Government Acquisition Of Property: An Exercise Of Governmental Powers Or An Infringement On The Right To Acquire And Own Property

Government Acquisition Of Property: An Exercise Of Governmental Powers Or An Infringement On The Right To Acquire And Own Property

Government Acquisition Of Property: An Exercise Of Governmental Powers Or An Infringement On The Right To Acquire And Own Property?

By Fijero Ogheneare

In the foregoing parts we have extensively discussed on the right to acquire and own property anywhere in Nigeria, enshrined in Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. We have reviewed sacrosanct topics like: Who is entitled to enjoy the right to acquire and own property? And, What classes of persons and entities are precluded from the enjoyment of this right? In this concluding subpart we shall succinctly expatiate on the concept of Government acquisition of land/ property and it’s interrelationship with the Right to own and acquire immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.

Arguably one of the most controversial topics in Land law, compulsory acquisition of property by the Government has been widely debated in the highest of legal and political circles. It gained notoriety especially after the Otodo-Gbame incident where nearly 5,000 persons were displaced and rendered homeless as a result of the demolition of the Otodo-Gbame community by officials of Lagos State. Sadly, such acquisitions are not illegal stricto sensu, and if they can be properly justified are deemed to be a legitimate exercise of governmental powers. This begets the question: ‘what then is the fate of the individual/ institutions right to acquire and own property? Can it be indiscriminately abrogated by the Government’s power of acquisition?

 

Peculiarly, it is important to bring to fore the provision of section 1 of the Land Use Act 1978 which vests ownership of all lands in a State, in the Governor of that State, to be held in trust, and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians. By this provision, ownership of all lands in the Federation are vested in the respective State Governments for the 36 States, and the Federal Government with respect to the FCT. This provision serves as the forerunner to the legitimacy of governmental acquisitions of land/ property later provided for in Section 28 of the Land Use Act, as well as Section 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution. 

However, the Land Use Act equally provides a very narrow confine for the exercise of this governmental power. According to the Act, the government of the day can only exercise the power to compulsorily acquire land and (or) property in the event of an overriding (superimposing) public interest, thus preventing any unwarranted, unilateral acquisition of property either as an act of oppression with the intention to intimidate, or as an act of corruption with the intention to defraud. An overriding public interest denotes: a requirement of the land for the extradition of building materials, mining purposes, etc. 

In addition to providing the legitimate grounds for which the power may be exercised, the Land Use Act 1978, reinforced by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, prescribes the lawful process to be adopted for this right to be legitimately exercised. The procedure set-out include but are not limited to the issuance of notices, the valuation of the land/ property, and the payment of adequate compensation. Let me pause here a bit to mention that though this is the procedure to be adopted to effect a lawful government acquisition, each of these procedures also have their own in-built guidelines. For example, the notices to be issued have a specific time-frame, pattern of repetition and mode of communication.

Continuing, the most prominent of these procedures is the payment of compensation, which seeks to ameliorate the detraction from the right to acquire and own immovable property by paying compensation to the extent of the value of the land/ property as at the time of acquisition. Sadly, more than 50% of the victims of government acquisitions go uncompensated and coincidentally, these persons are usually members of the indigent class of society, who reside in slums and shanties, which are preys to the insatiable desire for development. Citizens are thus encouraged to complete all registration process necessary, as non-registration or incomplete registration is the chief cause of  non-payment of compensation.

This subpart draws the curtain on our lengthy, four-fold exegesis on the Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria. In the next part, we shall delve into the complicated world of communication as we treat the right to freedom of expression set forth in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. Till next time, KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!

Feel free to reach the author, ask questions or make inquiries on this topic or any other legal issues via onyekachi.umah@gmail.com or +2348037665878.

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