What makes lagos state justice summit different – Dr. Muiz Banire

The 27th and 28th of May, 2024, will for some time remain days to remember in the annals of justice reform in Lagos State. I have had the privilege of attending so many justice reform summits but this is unique in dimension. It is outstanding because while the other summits that I have attended squared on the improvement of the justice administration processes, the instant summit went beyond the basic and recurrent issues into the way and manner such capacity can enhance the investment potential of the state and the overall welfare of the residents of Lagos. The probable rationale behind this is possibly because of the consensus that the state as a pacesetter in justice administration has done well. This testimony was the chorus led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, GCON, and the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN.

To the extent that this summit is value-added, I commend the initiative of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Lagos State, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN, who I am aware is very passionate in reforming the system, particularly in the light of his practice experience and institutional memory, and all the members of his team. Notwithstanding this acclaimed laurel, the Governor of the State, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, in his characteristic manner, is still unsatisfied with the set standard and would want to witness more radical changes and improvements to the extent that the State can only be comparable to countries like Rwanda and Singapore. In this regard, I entirely agree with the Governor, as the motto of the Grange School says, Lagos situation must continue to be thatof continuous improvement. This explains why the summit further interrogated the questions of the delay in the administration of justice, the administrations of criminal and civil justice in the State and its impact on the investment potentials of the state.

At the summit, I was opportune to speak on the issue of documentation and registration of documents as it affects administration of civil justice and attraction of investments to the State. This discourse is to detail out some of my thoughts in this regard as a guide not only to the State but the country as a whole, as same challenges are largely faced across the country. To appreciate the pre-eminence of lands in the affairs of human beings and society, I cannot resist the quote of the late erudite scholar of all times, particularly in the field of real estate, Prof. J. A. Omotola, in his inaugural lecture in 1988 delivered at the University of Lagos, titled ‘LAW AND LAND RIGHTS: WHITHER NIGERIA? where he opined as follows, “ Every person requires land for his support, preservation and self-actualization within the general ideals of the society. Land is the foundation of shelter, food and employment. Man lives on land during his life and upon his demise, his remains are kept in it permanently.

Even where the remains are cremated, the ashes eventually settled on land. It is therefore crucial to the existence of the individual and the society. Man has been aptly described as a land animal.” What the above portends is that without land, there cannot be human survival. The food we consume is from the land, the clothes we wear is from the land, on land we reside and in it we shall end. All the resources for production are from the land. Land is a gift of God and is limited in quantity. There is hardly any human activity or endeavor that does not require land. This explains the scarcity and the struggle for land. In Nigeria, Lagos State is not blessed with land mass as it sits on the smallest land size. The entire span of the State is 3,577 square kilometers with one third of it being water. In the circumstances, therefore, the contention for land in the State has always been fierce. Beyond this reality, the challenge to access land by individuals, investors and even the government has been a subject of perennial contest. Even not the entire available land has infrastructure, thus the tension over the few that have infrastructure. In virtually all the national economic plans, land has always been central to the discourse. In fact, the enactment of the Land Use Act, which is the basic law on lands in Nigeria, was as a result of the discovery in one of the sessions of the national development conferences that land was almost becoming inaccessible to individuals, investors and the government.

Hence the need to liberate it from the shackles of the so-called original landowners. The presupposition was that with the enactment of the Act, litigation over land will reduce, if not totally eliminated. Shockingly, however, rather than decreasing, it is on constant rise. Little wonder that the courts continue to be inundated with land cases. It is in this wise that the administration of civil justice in the State has not been able to cope, and is constantly stressed. Survey carried out reveals that the average life span of a land case in the State is ten years. Due to this frustration derivable from the administration of civil justice system; and the fact of the removal of asportation as an ingredient of stealing, various security agencies, particularly the Police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have now stepped in to address the delay that is apparent challenge of the civil justice system. The police and others now largely undertake resolution of land conflicts with the use of their coercive power. This certainly is an aberration and needs to be addressed if we are desirous of investments in the State. This nefarious activity of the security agencies must be checked.

