There are growing concerns that the delay in Nigeria judicial process, especially in commercial matters has compounded the inadequate housing for Nigerians. The agitations on housing deficits date back to 1991, when Nigeria was said to have housing deficit of seven million units. Since then, the deficits in housing requirements have been growing at 5.8 per cent per annum, which has given rise to a slum population estimated at about 70 per cent.
Whilst available statistics on Nigeria’s housing deficit paint a grim picture, the effect of delay in the nation’s judicial process has continued to worsen efforts at house delivery in the country. With a population of almost 180 million, according to data from the United Nations, an annual population growth rate of 2.8 per cent (2015) and an annual urban population growth rate of 4.7 per cent, Nigeria need urgent action to mitigate the deficit.
This is more so as global trends show that the world is experiencing housing crisis and various countries, especially in the global south, have approached the issue with the urgency it requires. According to the World Bank, the estimate for tackling Nigeria’s 17 million housing deficit is put at N59.5 trillion. This is not too far from the estimation of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria which had put it at about N56 trillion to be able to adequately meet the housing needs of Nigerians.
According to United Nations statistics, about 1.6 billion people live in substandard housing globally, while over 100 million are homeless. Nigeria hosts an uncomfortably large percentage of these two, with millions considered to live in substandard housing.Thus, the nation’s housing coverage rate still remained at dismal 25 per cent.But, experts said housing would continue to remain a mirage if left to the government alone, unless private developers are encouraged to invest in real estate.
However, with the slow adjudication process in the nation judicial process, primary and secondary mortgage institutions have classified investments in real estate as very high risk, at times attracting nearly 24 percent interest rate.The Guardian learnt that the offering is based on the difficulties in enforcing mortgage contracts and foreclosure on properties in local courts.
This is somewhat attributable to court congestion and the resulting slow adjudication process which is a key deterrent to mortgage financing.Given credence to this, Debo Adejana, a real estate entrepreneur, who heads one of Nigeria’s leading Mass Housing Development Companies; Realty Point Limited, said litigation is one of those things every developer dread so much.
Adejana, who had first hand experience of danger of delay in one of his firm’s project in Lagos, said no developer will want his project to be tied down by litigation because you cannot predict when it will finish because of the right of appeal.He stressed that his firm was lucky to come out of the problem through out of court settlement after two years before actual development on site.He said: ‘Cases in Nigeria can drag up to 10 years because of the right of appeal in our judicial process”.
Another developer, Jonathan Ekpeyong, said litigation started just at the point of selling to clients, which affected business and inability to pay back to the banks.Ekpeyong, who do not want to disclose the name of his firm, said the matter is not fully settled 15 years after they went to court.Beyond these was the case of the vast area of land that shares boundaries with the Oniru, the Elegushi, and the Olumegbon estates in Lekki area of Eti-Osa Local council in Lagos State, which is one of such cases that dragged for so long before amicable resolution of the problem.
The matter affected some estates such as Pinnock Beach Estate, Arcadia Estate, Beach Resort Estate, Friends Colony, Nicon Town, and a host of others.The legal battle involving Eletus and their lawyers, who reportedly got a warrant for 254.558 hectares and the move to assert claim to the land affected development in some estates in the area.Problem began in 1981 when the then Lagos State Governor, acting pursuant to the powers granted him under the Land Use Act, revoked all existing rights on the land in Eti-Osa and Ibeju Lekki areas of the state. The Ojomus, being owners of the land from time immemorial, had at that time, sold 254.558 hectares of land to the late Mr. Gbadamosi Bandele Eletu by deed of conveyance.
The conveyance, dated August 23, 1977, was registered as No.36 at Page 36 in Volume 1648 of the Lagos Lands Registry. But the Ojomus challenged the acquisition of their ancestral land in court, which reportedly ruled in their favour and invalidated the acquisition. In 1993, the Lagos State Government published another revocation notice No 20 Volume 26 of May 13, 1993.
