On Friday, 26th April, 2013, Abuja’s landscape was set aglow when the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed played host to Nigerians from all walks of life at a Town Hall Meeting held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
At the meeting which was meant to deliberate on the recent Land Swap policy instituted by the FCDA to help quicken the pace of infrastructural development in the nation’s capital city, the minister said that it was to open a level playing field from all people with diverse shades of opinion to step forward and put them on the table in a democratic manner. He further opined that the land swap policy was borne out of the need to ‘’fast-track the provision of infrastructure and to stave-off pressure on public utilities and housing in FCT’’.
It would be recalled that FCDA under Senator Bala Mohammed’s leadership had recently pulled out a joker card tagged Land Swap policy in an uncommon determination to tackle the infrastructural deficit confronting the nation’s capital city of Abuja. The policy, as conceptualised by the steely and visionary FCT minister, involves the granting of Greenfield lands to competent real estate developers who will in turn provide infrastructure such as roads, electricity, potable water, drainages, and sewer lines, communication dots to residents without any financial or technical demand on the government.
This laudable policy, which is expected to rake in a princely sum of N300billion from banks in and outside the country and also generate over one million jobs for the teeming unemployed Nigerians, is not peculiar to Nigeria alone, as many developed and developing countries like France, Japan, USA, China, Germany, Egypt, India and Denmark have adopted land-based financing techniques during periods of rapid urban development as is currently being experienced in Abuja. It is equally a policy that has been endorsed by the World Bank as suitable for any country experiencing budget crisis like Nigeria.
Like all bold initiatives in the world, the present land swap policy of the Federal Capital Territory Administration is not without its attendant legal and financial implications. For starters, it is predicated on sound legal and institutional frameworks. It is also a well-known fact that the land tenure system in Nigeria, which is regulated by the Land Use Act, is based on the country’s legal jurisprudence and has been described as a constitutional legislation with overriding capacity.
In the case of Abuja, the entire land within the federal capital territory has been declared as urban land. The importance of this classification, according to legal experts, is that while the governor grants statutory rights of occupancy, the customary rights of occupancy are within the ambit of the local government authorities. While the Land Use Act vests all lands in the governor, lands in FCT are vested in the minister of the FCT. The word ‘vested’ used in the Act is synonymous with ‘ownership’. The vestment was deliberate as the Act specifically obligates the governor to hold such land in Trust. While it is true that a Trustee has the legal title, it is arguable whether trust right is that of ownership.
By describing the minister as a Trustee, the law imposes upon him an obligation of Uberrima fidei or utmost good faith, an obligation that is comprehensively regulated under the common law. To further underscore this Trust relationship, the Act goes to create wide-ranging powers exercisable by the minister under the Act. Under section 5 of the Act, the minister has the power to grant land to any Nigerian. The size, object or subject of grant is not restricted under the Act.
It is to strengthen the minister’s exercise of his discretions as a Trustee under the Act that a window was created in section 8 to enable him exert maximum value in the grant. The section reads Statutory Right of Occupancy granted under the provision of section 5(1)(a) may be granted subject to the terms of any contract which may be made by the governor and the holder”. It is in his efforts to exercise the utmost good faith as required of a Trustee under the law that the incumbent minister of the FCT, Sen. Bala A. Mohammed introduced the concept of the land swap, especially against the context of FCT developmental challenges.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to ask: What are the financial implications of the land swap programme? A proper understanding of this policy will reveal that in the short run, houses will not be cheap since the private investors are not father Christmas or a public authority that would build property at the cost of N250 million only to sell it at a fraction of that cost. The truth is that land swap houses would not be as expensive as what is obtainable in the present Abuja property market, but they would compare favourably with their counterparts in other capital cities of the world. In fact, if the economic forces of demand and supply are anything to go by, the prices of houses and rental values are expected to come down in the long run.
Investigations conducted revealed that the average cost of standard plot of land in Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse and Garki is a whopping N250 million, while that of Maitama Extension, Gudu, Wuye and Guzape hovers around N70 million. The cost of land in Mabushi, Kado, Gwarimpa, Katampe and Jabi is N30 million. Even in the mass housing district of Lokogoma and Kafe, the cost of land averages between N6 – N13 million. These lands are being freely traded with no kobo accruing to the FCTA, not even to other tax authorities. The logical question to ask and answer is: Should the administration continue to watch while these acts go?
No! History, it is often said, forgives those who take wrong decisions, but will certainly not forgive those who fail to take any decision at all. Moreover, Section 8 of the MoU recently signed by the FCTA with the land swap investors gives the FCT minister the power to revoke the contract in the event of any breach of terms of agreement by any investor. The point must be stressed also that under the land swap policy, the investor is permitted to sell plots of land or houses to individuals, companies and institutions as the case may be, provided he has serviced the district with stipulated infrastructure. The intention is to narrow the gap between plots/housing demand and supply.
Experts are of the opinion that it will be difficult for the FCTA to afford the cost of infrastructure as envisaged by Abuja’s founding fathers without adopting revolutionary measures like Land Swap. Lending credence to this widely-held view, Mr. Faruk Sani, coordinator of Abuja Infrastructure Investment Centre (AIIC) declared thus: ‘’Available records show that as at December 2012, the FCTA had an infrastructure liability of over N420 billion. This did not include the N150 billion liabilities needed for resettlement and compensation of original inhabitants. These liabilities should be juxtaposed against the annual national budgetary allocations to the FCT Administration, which had not averaged more than N50 billion in the last five years. In fact, in 2011, it was not more than N46 billion while in 2012, the actual money released to the FCTA was just N33 billion.’’
From all intents and purposes, the FCT land swap model is a product of necessity that arose from the noble intention of the minister whose selfless zeal is to fulfil the aspirations of Abuja’s founding fathers.
•Ochela, an Abuja-based media consultant can be reached via: [email protected]