REVISITING THE 30-DAYS GOVERNOR’S CONSENT POLICY OF LAGOS STATE

REVISITING THE 30-DAYS GOVERNOR’S CONSENT POLICY OF LAGOS STATE

Introduction

Excitement mixed with utter disbelief heralded the announcement by the Lagos State government that the procedure for obtaining Governor’s consent is now to be concluded in no later than 30 days.[1] Applicants who have been left disillusioned and helpless with the unending bureaucracy involved in obtaining Governor’s consent heaved a sigh of relief. Professionals such as lawyers and estate consultants who are more knowledgeable of the practicalities and inner-workings of the Lands Bureau[2] were less captivated by the mere announcement of the new policy. These set of professionals were bewildered as to the implementation and operability of the said policy having not witnessed/observed any profound change or overhaul of the existing bureaucracy. However, it did not take too long for clients/applicants to begin to demand the impossible from their professional agents whom they entrusted the task of obtaining Governor’s consent on their behalf. So many professionals lost the confidence of their clients in the process of trying to explain that the new policy so vigorously publicized on the news media was unworkable and in short misleading. It is now more than a decade since the policy was announced and unfortunately, nothing seems to have changed. Hence, it is the aim of this article to critically evaluate the process involved in obtaining Governor’s consent in Lagos State while also highlighting the flaws in those procedures, and making recommendations on possible solutions in addressing these challenges.

Synopsis of Procedures Involved in Obtaining Governor’s Consent in Lagos

The legal basis for the requirement to obtain Governor’s consent on transactions bordering on the transfer of Title/legal interest in land is provided under section 22 of the Land Use Act[3] which states:

It shall not be lawful for the holder of a statutory right of occupancy granted by the Governor to alienate his right of occupancy or any part thereof by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sublease or otherwise howsoever without the consent of the Governor first had and obtained

Similarly, Section 26 of the Land Use Act provides that:

Any transaction or any instrument which purports to confer on or vest in any person any interest or right over land other than in accordance with the provisions of this Act shall be null and void

The above section was subject to judicial interpretation in the case of Savannah Bank of Nigeria Limited v Ajilo[4] where the Supreme Court held that all transactions under which an interest in land is being transferred require Governor’s consent for their validity and failure to obtain same rendered the transactions void.

In the light of the above legal provisions, all States of the federation have established a department tasked with the primary purpose of receiving and processing applications for Governor’s consent from the public. In Lagos State, the Lands Bureau which is a unit under the Governor’s office was established for this purpose.

Typically, the process for obtaining Governor’s consent at the Lands Bureau commences when a covering letter accompanied with requisite documents such as original copies of the Deeds evidencing the transaction, duly endorsed form 1c, certified true copy of the root of title, location sketch, incorporation documents (if a company is a party to the transaction) among others is submitted at the relevant collection office of the Bureau.

Thereafter, a file is opened and a unique file no is created for the application.  Next, the file is assigned to a lands officer who will supervise the application until completion. The said lands officer then dispatches the file to the office of the State Surveyor General for charting/plotting and investigation of the root of Title to ascertain if there are any encumbrances thereto. After the conclusion of investigations by officials of the office of the Surveyor-General, the file is sent back with notes of their findings to the lands officer in charge of the file at the Lands Bureau.


The said lands officer then dispatches the file to the office of the State Surveyor General for charting/plotting and investigation of the root of Title to ascertain if there are any encumbrances thereto

Upon receipt of the file, the lands officer studies the findings of survey officials to determine whether or not a query is to be raised on the application. Next, the assessment fees such as consent fee, registration fees, and capital gains tax payable on the application is computed and a demand notice generated accordingly. The demand notice is delivered to the applicant or his representative for payment of the fees stated therein.

After payments are made and official revenue receipts evidencing those payments are produced, the file is conveyed to any of the designated State Commissioner to append consent on behalf of the Governor. Thereafter, the consented Deeds are returned to the Lands Bureau for stamping at either the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service or Federal Inland Revenue Office as the case may be. After stamping is done, the Deeds are registered at the Lands Registry and the applicant is given a copy of the original Deeds for his records. This signals the completion of the application process.

Problems Associated with Applications for Governor’s Consent in Lagos State

It has become a well-accepted fact that it takes nothing less than six-months to successfully complete an application for Governor’s consent in Lagos state. In-fact, in some instances, the application may linger on for years. The following factors partly explain the reasons responsible for this sordid state of affairs:

Under-Staffing

There appears to be a disproportionality of land officers viz a viz the quantum of applications received at the land bureau. More so, the few available land officers are also tasked with other land-related duties such as determination of appropriate compensation payable for government acquisitions, interviewing family land holders among others. This adversely impacts their attention to and supervision of applications for Governor’s consent under their care.