Again, for the same reason, the activities of land grabbers have been on the rise. Land grabbers now assist claimants to recover lands. All these are uncivilized and illegitimate means of resolving land conflict and is definitely militating against investment in the State. Of importance also is the titling of all the properties in the State. A situation where just about thirty percent of the landed properties in the State are properly titled discourages any investment in the State. There is urgent need to bring all landed properties into the State land bank by way of titling. This must be made compulsory without necessarily inconveniencing the people through heavy fees and complicated processes, so as not to be the case of kobo wise, pound foolish. The best approach is to look at the turnover and multiplier effects of effecting the exercise, and not the immediate gains. This is also essential in order to make land mobile and not remain a dead asset. It is when we appropriately title land that such can be object of transactions and collaterals for facilities of financial institutions. It is when ownership of land is certificated that the people can transact on it.

Again, the dichotomy between federal and state titles is not helping investments into the State. Any title, even if possessed by the federal government or its agency, must be made a subject of State registration. There must be a single title registry. The State must allow direct and automatic regularization of federal titles. I say no more on this! This will also help in emasculating the fraudulent act of using the same parcel of land through different titles to perpetrate fraud on people and institutions. Replacement and integration of the federal titles into state system is essential and crucial to the attraction of investments. Consent procurement is another issue frustrating investment in the State. The procedure for obtaining consent is not only complex but cumbersome. The worst part is that you have to go through multiple windows, if not countless levels, to achieve your objective of obtaining consent to a transaction. There is no one-stop shop for this.

The fees payable is another monster in the house. It is so astronomical that it is unattainable by many, thus abandoning the applications. This has not enabled perfection of title nor encourage accessing of facilities. So many financial institutions have successfully processed loan applications and unable to disburse due to the frustration of obtaining consent to mortgage transactions. What ought to simply be a management tool is now a revenue point that is devouring applicants. It is now a punitive measure. No professional, much less an average intelligent person, can comprehend and safely navigate the process. The same affliction is bedeviling the r procurement of certificate of occupancy.

There is urgent need to intervene by way of technology. Except we distance the system or process from human interference, the clog will continue to occur. Related to the above is the survey plans of property registered in the Surveyor Generals’ office. Survey plans, particularly where registered, are meant to be means of identification of appropriated lands. In contemporary times in the State, it is failing to meet that expectation. It is no news again that we now have multiple registered survey plans over the same parcel of land. This does not augur well for the attraction of investments as it is apparently becoming an unreliable and amorphous document. Survey plan seems to no longer convey what it portrays.

Flying of coordinates, mutilation of records and writing of false report containing false narration is now the order of the day in the Survey office. In point of registration, how do you explain the same government in custody of a document to be demanding applicant to submit certified true copy of the same to her? Is this not absurd? Now, to the issue of cautions and caveats. There seems not to be provision in the system for this again. It is important as it tends to forestall undue tampering with the record by the third party, nor the mutilation of record pending resolution. Presently, to place a caveat, you are requested to approach the already congested court. By the time you are through with this, the harm has been done. The original process of applying and paying the relevant fees is more functional and efficient and need to be restored.

In addition, provision in the system for entering of caution and caveat is important, including possible reflection on the document of title. The worst emerging scenario is tampering with registered documents at the land’s registry. Documents are now removed, replaced and mutilated by some unscrupulous officials. This needs to be urgently tamed to ensure reliability and indefeasibility of registered titles. The last point but not the least is the cumbersomeness of the process of acquiring development permits. The system, as it stands today, is a nightmare. Gone were the days when there was compliance with the 30-day rule, in which you could obtain development permits within thirty days. The road blocks are simply too many now and encouraging violation of the planning laws.

No investment will be attracted where such clog continues. It is in the light of the above and other ancillary issues that the State government, and by extension, the country needs to overhaul her processes on documentation and perfection of titles to land. It is a desiderata to realizing the investment potentials of the State.

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