REMEDIES FOR COMPULSORY LAND ACQUISITION BY THE GOVERNMENT IN NIGERIA.

INTRODUCTION

For the purpose of fulfilling some of its responsibilities such as the provision of infrastructural amenities, public facilities for the betterment of the citizens’ well-being, safety and security, government tends to acquire land suitable for such purposes. In most cases, such land may not be on sale but the government goes ahead to exercise its right to compulsory acquisition of the piece of land.

Although, land acquisition is beneficial to the society, however, it brings with it, tension between the government and citizens, as families get displaced from their homes, businesses from their sites, agriculturists from their farmlands, communities from their cultural sites and many more. In Nigeria today, compulsory acquisition attracts controversy as it is poorly exercised and abused and leaving the dispossessed land owners with little or no adequate compensation.

Compulsory Acquisition 

Compulsory land acquisition simpliciter, is the transfer of ownership of land in its entirety sharing similarity with compulsory purchase, land acquisition, and expropriation.

It evolves around government’s power to revoke a landowner’s right of occupancy for overriding public interest. Overriding public interest entails that such a land is suitable for mining purposes, infrastructural development, extraction of mineral resources, urban development, economic projects etc.

Process of Land Acquisition by Government and Agencies

The process for compulsory acquisition of land takes different forms. However a well structured land acquisition process must involve and reflect the following criteria: proper planning, publicity/notice to the landowners, valuation and submission of claims, payment of compensation, possession, appeals and restitution.

It is imperative to note that a local government may enter upon, use and occupy land for public purposes within its area of jurisdiction but limited with some exceptions. As constitutionally stipulated, every Nigerian is imbued with the right to acquire and own immovable (landed) property anywhere in the country, however, an exception to this right is that a citizen’s right to own land does not in any sense confer him perpetual ownership.

Section 1 of the Land Use Act of 1978 bestows ownership of all land on the Governor of a State who holds it in trust and administers it for the benefit of citizens, hence individuals’ entitlement to possessory rights with the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy. The 1999 Constitution further prohibits compulsory acquisition unless the landowner is promptly compensated and such person is granted a right of access to determine in his interest the amount of the compensation.

Remedies Available to landowners

The remedies made available to landowners are basically classified into three viz; legal/judicial, administrative/legislative and alternative remedies. Although, the remedies seem interwoven, however, it is important to analyse the remedies available under each aforementioned classification.

LEGAL REMEDIES

1. Challenging the Acquisition in Court:

In order to put the legality or otherwise of a compulsory acquisition into determination, landowners are granted the right to bring action against the government in court. Also, landowners can seek court’s injunction/stay orders, restraining government or its agencies until the final determination of the suit.

2. Compensation:

Statutorily, landowners are entitled to adequate compensation upon compulsory acquisition of their landed property. The compensation must be valuable and landowners can take legal action if such compensation is inadequate.

ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES

1. Lobbying for Policy Amendments:

To strengthen these rights and ensure they are not trampled upon, landowners can seek legislative amendments of certain policies guiding compulsory acquisition if need be.Appeals can as well be made to administrative bodies to make such amendments realistic.

2. Participation in Public Consultation:

Landowners should avail themselves the opportunity to be consulted by the government.In such consultation, they will be informed the purpose of the land acquisition. If not feasible, alternatives will be proposed by the landowners.

ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES

1. Mediation and Arbitration:

Alternatively, landowners may, in place of litigation, explore alternative dispute resolution processes like mediation and arbitration where resolution can be reached to resolve disputes between them and government/agencies.

2. Aid from Non-Governmental Organisations:

Seeking the assistance of NGOs is a good approach to influence government’s decision in land acquisition. Legal aid agencies are also established to extend aid to landowners in such situation. NGOs may also help by organising campaigns to enlighten community members their rights.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the right to own property anywhere in Nigeria is constitutional, sacrosanct and a fundamental right of citizens of Nigeria. However, the right is limited to the power and right of the government to compulsorily acquire land – although subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions and requirements, especially that the said compulsory acquisition should be for overriding public interest.

The combine reading of section 44 of the 1999 CFRN and section 28 of the Land Use Act makes that clear.

But despite the clear provision of the law, the process of government’s exercise of the right to compulsory acquisition of land is mostly fraught with irregularities and non-compliance with due process of law, which automatically give rise to the aggrieved citizen resorting to the courts to seek redress.

Irrespective of the outlined remedies, aggrieved property owners and title holders should ensure to comply with due process of property purchase and registration. This will ensure that landowners deprived of their property are adequately compensated monetarily or by other means e.g by resettlement or provision of alternative property, etc.

Strict adherence to the provisions of the law should be encouraged during the course of compulsory land acquisition so as to avoid avoidable lawsuits against the government.

 

About the Author 

Ashimi Saoban Adedayo is a student of University of Ilorin, Ilorin Nigeria. He can be reached through: [email protected] and 09070344487

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