke off the record told THISDAY: “I don’t think the speaker and members of the state assembly will support the move by the Senate.”

In Sokoto, the state government also rejected any amendment of the Act.

It said on law that would empower the federal government to own all the land in the country.

The Special Adviser to the Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal on Media, Mr. Muhammad Bello told, THISDAY that the state government would reject the bill because of its consequences for the people.

In Zamfara State, the spokesperson of the state House of Assembly, Alhaji Mustapha Kaula, said such an amendment bill would not see the light of the day if brought before the state House of Assembly

“I am telling you; we are the representatives of people. We will not pass any bill that will affect our people,” he said.

Though the Niger State Government said it was not aware of the plan by the federal government to review the Land Use Act, the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Ibrahim Matane, queried why the federal government should seek for more powers over the control of land.

“Does the federal government own any land? So why more powers for the FG?” he queried.

The Taraba State Government also kicked against the proposed review.

Condemning it, Governor Darius Ishaku stated that no reasonable man would support any attempt to take away his property.

Ishaku, who spoke through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Dan Abu, stated that the state would not support an amendment that would transfer the control of the state’s land to the federal government or any other government for that matter.

“Taraba State is opposed to any amendment to the Land Use Act that aims at transferring the control of state land from the state government to the federal government. No sane man would support the take-away of his property. We are against it and that is our position,” he explained.

In the same vein, members of the State House of Assembly have equally vowed not to support the planned amendment.

Speaking in separate telephone interviews, some members, who craved anonymity, stated that they would not only vote against the amendment, but would mobilise their colleagues in other states to ensure that the proposal is dead on arrival.

The Benue State Government said it would not support any attempt that will change the status of the law in favour of the federal government.

The Special Adviser to the state governor on Information and Orientation, Mr. James Uloko, said the agitation to re-write the Act to empower the federal government to take charge of land allocation is unnecessary.

 He said the state governor has sounded it clearly that it stood by its decision banning open grazing, adding that the fresh attempt was aimed at bringing about the RUGA plans by the federal government.

“The state government will not support such plan as it is detrimental to the current Land Act that gives power to the state government,” he added.

In Osun State, the Deputy Majority Leader of Osun State House of Assembly, Hon. Kunle Akande, argued that the current system where the land belongs to the state government should remain.

He contended that the federal government had been having monopoly of everything, stressing that right now the federal government controls most of the mineral resources that belong to the states where the land and resources are found.  

The Ekiti State House of Assembly described any amendment as wrong, and a usurpation of the people’s rights.

The assembly said such amendment if effected would negate the spirit of federalism, which gives states the power to have absolute control over its territory as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

The Assembly’s Majority Leader and Leader of Government Business, Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan, said the present arrangement where states cede part of the lands to federal government should remain operational, to prevent people’s rights to own personal property from being brazenly eroded.

In Oyo State, the state House of Assembly said it would not under any condition support any change to the Land Use Act.

The Majority Leader, Hon. Sanjo Adedoyin, who is representing Ogbomoso South State Constituency, told THISDAY that there was nothing wrong with the current Act, stating that any attempt to tamper with it would not get the support of the lawmakers in the state and the state government.

While noting that the intention of those championing the amendment to the act is known, he said the state House of Assembly would not be part of any change to the Land Use Act that would alter the present situation where all lands in the state would be under the state governor.

The Abia State government has also hinted that it would not be in support of any move to amend the Land Use Act.

Commissioner for information, Chief John Kalu, said altering the current law in order to give the federal government more control over land in every part of the country would not be in national interest.

“We are certainly opposed to that,” he said, adding that the state was already working on appropriate response to the issue when the time comes.

In Enugu State, the Chairman of House Committee on Information, at the state House of Assembly, Jeff Mba, said that amending the Act to guarantee the federal government right to ownership of lands would take the country backwards.

Mba told THISDAY that the country should rather be talking about how to ensure the entrenchment of the tenets of true federalism that will give the people a sense of belonging.

In Ebonyi State, the state government may also oppose the proposed amendment.

The House Committee Chairman on Information, Hon. Chinedu Onah, who spoke to THISDAY said that the assembly would only support any amendment that would enhance the growth and fortunes of the state.

Meanwhile, a source at the Government House, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the state government would not support the amendment.

He argued that absolute control of land by the state governors was part of the proposed restructuring being canvassed by some Nigerians so that state government will have powers to explore mineral deposits without the interference of the federal government.

In Delta State, a source at the Government House, who spoke off the record told THISDAY that ”Delta cannot support such a move to amend the Land Use Act.”

The leadership of Bayelsa State House of Assembly was not readily available for comments, but a member of the House of Assembly Committee on Information, Hon. Tare Porri, told THISDAY that the move was dead on arrival.

He noted that there was a groundswell of opinion that the federal government already had too much powers, stressing that it would be resisted by all well-meaning Nigerians.

“If governors are not in charge of land in their states, then who should? Even as it is, the land Use Act is already anti-people. It is a decree they are using to rule this country. Now, they are even going further to completely take away our rights,” he said.  

In Cross River State, the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Hon. Charles Ekpe, said the lawmakers would not shy away from its constitutional role of making laws when the need arises.

Ekpe said whenever they are called upon to vote on the making of any law by the National Assembly they would consider it based on the peculiar experience and the interest of the people.

However, the Nasarawa State House of Assembly has said that its decision on the matter would be determined by the collective decision of the 24 members of the state assembly.

Speaker of the assembly, Alhaji Balarabe Abdullahi, made the position of the assembly known to THISDAY in a telephone conversation in Lafia, the state capital.

 The speaker, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Jibrin Gonna, explained that the issue of transferring the powers over lands from the state to federal government or maintaining the status quo would follow due process as was the case with the Local Government autonomy. 

 In Plateau State, the House of Assembly Speaker, Hon.  Abok Ayuba, said he was not aware of moves by the Senate to get state Houses of Assembly to amend the Land Use Act.

“I need to be properly informed because I am not aware of such move.”

In Rivers State, the State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Dr. Zaccheaus Adangor, said it would be wrong to comment on the matter until he reads the draft bill.

“I am not only the state attorney general. I am also a doctor of law. I cannot comment on the amendment of the Land Use Act until I see and read the draft bill,” he said.

Also, the Chairman of Anambra State House of Assembly Committee on Lands, Hon Ifeanyi Chiekwu, told THISDAY that the committee had not deliberated the matter.