By: Gbenga Salau
Date: November 6th 2016
Source: The Guardian Nigeria
Investing in, or acquiring property in Lagos State, over the years, has been a source of sorrow and misery for many unsuspecting people.
A good number of times, the buyer is often left with bitter experiences, in the hands of land vendors, popularly called Omo Onile, who are adept at the criminal practice of selling a plot of land to as many buyers as they can afford to. Only a negligible percentage of investors get through deals like this with little or no hitches, or regrets
As activities of these fraudsters percolate in the state, many residents watched mouth agape as their scarce resources took flight, and the property they paid for end up in other peoples’ possession.
With this social menace defying earlier prescribed medication, the Lagos State Properties Protection Law, which prohibits forceful entry, and illegal occupation of landed properties, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed properties in the state, seem to have arrived just in time to check further criminality in this direction.
Before the law came into being, many residents and investors in the state had lost huge sums to these swindlers. Sometimes, in the process of taking possession of the property they paid for, lives get lost.
Since the new law, which is to ensure that sanity reigns during such transactions came into being, many residents of the state have expressed happiness at the prospect of getting what they pay for, and a semblance of sanity in the sub-sector.
But some stakeholders still have reservations in the whole thing, as they are worried about government’s ability to enforce the law to the letter, in the light of other laws in the state, which are breached regularly, without appropriate sanctions.
They are quick to point at the law prohibiting street trading, and the one that bans, and restricts the activities of transport unions to motor parks alone, as laws that are not implemented.
In fact, some lawyers see the law as being largely cosmetic, since land-grabbing activities, which are already illegal acts, as indented in the state’s criminal law, was still being carried out rampantly, with little or no consequences or penalties.
According to human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, criminal law in the state has always penalised persons who engage in criminal trespasses; willful destruction of property; cloning of title documents or forging of survey plans; unlawful seizure and occupation of property.
He noted that the forceful ejection of people from residential, or other property has equally been criminalised, adding that due to system collapse, occasioned by official impunity, the law has been at the mercy of land grabbers and criminal trespassers, and, “in the process, Lagos State has been portrayed as a jungle.”
Falana said that the new law is a practical demonstration of the determination of the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration to combat the menace of land grabbers and thugs.
He, however, expressed hope that the seeming stringent provisions in the new law would be enforced without fear or favour, as this remains the only way it could make the needed impact.
“For the law to work or succeed, the government has to muster the political will and courage to implement it,” Falana stated.
Also speaking, a resident of Badagry, Dr. Akintayo Akintoba Adebayo, described the new law as a very good and thoughtful initiative, considering the fact that land and property related disputes have resulted in the maiming, and even death of many innocent lives in the state.
He, nonetheless, stated that the law might not completely stamp out the nefarious activities of land grabbers, but will reduce fatalities to the barest minimum.
“If periodic reviews and amendments are encouraged to the benefit of all stakeholders, we may just be lucky to experience the extirpation of perennial land disputes and resultant fatalities.
“I am not a lawyer, therefore my opinion from a layman’s point of view is that lawyers have a critical role to play in ensuring its successful implementation. Lawyers should desist from the temptation to trivialise the potential gains of honest and selfless implementation of the law,” Adebayo advised.
He called for massive awareness creation on the content of the law, especially among traditional rulers, community landowners, and estate property agents, so that they are educated on the potential gains.
“The land registry should be fully computerised. Registration formalities should be institutionalised, and the cost of land registration should be reduced so that it would be affordable to the poorest. Traditional rulers should play pivotal roles in ensuring that true owners of land in their domains are certified without considerations for pecuniary gains,” Adebayo said.
He also wants government to address the issue of multiple levies that land buyers are charged, while also tidying up approved fees, whether to the government, or to landowners.
“What obtains now is, after you have purchased a plot of land from a title owner, you pay commission/agreement on the land to the title owners, pay commission to the palace, pay all manner of rates and surcharges to local and state governments, pay annual tenement charges, and spend a lot more to get government approvals among others.”
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Propertylogic Incorporated & Senior Partner, H.I.E Property & Homes Limited, Mr. Dominic Akhigbe, is of the view that the new law is a step in the right direction, as it is expected to sanitise the real estate sub-sector, and imbue a measure of confidence in both the private property owner, and the real estate investor.
“I honestly hope that the accompanying taskforce and other law enforcement agencies would live up to expectation. It is only then that we can be confident that the law is efficacious. It is my honest prayer that my learned friends won’t start exploring the seeming loopholes in the law to create alibi for offenders. It is only then that we can begin to assess the efficacy of the law.
“I am sure the judiciary, as always would see this as a welcome development, and as such would give every possible support to see to it that matters in this direction are judiciously and promptly prosecuted and justice done,” Akhigbe added.
He said traditional rulers remain strategic in land matters since they are the major custodians of traditions. So, “They are expected to co-operate with the system, and avoid cover-ups. This will help enforcement in no small measures.”
He regretted that the difficulties in property registration and verification sometimes do not help land matters, as it sometimes compel parties to resort to underhand methods, or compel professionals to resort to unconventional tactics.
“At the end of it all, the outcome of the process would not stand a legal test. There is need for these departments to be re-enforced in line with the new developments. This will synergise the process and ensure effectiveness of the process. The overall outcome will help the new law,” Akhigbe said.
“Every stage in property registration should count. Even an ordinary family receipt should carry some legal weight, as long as it can be verified to have been duly issued. The entire process of property registration should be sanitised. Every document should be given very important statutory recognition. This way, the individual or first buyer’s interest would be properly protected,” he stated.
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Photo source: The Guardian Nigeria