By; VITALIS UGOH, Calabar
The Land Use Act of 1978 has outlived its usefulness and needs to be restructured to favour both the rich and the poor in the country.
This was the view of environmental experts after rising from a 2-day public lecture on “Policy Intersection: Strengthening Bottom up Accountability amidst Land Grabs in Nigeria. The Cross River Experience: the need for a model land use Act”, organized by Environmental Rights Action/Friends of Earth Nigeria (ERA/FEN).
The lecture was facilitated by Dr. Maurice Olory of the Community Forest Watch at the Centre for Educational Services, University of Calabar, recently.
They submitted that current Land Use Act that came into effect in 1978 has outlived its usefulness as it serves the interest of few privileged persons in government at the detriment of communities and the masses.
The act, according to them “is oppressive, gives much power to the government and the governors as they take land in the name of overriding public interest and divert it for their personal interest hence the need for the national framework and policy on land use and the need for a model land use act for the country”.
Presenting a paper on “Policy Interactions: Strengthening bottom up accountability and land grabs”, the Head of Department, Urban and Regional Planning, University of Calabar, Dr. Raphael Offiong, said “over the years with the land use act, individuals and communities like the case of Ekong Anaku, Mbarakom, Njaghasang and others have lost their land to government and multinationals without due consultation or a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed to benefit their original owners or communities as it were”.
He said the impact of the land use act has led to “indiscriminate entry into contiguous community land without due consultation, lack of restriction on land intake and lack of farm expansion leading to unemployment as government takes land for overriding public interest but transfers same without consulting the people”.
The communities, he added, “do not partake on the MOU and multinationals continue to encroach and grab land at the detriment of the people”.
As a result of this, “there is water pollution and the streams are gone, reduction in water quality and the water bodies are affected leading to various diseases and Offiong said”.
“The land use act has not done any good for the locals, there is great extent of land grab leading to displacement of the rural inhabitants government has taken land for overriding public interest and continuous land grabbing may lead to conflicts between multinationals and the rural communities in Cross River if urgent action is not taken to arrest the situation”.
Mr Nurudeen Ogbara, who presented a paper on “the Cross River Experience: the Need for Model Land Use Act”, equally condemned the current land use act as it favours only the government and its cronies and it has been in existence since 1978 despite several effort to jettison it and “current governors in the country have taken benefit of the laws, including that of Goodluck Jonathan that had tried to repeal it but nothing came out of it”.
He said what ERA/FEN and others are doing now is creating an alternative for the Land Use Act through the model land use act without necessarily throwing away the original act and this is to ensure “private and ownership of land, guarantee continuous community participation on land matters, provide regular national framework and policy on land use in the country”.
The current bill, he said, “is a proposal to fundamentally reform the land sector, liberalize state control over customary land, increase accessibility to land and create security”.
In an opening remark on interconnectivity agrarian, environmental, climate change labour and health issues: towards agrarian climate justice”, Professor Satumino Borras Jr, said “land is very economical factor to agricultural production to produce food, it holds water, minerals and host of others” but over the years a lot of villagers have lost their property to flood and other hazard which is a common phenomenon world wide which in turn leads to energy crises, insecurity, climate change crises.
He further said “this issue can be controlled through empty unused marginal lands which are converted to intensive industrial production to solve the crises .And other measure could be rejection of petty reformism, restoring big scale politics in democratizing resources, minimum access to land and natural resources to all who need it to survive and they should be law regulating how much land an individual can acquire”.
He said “every citizen in agrarian society needs land to survive so we need a system with dual principles of land size ceilings and minimum farmland hamlet access otherwise the sky is the limit for those who can accumulate”.