• Monday, May 27, 2024
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‘Edo’s digital property registration has opened the State for economic growth’

EdoGIS rakes in N3bn in 35 months

FRANCIS EVBUOMWAN, managing director, Edo State Geographic Information Service (EDOGIS), in this interview with CHURCHILL OKORO, speaks on the agency’s role as a digital repository in simplifying registration of property, easing verification of land documents and ownership status. Excerpts:

What is Edo State Geographic Information Service (EDOGIS) all about?

Edo State Geographic Information Service (EDOGIS) is the successor agency to the ministry of lands and housing, which is now defunct. The EdoGIS handles land administrations for Edo State such as lands titling in addition to providing other geographical information services, including surveying and mapping. In our society, land titling and management as well as tracking land ownership and transactions are critical aspect of development.

How crucial is EdoGIS to the economy, citizenry and real estate sector?

Land is at the base of any economic activity. Whatever you want to develop, you have to start with the land. So, what EdoGIS does is to simplify the process of registering ownership of land. Also, the State government makes available land for investors through the system.

For the first time in the history of the State, prospective investors have confidence in land registration in the state. First, we have streamlined the process of acquiring the Certificate of Occupancy C-of-O that used to take years and cost millions of naira. The price was brought down about 300 to 400 per cent and the period of getting it has been reduced to about a few weeks.

So, this has opened up the State to a lot of investors. For example, we have granted C-of-O to not less than five commercial entities who are investing in the various agricultural value chains like rice, oil palm, maize and many more. We have issued C-of-O to Dangote industries, Farmforte Nigeria Ltd., Nosak Nigeria Ltd., Okomu among others.

We have been able to assist them in getting documentation for the land. Furthermore, several private investors in hospitality and real estate business have come to EdoGIS and found a simplified and faster process of getting government titles for their lands. This initiative increases the buoyancy and vibrancy of Edo economy; investors are now sure that, in Edo State, there is an agency positioned to assist them in speedy access to documentation and titling of lands.

The EdoGIS has been helpful because we are coming from the past where investors have to contend with multiple C-of-O on the same piece of land and various types of community issues. All these have been put in abeyance by the presence of EdoGIS.

Read also: Afriland Properties boss outlines how government can support real estate sector

How has this agency impacted the process of acquiring C-of-O in the state?

The first thing we had to do was to digitize the entire process by which you can obtain a C-of-O. It was accompanied by drastically reducing the cost of acquiring the certificate. At the moment, the basic price is N50,000 depending on the size of the land. An average retail investor who has 900square meters of land popularly called 100ft by 100ft, and wants to use it for residential development would get his or her certificate for less than N80,000 all-in cost. This is a far cry from the past when getting that same C-of-O can cost over a million naira. The certificate will be ready in 60 to 90 working days.

The official amount for obtaining C-of-O is N50,000 and it is paid at the submission of documents. After due processes and analysis of all documents, the applicant is issued a letter of grant which is basically to inform them that the application has been processed and awaits approval by the governor. Depending on the land use, location and land size, there will be some taxes attached, and when the taxes are paid, the C-of-O will be issued.

The C-of-O we offer now are all digital, including the entire filing system which is captured online. The era of missing files is over. Also, the electronic process helps in document retrieval as we are able to instantaneously retrieve whatever document we need. A critical factor to digitizing the C-of-O process was having a digital mapping of the entire state whereby we captured the entire land mass of the state using GIS technologies and this has enabled us to drill down plot by plot to every property in the State. So, not only do we have the capacity to determine the extent of a property, we are also able to digitally store the ownership information of the property. This means that it is impossible for a piece of land to have double ownership; this is a major boost for businessmen because once you have an EdoGIS C-of-O, you can be assured that another certificate cannot be issued on that same property without permission.

EdoGIS has been instrumental in mapping out the state, particularly Benin metropolitan area. Is it possible to collaborate with security agencies to improve the state’s security architecture?

