Central Nigeria: The Governor of Plateau State, Mr. Simon Lalong has warned “land grabbers” to desist or face sanctions.
Government, Lalong said will not “fold its arms and watch lawlessness” being perpetrated.
The Plateau State Executive Council has, in the Governor’s words, forwarded a bill to the House of Assembly against land grabbing.
Once it is passed into law, “offenders will be prosecuted and jailed”, said Lalong last Friday at the Convocation ceremony of the Gindiri College of Education.
The Governor did not clearly define the “land grabbers” but was specific on reports of encroachment into land belonging to the College by “land grabbers”.
“We do not want the situation with the encroachment of land belonging to the University of Jos to repeat itself here,” he said.
More than 50 native villages are said to have been sacked and taken over by armed attacking herdsmen over the past 10 years.
None of the lands has been recovered, but the State has been listed among pilot states for a proposed federal livestock project, Ruga.
Ruga, a Fulani name for rural settlement, is defined as “Rural Grazing Area” by officials, a program to be implemented under an agric program called National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).
The program which was previously rejected at Parliament as Grazing Reserve in 2012, Grazing Reserve and Ranches in 2015, Cattle Colony in 2016 and Ruga in 2019 has been criticised as seeking to give foreign herders legitimate rights to native lands.
The proposed law coming few weeks after the Governor signed a memorandum of understanding with two foreign companies to develop and upgrade existing government lands in the state for the takeoff of the program has aggravated public fears.
Powers of the Governor
Part II of the proposed “Land Administration” law reads:
“(1) Pursuant to the provisions of the Land Use Act, the Governor shall in respect of Land in the State whether or not the Land is located in an Urban Area have power to:
“(a) grant Statutory Rights of Occupancy to any person for all purposes;
“(b) grant Easements, Appurtenants and Statutory Rights of Occupancy;
“(c) demand Rental for any such Land granted to any person;
“(d) revise the said Rental:
“(i) at such intervals as may be specified in the Certificate of Occupancy; or
“(ii) where no intervals are specified in the Certificate of Occupancy at any time during the term of the Statutory Rights of Occupancy;
“(e) impose a Penal Rent for a breach of any covenant in a Certificate of Occupancy requiring the Holder to develop or effect improvements on the Land subject of the Certificate of Occupancy and to revise such Penal Rents as provided in Clause 70 of this Bill;
“(f) impose a Penal Rent for breach of any condition, express or implied, which precludes the Holder of a Statutory Right of Occupancy from alienating the right of or any part thereof by Sale, Mortgage, Transfer or Possession, Sub-under Lease, Request or otherwise howsoever without the prior Consent of the Governor;
“(g) waive, wholly or partially, except as otherwise prescribed, all or any of the Covenants or Conditions of which a Statutory Rights of Occupancy are subject where owing to special circumstances, compliance therewith would be impossible or great hardship would be imposed upon the Holder; and
“(h) extend, except as otherwise prescribed, the time to the Holder of a Statutory Right of Occupancy for performing any of the conditions of the Right of Occupancy upon such terms and conditions as he may think fit.
“(2) Upon the grant of a Statutory Right of Occupancy under the provisions of sub-clause(1) of this Clause, all existing Rights to the use and occupation of the Land which is the subject of the Statutory Right of Occupancy shall be extinguished.”
Only 10% registered land owned by indigenes
The Governor had in 2017 signed and issued over 3000 Certificates of Occupancy to land owners in the State.
Official sources however say of the over 600,000 houses in Jos, the Plateau State capital, only about 60,000 are registered with indigenes having less than 10% of the total number.
The proposed law is therefore feared to legitimize the annexing of lands and the gradual domination of local communities by outsiders since it does not specify what qualifies a legitimate land owner.
Another criticism against the law is that it seeks to negate the existing federal Land Use Act which only gives State Governments Powers over urban lands.
Rural lands according to the Act are under Local Government administration.
The State Lands and Survey Commissioner, Yakubu Datti however says the bill is open to public criticism and suggestions.
“That is why it is a bill, for people to criticize and make inputs before it is passed into law or rejected at the Assembly,” Datti said in a telephone interview.
The State House of Assembly made of majority members of the ruling All Progressives Congress however might not decline to pass the bill.
But whether or not the bill will be subjected to public hearing before passing, only time will tell.