Current urban infrastructure renewal in Nigerian cities, especially Lagos State, has revealed that most property owners in the affected communities do not have Certificate of Occupancy (C of O), leaving them at the mercy of government to either lose or retain their property. DAYO AYEYEMI reports
The current drive for urban infrastructure renewal of cities across Nigeria is gaining momentum at the state government levels across the country. As laudable as this programme is, it is coming with mixed blessings as some individuals and business owners are happy while others have been licking their wounds as their houses have to pave the way for development.
Although the government is compelled by the Land Use Act of 1978 to pay adequate compensation to affected building owners with relevant documents such as C of O, investigations by New Telegraph have, however, revealed that many property owners do not have document that confers ownership status to them.
For this reason, many property without C of O are gradually becoming endangered especially with their houses falling on the right of way (RoW) of road and bridge expansion projects. In Lagos State alone, 1, 880 property owners have been affected by infrastructure renewal in the last one year, though the government has said it will also consider those properties without C of O in its compensation plan. However, this cannot be compared to those with documents.
For Alhaji Idris Kazeem,55, a trader, who has been living in a 10- room tenement house he built almost 25 years ago on Odunsi Street, Bariga Lagos, the fear of losing part of his property to give way for the rehabilitation of the road dominated his thought when a delegation from the Lagos State Government engaged residents in a stakeholders’ meeting last weekend.
He told this newspaper that as at the time he bought the land from Prince Odunsi Family in the seventies, the only document he was given was a family receipt, adding that he was compelled to commence building development immediately or else he would be disposed of the property by land speculators. To avert being dispossessed of the land, Kazeem said he quickly sketched a building plan, moved to site and started construction.
“As God would have it, I completed the house within one and half years and moved in,” he said. Between 1977 and now, he stated that the only proof of ownership with him was the receipt of the land purchase. Asked why he refused to get planning approval and C of O, he said that nobody had ever disturbed them (property owners) for such papers in the locality. Besides, he said that most of the people’s belief was that the cost of obtaining approval of C of O was expensive.
Kazeem’s main concern now is that the Lagos State Government is flagging off the reconstruction/ upgrade of Odunsi Street in Bariga Local Council Development Area and his house is one of the buildings marked for partial demolition, having fell within the ROW. He knew quite well that without C of O, he might not be adequately compensated for the affected building.
Kazeem is not alone in this situation, other landlords within the neigbourhood have also expressed this fear when the Lagos State Government, through the team from the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, engaged them in discussion. Expressing landlords’ fears, Head of Odunsi Family, Mr. Folorunsho Odunsi, who claimed that his father sold all lands in the area to respective property owners, told the government’s team that many houses in the locality did not have official documents except family receipt.
He said: ”Many of the houses here don’t have C of O. We came here around 1955 and sold land; we told allottees to develop their houses on time. So the government should not ask us for C of O or other approval papers before giving us our compensation. We don’t have.” Another resident, Oladipo Akinloye, said: “Most of the houses here don’t have C of O.”
Govt ‘s response
Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Rotimi Ogunleye, assured the landlords of the government’s resolve to compensate all property owners (with or without C of O), who might be affected by the upgrade. He urged them to cooperate with the contractor and the ministry officials during property enumeration and validation exercises, adding that the 1.5 kilometre road project would be delivered in 12 months.
He told the residents that with their original receipt of land purchase, photograph of their houses and any other identifiable documents, the government would surely compensate them. Member of House of Assembly representing the area, Mr. Rotimi Abiru, described the road upgrade as long awaited, informing landlords that the state government had put in place a process to ensure that property owners affected by the road project are compensated.
While allaying property owners’ fear on compensation, the commissioner said the state government had already carried out rehabilitation of 114 roads and now on 183 roads, adding that in all these locations, affected property owners would be compensated.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government penultimate Tuesday said it had begun payment of over N11.8billion as compensation to owners of properties that had to give way for construction of roads, flyovers, ramps and other critical infrastructural projects across the state.
The Special Adviser to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on Urban Development, Mrs Yetunde Onabule, said the payment was for properties demolished for projects including the Abule Egba road expansion, Epe Road expansion, Lekki International Airport, Pen Cinema flyover, ultra modern bus terminal in Oyingbo and upgrading of Muritala Mohammed International Airport Road among others.
She, however, urged affected residents to speed up their verification processes and forward their documents evidencing ownership of properties, valid means of identification, four passport photographs and other details to facilitate prompt payment. C of O A built environment expert, Mr. Peter Adeniyi, of Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reforms in Festus Adebayo-led Housing Development Group’s whatsapp platform, defined C of O as “a document issued to land/property owners as a legal evidence of ownership.
According to him, a statutory C of O is issued by a state governor if the land/property is located in urban area while customary C of O is issued by the local government, if the land/ property is in non-urban area. “However, the governor can grant statutory C of O to anyone irrespective of the location of the land/property,” he said.
On why many house owners jettisoned the document, he stated that the procedure for obtaining C of O currently is too cumbersome, time consuming and very expensive for an average Nigerian, adding that certainly unaffordable by the rural majority and the urban poor.
He suggested that its solution depended on the adoption of Systematic Land Titling and Registration ( SLTR) by the states. Housing experts said that C of O comes with high price that “may even be higher than the cost of the land and the property you want to put up there added together. All these are to discourage the light hearted.”
They argued that ordinarily, the cost of procuring C of O shouldn’t be a stumbling block to building houses, but that high cost of processing it has denied a lot of people that opportunity, adding that the government was not doing anything about it.
“Instead of doing something, they only help to compound the problem. If not so, how can the government that sings about reducing housing deficits be creating the hurdles that help to increase the deficits,” they said.
According to oticsurveys. com, benefits of having a C of O include evidence of ownership of land that will serve as a strong defense in case of a land dispute; higher property value; and elimination of problem of multiple ownership when unscrupulous land owners sell the same land to different people.
Besides, if the government needs to acquire your land for public purposes, you will be compensated because of your C of O. “Property with C of O can be used for obtaining loans; use when securing mortgage and it is a solid root of title and it makes it easy for you to sell your property,” it said.
Going by the benefits derived from C of O, it is important for all property owners and would-be landlords to obtain theirs so as to secure their investments.
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