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Why 2019 Presidential Candidates Must Not Ignore Land Reforms

As the race for 2019 gathers momentum, especially among presidential candidates, one important area that should be a major concern for them is what to do with the country’s  land to catalyse economic growth.

Nigeria’s total land area is estimated at 91 million hectares and available record shows that only 3 percent of this land is documented.  Again, it has been discovered that of this number, 82 million hectares are arable but only 42 percent of the cultivable area is farmed.

This means that there is something wrong with the land system in Nigeria that needs to be corrected and given its centrality as a factor of production, it should be given a pride of place in the economic agenda of any intending president of this troubled country.

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Back in 2009, late President Musa Yar’Adua initiated a move for land reform in the country with the setting up of the Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reform (PTCLP) as a forerunner of the proposed National Land Commission.

Almost 10 years after, nothing has been said or done about this proposed reform; not until a couple of months ago when PTCLP organised a four-day National Stakeholders Dialogue on Land Reform in Abuja with the aim of addressing challenges in the land tenure system.

Land is so important in any economy that its reform should be the fulcrum around which other economic agenda of any serious leader should revolve and, as Peter Adeniyi, chairman of the PTCLR,  once said, “we owe it as a sacred duty to ourselves and the future generations to define and design our own land governance system”.

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Land is the bedrock upon which the satisfaction of all human needs is built. Food, clothing and shelter are all human needs met from resources derived from land. Though land size is fixed, its price and value rise exponentially, more so when it is improved upon by way of development or value addition.

As a factor of production, Alfred Marshall in his ‘Principles of Economics’ written in 1890, says land is so important that the other factors would be redundant without it. The other factors are labour, capital and entrepreneurship.

Land reportedly accounts for 20 percent of the earth’s surface, and consequently, every economy requires comprehensive land regulations and policies to guarantee the effective usage of its land and the maximisation of resources attached to it. This underscores the need for its reform in Nigeria.

From traditional, economic and industrial perspectives, experts see land as being unique and strategic and its availability plays a pivotal role in the development of any economy as it increases investment inflow.  Industrialisation, housing development, agriculture, mining, oil exploration and other economic and productive activities that lead to improved standard of living, job creation, economic growth, among others, are possible only when land is available and harnessed for such purposes.

A World Bank report on ‘How Africa Can Transform Land Tenure, Revolutionise Agriculture and End Poverty’ says Sub-Saharan Africa  is home to nearly half of the world’s usable, uncultivated land but, so far, Africa as a whole has not been able to develop these unused tracts to dramatically reduce poverty and boost growth, jobs, and shared prosperity.

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Another World Bank  report on ‘Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity’ argues that  if African countries and their communities could effectively end ‘land grabs’ and modernise the complex governance procedures that govern land ownership and management over the next decade, it would bring about improved well being and standard of living of their people.

These typically tell the Nigerian story, thus making the need for reform not only necessary, but also urgent. They also underpin the need for the country to reform property ownership by citizens.

Experts posit that the current land tenure system in Nigeria is reason for the dismal home ownership level and large stock of dead assets in the country. It is estimated that only five percent of the country’s housing stock, which is less than 20 million units in total, are in formal mortgage, meaning that 95 percent of these houses are dead assets because they are neither tradable nor bankable.

 Andrew Nevin, partner and chief economist for PwC, said in Lagos recently that it was only land and property ownership reforms that could unlock this huge stock of dead assets whose value he estimated at $307 billion or 81 percent of the country’s GDP.

Nigeria has a rigid traditional land tenure system coupled with the current land titling system which is onerous and excludes many people from formal land ownership, hampering full-scale economic activities, especially real estate.

Nevin emphasised that land and property ownership reforms were needed, especially for real estate which is one of the most critical sectors that, if reformed, would propel growth and alleviate poverty in Nigeria.  “Real estate makes up 60 percent of the world’s global assets and in developed countries, real estate buttresses the financial sector, enabling for the creation of asset-backed loans and securities”, he added.

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Instead of the huge emphasis and over-dependence on oil revenue which is neither stable nor reliable because of the price volatility and fluctuations in the international market, whoever is coming in as president to manage the economy of the country in the next four years should be worrying more with what could and should be done on land to make it better and more viable than it is at the moment.

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