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Compulsory Land Acquisition By Government

Emperor Iwuàla

Compulsory Land Acquisition By Government

Emperor Iwuàla

Compulsory land acquisition is commonly associated with the transfer of ownership of land. It is the power of government to acquire ownership, possessory and controlling rights in land even without the willing consent of land owner or occupant in order to benefit society. It is a power possessed in one form or another by governments of all modern nations. This power is often necessary as earlier said for social and economic development and protection of the natural environment. For example, land must be provided for investments such as roads, railways, harbors, airports, hospitals and public schools. Other government need for land include electricity lines, water and sewage facilities, protection against flooding and the protection of water courses and environmentally fragile areas. The list is endless. Compulsory land acquisition may occur in large scale projects like in the construction of dams or airports as well as in smaller projects like construction of hospitals or schools.

However, compulsory acquisition may also be to acquire part of a parcel like during construction of roads. In some cases, acquisition of portion of a land parcel may leave the remainder of the land intact. The remainder may be large enough for continued use by the owner or occupant despite its reduced value; or it may be so small that the person can no longer use it to maintain a living. In other cases, a new road may cut through the middle of the parcel, leaving the remainder divided into several unconnected pieces, some of which may be without access routes. In some countries, the governing legislation may allow the landowner requiring the acquiring agency acquire the whole parcel. The use of specific portions of a land parcel may be acquired for easements or servitudes to provide for the passage of pipelines and cables or even for private use. Rights acquired usually include the right to enter the parcel to make repairs or security purposes. The rights acquired may also be granted temporarily or permanently, and may be transferable to others. In another vein, people may be deprived of some enjoyment of their land even if it is not acquired. For example, the construction of a highway may cause the value of neighboring parcels to decrease because of increased noise. Traditionally such loses have not been regarded as being eligible for compensation but legislation is increasingly providing for at least some compensation in such circumstances.

In the pre-colonial era of Nigeria, lands were owned by families and communities. Traditional ownership of land in Nigeria could be got through first settlement on land, conquest, gift or by limitation of law. The head of the family or community was in control of the lands on trust for the benefit of family or community members as the case may be. However, before the Land Use Act1978 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’), the cost of acquiring land Nigerian government from individuals for developmental projects was becoming very high. This was coupled with other problems associated with customary land tenure system then in Nigeria then.

With the promulgation of the Act, things became different. Government acquisition of land in Nigeria becameeasy. By virtue of Section 1of the Act, all lands in the states are vested, controlled and managed by the state governors. This has been described as radical vesting of title to land on government. The Act made it possible for all lands to be under the control of government. With the Act, people ‘lost’ their original title to land to government and thereby became tenants to government. What persons get is only right of occupancy which is granted by government. The governor has the right to revoke these rights of occupancy for overriding public interest and in some cases, pay compensation thereafter to the holder of the right of occupancy. The Act was for the stabilization and provision of government amenities to the people and to solve problems of acquiring land by government for societal developments.

Compulsory acquisition of land can also be done by the government revoking an already existing holding interest in land of an individual or group. What the acquiring authority acquires is both the property and any interest in the property. The incident of compulsory acquisition is that it extinguishes all the holder’s rights over the land. Generally, if compulsory acquisition is done poorly, it may leave people homeless and landless, with no way of earning a livelihood, without access to necessary resources or community support, and with the feeling of people and land owners that they have suffered grave injustice. Compulsory acquisition is inherently disruptive. Even when compensation is generous and procedures generally fair and efficient, the displacement of people from established homes, businesses and communities will still entail significant human costs. Worse is where the process is designed or implemented poorly, then, the economic, social and political costs will be enormous. If, on the other hand, governments carry out compulsory acquisition satisfactorily, they leave communities and people in equivalent situations while at the same time providing the intended benefits to society. However, it should be noted that the power of compulsory acquisition can be abused. Unfair procedures for the government compulsory acquisition of land and inequitable compensation for its loss can reduce land tenure security, increase tensions between the government and citizens, and reduce public confidence in governance and rule of law. Unclear, unpredictable and unenforceable procedures also create opportunities for corruption.

To be continued.



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