We are collaborating with the various security agencies in the State by providing them background information. EdoGIS has maps on all the urban areas and we have access to satellite imagery of all the rural areas. So, the State is 100 percent covered and we are able to give background information to security agencies when they approach us.

What are your major achievements since the inception of EdoGIS?

In the history of the old Midwest region to Edo State, we have a record of about 30,000 C-of-O and other land titles. First, we have been able to digitize over 30,000 legacy files, which are files carried on from the Midwest through Bendel to Edo State. We have moved the physical files from the days of old to digital files; so, we now have electronic copies of more than 30,000 legacy land files.

Since the inception of EdoGIS in 2018, we have been able to issue over 6,500 fresh C-of-O under the administration of Godwin Obaseki. This means that in three years, we have done 20 percent of what has been done in the State for the past 40 years, and we will continue to go forward. It shows a positive trajectory for registering all the properties in the state. We have a program to ensure all lands are titled. We started with easing the entry point, and then advocacy. With the system and technology in place to fully register all properties in the state, we are now tackling unregistered properties in the state at a rate of about 3,000 per year, which we shall ramp up to about 10,000 per year from next year.

One of the biggest achievements is that EdoGIS has opened the State for economic growth. It has attracted several investors to the state to do business.

We have installed a continuous operating reference station popularly called the call station. This station allows surveyors within the state to achieve millimetre precision surveys. By the time we fully deploy the call system, all surveyors in Edo will be able to produce surveys that are accurate to about few millimetres.

Can you tell the difference between EdoGIS and the old process of obtaining C-of-O in terms of transparency and time frame?

In transparency we are completely miles apart. EdoGIS is a non-cash agency, we only accept electronic transfer. We have gone a long way to ensure the process is transparent. Also, we run our operation using customer service delivery system. It is a customer-focused service delivery. Our focus in EdoGIS is good customer service delivery and this has made it unnecessary to reach out to any government official to assist in getting your C-of-O. The forms can be downloaded from our website and submitted at our customer service centre. The form is free unlike before when you have to pay to get a form.

The costs are documented in a demand notice and government receipt. We have a centralized billing in Edo State now, and I am at the forefront of integrating my system with the Edo State Inland Revenue Service, whereby as we generate our bills, it hit the system of the revenue service. When you pay, the EIRS issues a receipt and that is why EdoGIS is a completely non cash environment. With this, you will see that payments in EdoGIS are fully transparent.

As the captain of the land management system, how do you plan to sustain and improve the ongoing digitisation?

It’s unlikely that we will ever go back from having computerized land management. However, what we did from the beginning was to ensure that our personnel were trained in the use of the system. We have put succession in place. We have a critical mass of trained staff who can keep the system going.

What are your challenges?

The greatest challenge was to cross over from the old to the new system using inherited staff. Initially, we trained our staff to stop seeing themselves as masters of the public and that is why we are called civil or public servants. Our first task was to change the orientation of our staff to see the public as their masters to be served. We had to institute a culture of customer’s satisfaction. Secondly, we trained them on adoption to technology. Fortunately, we have a governor who gave us all the resources we needed. The adoption of technology and changing the mindset of the people has been the major challenges.

What is your target for the next few years?

At EdoGIS, we have done our best to ensure we deliver on our mandate. At the end of this year, we hope to have cleared the 10,000 mark, and after that, we will start doing a minimum of 10,000 digital C-of-O yearly. We also plan to open zonal offices in Auchi in Edo north senatorial District and another in Uromi in Edo Central senatorial District, before the end of this year.

In the next few weeks, we will be acquiring a mobile digital mapper which is a vehicle mounted mapper that gives the capability that can be seen on google street view. This means that we will be able to traverse the city from our desk. Our capability is improving by the day to greatly impact land management in the state. We want to get to a level where every centimetre in the state is carefully and completely mapped with owners information, land use, land size and many more.