COMPULSORY ACQUISITION OF LAND: ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL?
It is already a notorious fact in Nigeria, that one of the powers vested in the Governor of a State, is the compulsory acquisition of land for public purposes. The power of compulsory acquisition of land flows from the policy behind the Land Use Act, which in section 1 vest all land in the state on the governor, to hold in trust for the people.
To properly regulate land and distribute it evenly for the overall good of everyone in the society, the Land Use Act 1978 went further to donate to the Governor powers of compulsory acquisition of land belonging to individuals and groups. For the avoidance of doubt, section 28 of the Act empowers the governor to acquire any land for public purposes.
Rights of the Owner of Land Compulsorily Acquired by Government:
Though it had been stated above that compulsory acquisition of land is a right available to the Governor of every state, it would be correct to state that in so doing, the law i.e. the Land Use Act also vest on the owner or occupier of the land, some rights at least to cushion the effect of temporary loss of his land or original abode.
The following rights are available to the owner or occupier of land:
- Right to Notice: section 28 and 44 of the Land Use Act grants to the owner of the land, a right to be notified of the compulsory acquisition of his land by government. He must not be taken unawares. There must be given to him, adequate notice which must be served on him personally, so that he may protest it and/or find an alternative land for his personal use.
- Notice Must Specify Ground for Compulsory Acquisition: the notice must give details and purpose for which it is being made. The owner or holder of the land must not be left to speculate for the reason for the disruption of his acquired land.
- Right to Payment of Adequate Compensation: upon the compulsory acquisition of one’s land, the Government of the state acquiring must pay adequate compensation for improvements and developments he had made on the land.
- Right to protest inadequate compensation: an owner of land is not helpless where insufficient compensation is paid for his land acquired by government for public purposes. He has a right to protest
Purpose for Compulsory Acquisition of Land.
The Land Use Act in section 50 was very clear on the fact that the purpose and in fact the only reason, upon which a governor or government of any State can acquire someone’s else land or property must be for public purposes.
Examples of public purpose would include but not limited to: provision of health facilities, educational institutions, vocational centers and other public utilities.
Illegality of Compulsory Acquisition of Land for Private Use
It was the 19th century British politician Lord Acton who asserted and reiterated thus “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This position has played out in Nigeria, as some Governors have been seen to rob Peter to pay Paul in that, having acquired an individual’s land and hiding under the guise of public purpose, would now transfer same to a private individual or entity.
We shall illustrate with the case of Olatunji. Vs Millitary Governor of Oyo State.
In that case, the military governor of Oyo State acquired a piece of land at Orita Ikereku belonging to another. The compulsory acquisition notice was published in the Oyo State of Nigeria Gazette in 1982.
The notice was to the effect that the land had been compulsorily acquired for public purposes. It turned out that the land was acquired for a company known as Tawa Investment Nigeria Limited, a private limited company based in Oyo State.
To cut long story short, the original owner who was plaintiff in this case, sued the then Military Governor of Oyo State, challenging the said acquisition. The court delivered judgment in his favour and held as follows:
- No Governor was allowed to acquire someone’s land and give it to another private citizen.
- All acquisition under the Land Use Act must be for public purpose.
- Notice of compulsory acquisition must be served personally on the owner of the land.
- Citizens can challenge the act of the governor, who attempts to take their land for his friends.
- Where compensation is not adequate, citizens can protest and cry to the court for succor.
As has been stated above, the governor has a right to revoke any certificate of occupancy or land belonging to any citizen. But in doing so, he must follow due process of law, as anything short of that would nullify the acquisition. The effect of which would mean that the body for whom the land was acquired has acquired a defective title.
No one knows whose land would be the next in line of government’s compulsory acquisition. It is therefore strongly recommended that a lawyer vast in property law must be consulted to interface with government, whenever there is the slightest hint of compulsory acquisition of his land in that case, you are protected and can be sure of a good legal bargain.
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