It was however learnt that shortly after the revocation of 1993, the inheritors of the late Eletu challenged the right of the Lagos State Property Development Corporation, LSPDC, to use a portion of their land, which they bought from the Ojomus.The case went to the Supreme Court, and was decided several years after on July 12, 2013. There was also the legal battle waged by landlords of Shangisha against Lagos state government for 27 years over the soul of Magodo estate scheme.
However, 27 years are long, inordinately long period to get judgment in any court matter, let alone a case involving shelter over their heads ‘ one of the most basic needs of nature. The landlords’ victory is further dampened by the fact that it was the third time they would get judgment, their cases having been upheld by the High Court and the Court of Appeal; but government, for some reasons, failed to meet their desire.
Ripples of the Supreme Court judgment directing that 549 plots of land located in Magodo-Shangisha in Lagos, be given to their rightful owners soon began to splash on the property owners, with Shangisha Landlords Association pushing for compensation.The judgment sent apprehension among residents of the area, which later affected prices of property in the area.
Speaking on the impact of justice delay in housing delivery, the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele said, it is generally acknowledged that one of the modern-day determinants of development in any environment is the effective protection of property and contract rights, and that this in itself requires a modest legal infrastructure embedding precise rules that are easily enforceable.
Emefiele, who spoke in Abuja on the theme: “Mortgage Disputes in Nigeria: The Need for Expeditious Resolution of Case”, at a workshop for judicial officers on mortgage, urged the judiciary to speed up the processes for deciding on mortgages and commercial disputes as way of fast-tracking the growth of the housing finance sector in Nigeria
Citing other climes like the United States of Ameriaca and Europe, Emefiele said mortgagees know that failure to pay on their mortgage results in drastic consequences such as the right of immediate take-over of the property through foreclosure. “In Nigeria, this is not the case and -therefore discourages banks from granting mortgage financing to clients.”
Referring to the 2016 Report of the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa which indicated Nigeria as having just an estimated 25 percent homeownership rate, he stressed that “Interestingly, the report highlighted legal and administrative constraints, rather than lack of funds or programmes, as some of the major issues constricting the growth of home ownership in Nigeria”, he stated.
Reacting to the impact to housing delivery, Lagos-based lawyer and a notable human rights activist, Mr. Johnson Esezoobo, said there should be a system that should allow judges to determine if a matter can go on or not especially when there are frivolous.According to him, Nigerians are yet to clarify the judicial system to determine when litigation is necessary or not. He stressed that many lawyers do not have reasons for engaging the court process other than pursuing personal motive and to blackmail others.
Ordinarily in commercial litigations like property matters, most of the cases should not get to court but because lawyers are often desperate for quick results, irrespective of how it was achieved, they took to litigation.“Where a party has brought some documents even without special knowledge of forensic analysis of documents should be able to know that they are not proper and discourage such litigation.“Unfortunately, our courts are encouraging litigations. You found out that attitude of courts encouraging appeal or litigation does not help in quick resolution of matters. They want to hear all the matters even when they can look at the papers and within a short time discourage litigation. We don’t have that kind of attitude in our judicial system. “People brings all manners of facts and documents and the court will indulge them on it. The court is more interested in listening to all manners of things even when they are frivolous”, he added.
For the second vice president of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, each delay in judicial process affects the economy generally. “If we don’t fine-tune our legal system to ensure quick delivery of justice, the economy is actually the first culprit. It will also affect the inflow of foreign investments into the country because the foreign investors will basically look at how quickly you can resolve issues in case of disputes. Where it takes ages, to resolve legal issues, the investors will not be too keen to invest in your country and the foreign investment involved even in the housing sector.
“ Even, the local investor, who may not enter to the development of real estate and housing would not want to because of these litigations. It will take some years, imagine you have a housing dispute and it takes 20 years to resolve how do you justify that and people will not be interested in that area. Generally delay in legal resolution of issues affects the economy and especially with housing delivery, it will affects investors that will come into that area knowing fully well that it takes ages to resolve issues. So what we need to do is to create more courts and employ more judges in our judiciary”, he said.