February 28, 2005
THE importance of land in the political and economic development of Africa, particularly Nigeria, cannot be over-emphasised. So is the controversy over its acquisition and therefore there is need of a statutory provision for a democratic land tenure system in Nigeria. If there is any subject on which the African can be made to feel so strongly and act emotionally, it is land. It represents all their source of wealth and welfare in the modern world.
In African land use system, it is conceived that land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living and countless members are still unborn. The most characteristic pattern of land holding is that ownership is vested in the family and in some instances the community. Thus, before the coming of colonialists, the family head or the chief in chiefly societies and the council of elders in chiefless societies act as mere trustees of the land on behalf of the family or community. It is a well recognised principle that the administrative duty of the chief is the allocation of lands in a town or village among family heads, who in turn, redistribute the land among the respective family members while holding surplus land on behalf of the community till further need arises.
The colonialists, dealt with this group of land holding trustees as the absolute owners of the land. With subsequent increase in the discovery of more resources in land, the trusteeship group was soon accused of robbing their communities and other land holding families of rent and royalties paid. Thus began the colonial policy and legislations to vest all land in the British crown on behalf of the indigenous people with the setting up of the West African Land Committee in 1910.
In Nigeria, land and politics had become mischievously mixed at independence in 1960, and the role of the State in land use and acquisition continued in this pattern even after independence through three major decrees instituted under the military. First is the Petroleum Decree of 1969 providing for the entire ownership and control of Petroleum resources in the State. Second is the Land Use Decree of 1978 vesting the control of all lands on the State as ultimate owner, and thirdly, the Gas Re-injection Decree of 1979 providing for the State to appropriate the penalty fees from gas flaring while the communities who bear the brunt of the pollution and degradation are left bare and dry.
It is important to note that the importance of land to the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, before the advent of colonisation and in contemporary post colonial democratic federation of Nigeria, is still economic in origin and political in direction. So any obnoxious legislation on land by the State merely serves to touch off all the latent grievances of a people against the government. The existing land use and acquisition laws and policies are indeed obnoxious, undemocratic and against the principles and practice of federalism, hence there is need for their review and repeal.
The present system of land use and acquisition poses heinous danger to both present and future citizens of Nigeria. It constitutes the heart of community grievance, alienating regions and it reflects sabotage for a people deprived of their rights to ancestral lands and natural resources, such that, revenue which would have accrued to communities are being expropriated and effortlessly mismanaged by the State while community members live in squalor, abject poverty and utter neglect by the State.
This is the sacred source of all the conflicts and crises that have bedevilled the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The land use system has left in its wake, conflicts and crises in the relations between government and the people, ethnic groups, communities and multinational companies; regions and the Federal Government and a host of ethnic conflicts in our nation-building process, swelling up recently into threats of violent rebellion against the Nigerian State by the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) which was asking for self-determination for the Ijaws or the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference.
It is in the light of the foregoing and for the benefit of national integration that we now demand the early repeal of Land Use Decrees in Nigeria as the easy way out for the Nigerian State that is scared stiff of a Sovereign National Conference to correct defects in our present so-called federal system of government. And to bring laughter often and much in the Niger Delta, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of the youths and children of the Niger Delta; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate equity, fairness and justice is to join resources with the Campaign Against Land Use Decrees in Nigeria, for the repeal of obnoxious land use and acquisition laws in Nigeria.
This is the panacea and laxative for peace and development in the Niger Delta, a vital decimal for the consolidation of the Nigerian Project into a nation-state.
Waboke is a Director of Campaign Against Land Use Decrees in Nigeria, (CALUDIN)