Generally, the Land Use Act (1978) specifically vests the ownership of all lands in Nigeria in the Governor of the respective states. The same Act also requires that any person who wants to alienate or transfer his land must obtain Governor's consent to make the transaction valid in accordance with the Land Use Act. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the purchase or transfer of property in Lagos state has been greatly hindered by the activities of Land grabbers, otherwise known as the Omo Onile.
The practice of land grabbing entails the use of force, threats or violence to take possession or prevent a purchaser from acquiring legitimate interest and possession of property unless certain conditions are fulfilled. The said conditions are usually in the form of excessive levies or fines. Failure to adhere to the demands of the land grabbers in most cases result to the destruction any development on the land, or prevention of the land owner from taking possession.
In a bid to curb the unscrupulous activities of the Land grabbers in Lagos State, the Lagos State government recently signed into Law, a Law to prohibit forceful entry and illegal occupation of landed properties, as well as violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed properties in Lagos State. This new Law, known as the Lagos State Property Protection Law 2016 protects the proprietary rights of Land and Property owners in Lagos State and also criminalizes actions of forceful and unlawful entry or occupation of premises. Some of the key provisions the widely applauded Law are provided below:
Section 2 of the Law prohibits the use of force, threats or self-help to take over any landed property, or engage in any act inconsistent with the proprietary right of the owner. Additionally, persons who have used force to take over the property of another and remains in possession after the commencement of the Law shall be held to have committed an offence and liable to ten (10) years imprisonment.
Under Section 3 any person who without lawful authority, for himself or another, uses or threatens violence for the purpose of securing entry into any landed property commits an offence, notwithstanding whether the person using or threatening the use of force has a right over that property. Any offender under this section is liable to imprisonment for a term of 10 (ten) years.
Section 4 provides that any person who occupies a property as an encroacher and fails to leave the property upon a request by the owner, commits an offence punishable upon conviction with a fine not exceeding five million Naira or 5 (five) years' imprisonment, or both. More importantly, Section 8 criminalizes any offer by any person to sell a property for which he has no lawful title or the requisite authority to sell. The same section also prohibits the sale or offer for sale of land that has been previously sold, without a court judgment repudiating the earlier sale. Any person found guilty of this offence is liable to pay a fine prescribed under the Law, or imprisonment or both, and the property resold to another shall revert to the lawful owner. Additionally, this section prohibits the sale of family land without the consent of the family head and other accredited members of the family; and the sale of government land or property without the consent or authority of the State.
Whilst the above represents only a fraction of the Law, it is important to note that this Law applies to the whole of Lagos State, unlike most Lagos State Property Laws limited to specific parts of the State.
The Lagos State Property Protection Law has been widely applauded as it has the potential to boost property transactions in Lagos State. However, it is pertinent to state that the essence of this Law will be defeated if the Lagos state government fails to proactively enforce it. An example that comes to mind is the Lagos Tenancy Law of 2011 which, amongst other things, prohibits landlords from demanding from a new or sitting tenant rent in excess of one year. Till date, the said Tenancy Law is openly and widely flouted and there has not been any reported case of prosecution and conviction of offenders under the Law. That said, in view of the promising nature of this Law, efforts must be made to ensure that the Law is enforced, the offenders are duly prosecuted, as this will greatly encourage real estate investment in Nigeria.
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