The recent move by the socio-cultural group ‘Omo Eko Pataki’ which is made up of prominent indigenes of Lagos, to “reclaim” some of their ancestral lands from perceived intruders has been a topical issue of national discourse for some weeks now. Many have viewed this as an attempted flagrant violation of the rights of persons in possession of these lands. This move has set a dangerous precedent because subsequently, other such socio-cultural groups within the Federation may engage in pushing such segregationist agendas as a consequence of the actions of this group.
Furthermore, these clamours have awoken the age-long debate on the indigene-settler crisis which has characterized the socio-political landscape of the country over the decades, and the legal implications thereof. It is therefore important to analyse the legal issues which arise from such agitations in view of properly spelling out the true position of the law in respect of the ownership and possession of such lands.
Firstly, it is important to note that the premise on which some of these lands were acquired by the now purportedly unlawful occupants is on the basis of overriding public interest. Also, those that were not acquired on the basis of public interest, are presumably acquired lawfully by obtaining the consent of the lawful authorities and complying with the statutory provisions as provided under the tenure of the Land Use Act. Failure to do so will render such land ownership void.
As we are well aware, Section 1 of the Land Use Act vests all lands within the territory of the state in the Executive Governor of the state and non-compliance with the provision of the Act, renders any such purported ownership of land a nullity. Furthermore, Section 28 of the Act provides that the right of occupancy relating to lands within the state can be revoked and re-granted to another on the basis of overriding public interest. Sub-section (2) and (3) deal extensively with the issue of revocation of statutory right of occupancy and customary right of occupancy respectively, on the basis of overriding public interest.
The provision of Section 28(2) spells out what constitutes public interest purposes in the case of the statutory right of occupancy as –
(a) the alienation by the occupier by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sub-lease, or otherwise of any right of occupancy or part thereof contrary to the provisions of this Act or of any regulations made thereunder;
(b) the requirement of the land by the Government of the State or by a Local Government in the State, in either case for public purposes within the State, or the requirement of the land by the Government of the Federation for public purposes of the Federation;
(c) the requirement of the land for mining purposes or oil pipelines or for any purpose connected therewith.
Section 28(3) spells out what constitutes public interest purposes in the case of customary right of occupancy as –
(a) the requirement of the land by the Government of the State or by a Local Government in the State, in either case for public purposes within the State, or the requirement of the land by the Government of the Federation for public purposes of the Federation;
(b) the requirement of the land for mining purposes or oil pipelines or for any purpose connected therewith;
(c) the requirement of the land for the extraction of building materials;
(d) the alienation by the occupier by sale, assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sub-lease, bequest or otherwise of the right of occupancy without the requisite consent or approval.
Section 51(1) gives a more extensive definition of what public purposes are to include –
(a) for exclusive Government use or for general public use;
(b) for use by anybody corporate directly established by law or by anybody corporate registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act as respect which the Government owns shares, stocks or debentures;
(c) for or in connection with sanitary improvements of any kind;
(d) for obtaining control over land contiguous to any part or over land the value of which will be enhanced by the construction of any railway, road or other public work or convenience about to be undertaken or provided by the Government;
(e) for obtaining control over land required for or in connection with the development of telecommunications or provision of electricity;
(f) for obtaining control over land required for or in connection with mining purposes;
(g) for obtaining control over land required for or in connection with planned urban or rural development or settlement;
(h) for obtaining control over land required for or in connection with economic, industrial or agricultural development;
(i) for educational and other social services;
This then raises the question as to if these supposed customary lands which were granted to the current occupants by the government authorities from its historical owners, were indeed granted on the basis of public interest as envisaged by the provisions of the Land Use Act. In the event that this question is answered in the negative, the contention of the indigenous families gets lawful justification and comes to bear in light of the decision in the case of ERUKU v THE GOVERNOR OF MIDWESTERN STATE in this case, a Right of Occupancy had been revoked and the land was acquired by a Brazilian company for the purpose of establishing a factory. The original owners instituted this action against the government to determine the legality of this act. The court held that the regrant of occupying rights to private companies did not amount to public purpose.
Similarly, in the case of LAGOS STATE DEVELOPMENT AND PROPERTY CORPORATION AND ORS v FOREIGN FINANCE COMPANY, the court held that lands cannot be acquired and granted to private individuals and private companies for purposes which are not public purposes as envisaged by the Act even though such companies provide employment for the indigenes of that particular locality, district or state.
Again, it is to be pointed out that from these recent agitations, there appears to be an undertone of indigenes seeking to impose a certain level of dominance over others perceived to be non-indigenes regardless of if these other “non-indigenes” were born in these territories and have domiciled there their whole lives considering it as the only place they truly know as home. Although the Constitution appears to be intentionally mute on the issue of indigeneship by not creating express provisions specifically dedicated to the question of indigeneship and the legal framework to which the concept of indigeneship is to operates but rather focus more on the issue of Citizenship as provided for extensively in Chapter III, there are some specific provisions which implicitly addresses the indigene-settler issue which appears to have taken the front burner in national discourse in recent times.
It appears the seemingly deliberate move by the makers of the Constitution to omit any express provisions acknowledging the existence of indigeneship is so as to give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging in whatever territory they so happen to find themselves in light of Nigeria’s bitter recent past which still forms part of the living memory of a lot of Nigerians.
It would be recalled that the members had earlier this year used the ‘Omo Eko Pataki’ fora to clamour that a Professor of Lagos State extraction be appointed as the Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU). These segregationist clamours appear to be a gross violation of a few provisions of the Constitution as Section 15(2) promotes the concept of National integration, whilst prohibiting discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. Sub-section (4) goes further to abhor the concept of sectorial loyalties. Section 42 is, however, the most decisive provision of the Constitution as it deals with the ugly issue of discrimination. For the avoidance of doubt, Section 42 (2) provides –
(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any … deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.
It is important for the provisions of the law in terms of land ownership to be strictly adhered to. In situations where lands are compulsorily acquired for purposes other than public purposes, parties are well within their rights to seek redress in the Court of law. Also, it is noteworthy to underscore the importance of Nigerians having the right motivation in seeking to enforce their rights devoid of any form of discrimination against other citizens.
. Land Use Act, 1979.
. (1974) 10 SC 59
. (1987) 1 NWLR (PT. 50) 413
. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)
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