Rent Increment Economic Recession Hardship

You are either a landlord or a tenant in Nigeria and in rare cases may be both or even none. There is a lockdown and stay-at-home orders in most parts of Nigeria at the moment because of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So, homes are very vital tools for survival and conquering of COVID-19. Expectedly, there is an ascending graph for owed rents but a declining graph for ability to pay rent. And, there are no available options for tenants to make money and pay rent even as landlords have no legal means to evict tenants. Can government force Landlords to accommodate and tolerate defaulting tenants?

Acquiring and owning immovable property in any part of Nigeria is a fundamental human right of any citizen of Nigeria (this now includes foreigners and even corporate beings). No person can be denied of his right to purchase, acquire, own, use, rent, transfer, mortgage, gift, dispose and alienate his ownership in any landed property in Nigeria. As with most of the fundamental human rights in Nigeria, the right to acquire and own immovable property in anywhere in Nigeria can be restricted, limited and suspended. However, such restriction must be done only by the constitutionally approved person(s) for the constitutionally approved reasons in the constitutionally approved procedures and circumstances. Since fundamental human rights are contained in the Constitution of Nigeria, any restriction on them must be done in line with the constitution, otherwise such restriction will be invalid, illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional and a grievous violation of rights.

The same constitution of Nigeria that creates the right to acquire and own property, also creates the powers of government to compulsorily acquire any property from any person in Nigeria. Although, government must exercise such power for the overall good of the public and must pay prompt compensation to the land owner (occupier). Aside paying compensation promptly, government must allow the owner (occupier) to access the property for determination of compensation.

Have you ever wondered why there are no certificates of ownership of land in Nigeria, rather there are certificates of occupancy (C of O)? Generally all lands in Nigeria are vested on the 36 Governors across Nigeria. Government issues only occupation (not ownership) to persons in Nigeria for fixed periods (often a term of 99 years). So, every landlord in Nigeria, is merely a land occupier for a fixed term and not a land owner. The true and real land owners in Nigeria are the Governors. So, every land occupier must occupy his land for a fixed period and must adhere to the terms and conditions of the occupancy (like, payment of Ground Rent and keeping to original purpose of allocation). Since lands belong to Government, when government compulsorily acquires (takes over) any land in Nigeria for the overriding public interest, government must pay compensation for all developments and improvements made on the land but not for the land itself. Developments on land includes buildings, cash crops, wells, graves and dams, etc.

Every landlord in Nigeria is occupying his/her land technically at the mercy of government, since government can revoke allocations and compulsorily acquire any property for public good. Relying on Quarantine Act, the Federal Government can in this period of Coronavirus pandemic make Regulations to regulate tenancy and ensure that tenants are not ejected by landlords. This can be done irrespective of the various agreements between landlords and tenants across Nigeria. Human rights and contractual rights of landlords (as well as tenants) can be legally restricted at this time to ensure people stay at home even when they may be owing their landlords. In turn, government can create funds to pay rents (or offer accommodation subsidies) for persons across Nigeria, to ensure public health, public peace and good. State Governments can also make laws to protect tenants from being thrown out by landlords, for the state itself or for the public purposes of the federation. Sanctions/penalties in such laws may include revocation or forfeiture of land to deter violation. The constitution of Nigeria, already approves any law or regulation that may affect rights of landlords, including forfeiture of land. As always, even in a drive to maintain stability, government can legally restrict human rights but must shun violation of human rights; no human right is negligible.

The writer is not unaware of COVID-19 pandemic and governments interventions to end it. The security and welfare of the good people of Nigeria are the primary purpose of government, however government must be lawful and law abiding in achieving such purpose. It is advised that constitutional procedures and statutory processes should be engaged at all times to avoid causing more problems in attempting to solve one. We must conquer COVID-19 without violating fundamental human rights of Nigerians. Stay at Home and Stay Healthy.

My authorities are:

1. Sections 43,44, 44 (2)(b) and (c) as well as 45 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

2. Sections of 1, 5, 9, 10, 14, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 35 and 38 of the Land Use Act, 1978.

3. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Quarantine Act of 1926.

4. Provisions of the COVID-19 Regulations 2020.

5. The Supreme Court decision “on Over-riding Public Interest, Revocation, Forfeiture, Compensation and Damages) in the case of OSHO & ANOR v. FOREIGN FINANCE CORPORATION & ANOR (1991) LPELR-2801(SC)










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