Regularisation of land titles: Who benefits?
Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi, Lagos Community Manager
Lagos, 6 November 2014
According to Lagos' Land Use act, virtually all land belongs to the government, but certificates of occupancy are issued and recognized as evidence of land ownership/occupancy. The Lands Bureau is responsible for allocating land use, issuing certificate of occupancies, and other matters concerning land use. Notable amongst its duties is the Bureau's regularization responsibilities. Regularisation is essentially a policy of grace allowing squatters on uncommitted government land an opportunity to obtain a certificate of occupancy to the land encroached upon from the State. The process provides legality for the occupants and is subject to two basic conditions: the property must not be situated on a Government Scheme, Estate or Committed Area, and it must be situated within an area that conforms with Urban and Regional Planning regulations and standard of the State. In 2006, the Directorate of Regularization was set up under the Lands Bureau to focus solely on regularization matters.
While these policies exist to ensure land and tenancy security, the reality is very different. There were reports of numerous fraudulent claims during the initial waves of regularisation, leading to rare enforcement and issuance of certificates of occupancy. To solve the problem of fraudulent claims, in 2012 the Lagos State government came up with the Land Use Act Title Documentation Regulation, made in accordance with the provisions of the Land Use Act. The regulations provided an opportunity for pre-Land Use Act landowners without formal land title documents to obtain the governor's consent and, therefore, certificates of ownership. Prior to this, those without land/documentary titles could not be issued a certificate of occupancy. Other initiatives include making land tax payment electronic in order to make payment easier and to document land use and occupancy.
These policies for allowing land security, tenancy, ownership and legal residency are noble, but it can be argued that current efforts do little for the poor, especially the vulnerable poor living in slum areas and unallocated land areas. The process of regularization is lengthy, requires a long list of documents and, in theory, a 30-day processing period. The reality is a lengthier and more cumbersome process. Although when acquired, certificates of occupancy provide security of tenancy, due to bureaucracy and, to some extent, incompetence, the process is often incomplete. This ultimately discourages residents from initiating the process. Another challenge is the responsibility of payment of land use charges, and subjection to other forms of taxation that come with being issued a certificate of occupancy. The most vulnerable poor generally try to avoid such taxes and most cannot afford the additional costs. The complexity of the situation begs the question of how to balance the need for tenancy and the State's need to generate revenue for social services that would benefit all residents.
The Social and Economic Rights Action Center, whose work on slum clearance and land rights was covered in a previous article here, has been working tirelessly on housing rights. The organization advocates against eviction of squatters and slum dwellers from unallocated lands, fights against slum clearance, and advocates for regularization and improvement of its processes and enforcement in slum areas. Perhaps a more effective approach would be two-pronged: continued advocacy with the government coupled with sensitizing those in need of tenancy about the benefits of obtaining legal tenancy and land rights. This could go a long way in helping the poor make informed decisions about the process and increasing their chances of land security.