There is need to overhaul land administration for better value to the economy

While receiving the chairman and members of the Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reforms (PTCLR) recently, the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Ahmed Dangiwa, pledged the commitment of the current administration to land reforms. But there is nothing on ground to suggest that it is a priority for the government, despite all the promises on revamping agriculture and working towards food sufficiency. To the extent that effective land reforms will improve livelihoods, maximise the land market, and create more efficient systems, we hope the current administration of President Bola Tinubu will make that part of its legislative agenda.

According to the World Bank, land reform involves changing the institutional structure. This includes a review of how access to land is regulated, property rights are defined, and how ownership conflicts are resolved. Fortunately, much work has already been done by the Peter Adeniyi-led committee. If the Tinubu administration is serious, all they need to do is tinker with the draft bill before sending it to the National Assembly. As we have argued repeatedly on this page, land reforms require a lot of thinking, a definition of clear objectives, the creation of the right instruments, the development of effective administrative mechanism, improved governance, and processes to drive inclusion, transparency, and efficient customer service. The urgent task to unlock the wealth in our land resources cannot be delayed. And such efforts cannot be based on knee-jerk reactions or the mouthing some populist platitudes.

In Nigeria today, the law that government uses to manage land resources is the Land Use Act of 1978. This 46-year-old legislation was passed under the military and has not been reviewed since then. The last time a president showed significant interest in land reforms was under the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua but he couldn’t complete the process before he died. By the law currently in operation, the power over the land within the territory of a state is vested in the governor. While we know that the governors have assumed their full powers based on the vesting done by this law, there is little to show they have managed the powers as trustees nor have allocated land in a fair and transparent manner.

All over the world, land is such a vital resource that it determines the wealth of nations, individuals, and society, influences the balance of power and how resources are used and managed. The contest for land has also led to wars and age-long conflict that government must be involved in its management. That Nigeria is currently ranked 186th out of 190 countries on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index in terms of ease of registering properties is a reflection on land management. Meanwhile, States such as Kaduna, Nasarawa and Kano have tried to carry out reforms of the land system with some minimal results.  

Nigeria needs reforms that can help create an equitable system that will lead to affordability, improved titling and property registration procedure to reduce corruption in the land market. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), about $900 billion, which is twice Nigeria’s GDP, can flow into the economy if we get our land reforms right. The PwC report claims that the real estate market alone holds between $230 billion and $750 billion of value that is locked up. To do this, there is an urgent need to review the Land Use Act. The enormous power granted the governor needs to be reduced and an accountability framework created to ensure the governor continues to function as a real trustee. But overall, reform of land administration in Nigeria is essential for the economic prosperity of our people.

We hope President Tinubu will make it a priority of his administration.

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