Non-Chalance of Land Officers

There is generally a pervasive lack of commitment and indifference to work by public officials in the civil service. This same attitude to work has permeated the Lands Bureau. Hence, it is not uncommon to find relevant officials of the Bureau attending to the public grudgingly and disrespectfully without any sense of duty. In-fact, some of these officials also demand gratification as a condition to performing their public duties.

Incessant Power Outage

It has now become a recurrent embarrassment that the State government cannot make adequate provision for power supply to the Lands Bureau despite the huge revenue derived therefrom. What’s more amusing is the fact that these outages sometimes persists for up to a week or more, thereby grounding all activities at the Bureau.

Outrageous Assessment Fees

The Land Use Act under Section 46 (2c) confers on the Governor of a State, powers to make regulations on the fees to be paid for any matter or thing done under the Act. What was originally meant to be nominal fees paid by applicants to defray government’s costs for consenting to the transaction has now been converted to a revenue spinning tool by most States. In Lagos State, the assessment fees consisting of Consent fee, Registration fee and Capital Gains tax is computed based on the location and applicable fair market value of the property concerned. Furthermore, the Lagos State government has also prescribed a monthly revenue goal of N380,000,000 (Three Hundred and Eighty Million Naira) as the optimum remittance expected from the Lands Bureau. This inevitably encourages the demand for excessive amounts from applicants as payment for assessment fees.

Stultifying Bureaucracy

There is a certain level of bureaucracy expected of a government institution. However, the bureaucracy existent at the lands bureau is stifling and unwarranted. There are too many desks an application passes through before eventual completion. There is also the endless wait for files sent to the Surveyor General’s office for charting/investigation to be returned to the Lands Bureau for further consideration. Some of these processes are mere duplications and only contribute to delaying the progress of the application. Worse still is the fact that there are no electronic/digital tools in facilitating the progress of an application. Reliance is still placed on physical files which are to be moved manually by low ranking officials. There are also no modern means of communication such as internet/ email services amongst lands officials making paper communication their sole means of communication.

Conclusion

The introduction of the 30 days consent policy suggests that the Lagos State government is aware of the many intractable challenges encountered by applicants who apply for Governor’s consent in the State. Sadly, the policy has neither addressed any of these challenges nor achieved its goals. This has brought about frustration on law abiding applicants who decide to comply with the legal requirement of obtaining Governor’s consent. Consequently, there is a prevailing disenchantment and reluctance by a teeming majority of the public towards obtaining Governor’s consent. Invariably, this has resulted in the increase of voidable and unregistered Titles on land in Lagos State which has further given room for fraudulent and sharp practices on such land by mischievous land grabbers. In other jurisdictions such as Dubai and Thailand, it takes an average of three days only for buyers to perfect Titles to their landed properties with near zero costs. Hence, the following recommendations are apt:

Human Capital Development

More capable hands should be recruited to supplement the existing workforce at the Lands Bureau. Also, the conditions of service as well as remuneration of officials at the Bureau should be improved so as to boost their work output and make gratification unappealing. Furthermore, there should be a continuous training and re-training programmes in place for officials at the Bureau.

Reduction of Assessment fees

A fee is supposed to be a payment for services rendered. Hence, the motive behind levying a fee should not be revenue generation. Also, a fee is not a tax. However, it appears that the government has blurred the distinction between a fee and a tax, given the arbitrary mode of property valuation and demand for outrageous amounts as assessment fees. It is the opinion of this writer that assessment fees such as consent fee and registration fee should not be discriminatory nor tied to the value of the property concerned but rather at a flat rate. This will further enhance the ease of doing business in the State.

Computerization of the Bureaucratic Process

It is imperative that certain components of the application process such as communication amongst land officers, and file transfers should be automated with use of internet facilities and emails. The State government can also create a closed user network where survey plans and root of Title documents are uploaded for the perusal of officials of the office of the Surveyor General who will be able to give their comments thereon in real time. It is also not out of place to create an online portal accessible to the public, where applicants can monitor their applications and receive updates on the status of their applications without the need to physically visit the Lands Bureau and search through clumsy registers.

Provision of Constant Power Supply

Given the crucial role electricity plays in the application process, the State government should ensure that there is no interruption in power supply to the Lands Bureau. To achieve this, the government may need to invest in alternative power supply such as high powered generating sets or even independent power generation projects with the approval of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission.

Olayinka AlaoLL.B (Lagos), B.L (Abuja), LL.M (Lagos).


[1] The 30days policy was introduced in August 2005.

[2] The Lands Bureau is an agency of the Lagos State government that processes applications for Governor’s consent.

[3] 1978  Cap L5 LFN 2004 as amended

[4]  (1989 )1 NWLR (Pt. 97)

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