Land disputes as stumbling block to property development

Land is an indispensable factor whenever we talk about property development. And in majority of cases, that explains why people kill one another in the quest to secure land.

Those who do not understand the importance of land, especially in property developments, usually ask why people are killing themselves because of mere land.

Development has exerted undue pressure on land and this underpins why government interjects in the issue of land whenever there is land dispute. They even make laws that give authority to control land exclusively to themselves especially the states. In that case, whatever they say in that regard becomes final and binding on all and sundry.

Nigeria is a country rife with conflicts, and disputes over land issues constitute a significant number of conflict events and the violent deaths that result from them. Land issues vary from region to region, although there are some cross-cutting themes; pastoralists and farmers in the North and Middle Belt, clashes between communities and oil companies in the South-south and South-east, and urban and peri-urban conflicts in major cities are all affected by politics, legal issues, and increasingly, by climate change. Explanation on this will explore patterns and trends in land conflicts in Nigeria by exploring the existing experience and parsing through data provided by the Nigeria Watch database, a research project that monitors lethal violence, conflicts, and human security in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country of over 180 million people even as no empirical data has been judged as authoritative. This is because the estimates of the number of ethnic groups are generally around 250-300, with the main groups of Hausa and Fulani (27 per cent), Yoruba (22 per cent), Igbo (21 per cent), Ijaw (10 per cent), Kanuri (3 per cent), Ibibio (2.5 per cent), Tiv (2.5 per cent) and Edo (0.5 per cent). Although the above cannot be explained based on the number of states a tribe occupies in Nigeria’s configuration politically delineated. The religious breakdown is about 54 per cent Christian, 40 per cent Muslim, and 6 per cent indigenous beliefs. Although some of the modern land conflicts have their roots in pre-colonisation struggles between the various ethnic groups for land, most modern issues stem from the establishment of a British protectorate in 1901, and the creation of administrative boundaries that did not reflect cultural and ethnic divisions. All these at times instigate conflicts that tend to scare the public from building their homes and creating estates for the massive population in the country.

When northern and southern Nigeria were merged by the British in 1914, the dominant ethnic groups in each region were confronted with an influx of people from other regions of the newly formed country as migration increased dramatically. In an effort to discourage ethnic clashes in northern cities, the British and the emirs persuaded Igbo and Yoruba people to live in separate parts of the city known as sabon gari or stranger’s quarters. “By cobbling the different Nigerian groups into a culturally artificial political entity, the British stimulated inter-group competition and mobilisation for power and resources in the new state.” The ethnic and political structures imposed by the British set the stage for decades of conflict in Nigeria.

In South West Nigeria when land grabbing is brought to the front burner, only one name comes to mind, the Omoniles. Omoniles are known to dispossess people of their property in the most crooked means possible. They foment chaos in the affected communities/area and carry out their heinous crime as if they are above the law. As their activities continue to escalate, it is sad to note that the arm of the law hardly catches up with them.

Taking control of large extents of land, territories and related rights is a problem regardless of who takes it. The population of Nigeria, which continues to increase at an alarming rate with the corresponding rapidly growing rate of urbanisation as a result of the influx of a great number of people into urban areas worsens the case of land grabbing. Nigeria has continually witnessed an increasingly urbanised and urban oriented society characterised by a daily influx of people of different tribes into major Nigerian cities since 1960. The resultant effect of such is increase in the value of land especially in the Nigerian cities of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Onitsha, Warri, Ibadan, Awka and Calabar, among others.

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Invariably, land has become gold and acquiring a plot of land in any of the aforementioned cities is not a walk in the park, whether by legal or illegal means. Land litigation has incited attacks – both spiritual and physical causing loss of lives and properties. The only thing some Nigerians want to do is control the sales of land whether by hook or crook and that is why Omoniles have continued their criminal activities with no holds barred. Their wanton display of violence on unsuspecting victims is a source of concern.

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According to a report from one of the dailies, average property in Maitama costs about N430 million. In Port Harcourt, the most expensive property location in southern Nigeria, the average property in this location costs about N150 million. The case of Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve center, is well known. What oil is to the people of the Niger Delta is what land is to Lagosians. To state the least, the average property in Ikeja GRA area, which is occupied majorly by expatriates and wealthy Nigerians who prefer the low-key life, goes for about N250 million. Nonetheless, the good news in all of these is that a bill for a law to prohibit forceful entry and occupation of landed properties in Lagos State, is being planned for passage and observers are of the opinion that other states in the country will emulate Lagos State.

Another problem to land is gully. Gully erosion is a worldwide phenomenon. It is an enormous type of environmental degradation, which leads to loss of valuable land used for homes, agricultural, domestic, industrial and aesthetic purposes, as well as loss of property and even human lives. Following the ordinary definition of the world gully (i.e. an erosion channel too deep to be crossed by a wheeled vehicle), the gullies in Anambra State in particular and South East Nigeria would modestly be described as catastrophic. With many of them having depth and width exceeding tens of kilometres, they would better be called canyon (Okagbue and Ezechi, 1988). For this, a large expanse of land that would go for building housing project is chopped off by degradation leaving a small portion for the indigenes to manipulate.

Several workers have attributed the development of gullies in Anambra State to the influence of human activities on natural and geologic processes while others suggest that gullies are linked with concentrated runoff processes. Nwajide and Hogue (1979) attributed the causes of gullies to the combination of physical, biotic and anthropogenic factors. Egboka and Nwankwor (1982) are of the opinion that gullies are caused by hydrogeological, hydrogeochemical and geotechnical properties of the rocks in the affected area.

Okagbue (1986), Uma and Onuoha (1986) are in agreement with Nwajide and Hogue on the causes of gullies in South Eastern Nigeria. The Eastern part of Nigeria does not boast of large expanse of land and for the small one to be eaten up by erosion creates a lot of tension and friction that at times lead to conflicts that result in loss of lives.

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