BusinessDay

The Magodo episode and property rights

For very wrong reasons, Magodo Estate Phase 11 and its residents have been in the news in the last four weeks. If the news is not about invasion by native land owners to take possession of the estate or the visit and arrest of security guards by the Lagos Commissioner of Police, it is about the residents protesting a siege on the estate by police officers allegedly deployed from outside Lagos.

The protest and the siege of the estate became messier on Tuesday when a Chief Superintendent of Police leading his colleagues on the siege defied Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s order to leave the estate. The police chief even refused to call the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) or the Inspector General of Police to effect the governor’s order.

In our view, these are needless distractions and the harassment or land grabbers’-attacks would have been avoided if parties to the dispute and the eventual judgment had allowed the law to take its course

The whole ‘drama’ has its root in a Supreme Court judgment in a case between the Lagos State government and the Adeyiga Family over the ownership of the parcel of land where the estate is situated.

The Legal Adviser, Magodo Residents Association Tunji Abdulhameed, affirms that the family had a judgment in 1993, but that the judgment was not properly captured. According to him, the judgment said the government should allocate 549 plots to the ‘displaced’ landowners with no specification to the area, property or location of the plots of land.

Because the judgment did not say the 549 plots should be given in Magodo, government used its discretion to allocate plots of land to them along Badagry and Ibeju Lekki. So far, about 300 of them have agreed to take those plots, meaning that 249 of them are still outstanding.

Read also: Magodo: Parties finally agree police should vacate estate

We are worried by these developments, more so as the residents of this estate, majority of whom are owner-occupiers, are “constantly harassed and subjected to land-grabbers attacks,” according to Professor Ayodele Ogunye, Chairman, Board of Trustees, Magodo Residents Association.

In our view, these are needless distractions and the harassment or land grabbers’-attacks would have been avoided if parties to the dispute and the eventual judgment had allowed the law to take its course.

We believe that the Lagos State government has a large chunk of the blame to bear in the whole tragic-comedy which the land case has degenerated into. Governor Sanwo-Olu is just a victim of circumstance who has found himself in a cross-fire that he needs Solomon’s wisdom to quench.

The Magodo case raises a whole lot of issues about land tenure system in Nigeria. From these issues, we isolate administration and ownership rights as critical elements. As a people and as an economy, Nigeria needs urgent land reform that would guarantee and protect property ownership rights in the country.

The reform, we hope, would spell out both the rights and limits of a native landowner, landlords, tenants, and even the government in the ownership of a property—landed or built up.

More than ever before, this has become necessary because, regrettably, 21st century Nigeria is yet to come to terms with the need for land reform for economic growth and shared prosperity.

Nigeria has a rigid traditional land tenure system coupled with land titling that is onerous and excludes many people from formal land ownership, hampering full-scale economic activities, especially real estate which happens on land.

The failure to reform land and property ownership in the country is a major contributor to the country’s underdevelopment and the underperformance of the various sectors of the economy.

It is estimated that only 5 percent of the country’s housing stock, which is about 13 million units, is in formal mortgage, meaning that 95 percent of these houses are dead assets. They are neither tradable nor bankable. Only land and property ownership reforms can unlock the values in these dead assets said to be a huge percentage of the country’s GDP. Hernando Soto has spoken eloquently to this situation in his book: The Mystery of Capital.

It is our opinion, therefore, that the on-going ‘war’ in the Magodo Estate should serve as an eye-opener to the Lagos State Government and other arms of government on the need to act wisely and unselfishly when there is the need to do so.

For the sake of social harmony, the safety of lives and investments, boosting investor confidence and growth of the state economy, we advise that the state should be both decisive and determined in its intervention in this case so that it should be settled once and for all.

We agree with the World Bank in a report titled ‘Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity’ where it argues that “if African countries and their communities could effectively end land grabs and modernize the complex governance procedures that govern land ownership and management, it would bring about improved well being and standard of living of their people.”

It is our hope and expectation that the entire Magodo episode should serve as a good lesson for Lagos. This is in view of the fact that Lagos is a state where land commands great values and is even regarded as an equivalent of an oil well. Therefore, stable and legal expectations should be built around this critical resource.

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