Abuja Court Returned Plot of Land Illegally Revoked and Allocated to a Former Senate President Back to the Original Owner
Do you ever believe you can win a property possession case against the government, or close to that, an individual that is supremely close to the government? You can, if you understand the rules and laws that protect your rights and the interests of the government in land possession matters. And that is the 1978 Nigeria Land Use Act.
This story is a classic case of Nigeria’s typical power play; a good example of what Nigerians are used to. An individual is allocated a piece of land by the government but some years down the road the government would re-allocate the same piece of land to another individual, usually someone close to the government. In this case, it wasn’t just any individual. It was a former military governor and former Nigeria’s senate president.
As shown in Court Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/1323/07, the story begins this way. Sometimes in 1997, Mr. A was allocated a plot of land in Cadastral Zone B5, in Utako District of Abuja, by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with a clause that he should obtain an approved building plan within 2 years. In year 2000, the owner transfer control and administration of the land through a Power of Attorney to Mrs. B who claimed that she prepared and submitted a development building plan to the FCT Administration. However, because Mrs. B was not getting a response from the FCT Administration after submitting the plan, she decided to check in on one of the relevant government departments where she was told that the right of Mr. A on the property has been revoked. To get the land back, Mrs. B, on behalf of Mr. A, challenged the revocation and re-allocation of the land to the former senate president at the FCT High Court.
The fact that Mr. A won the case the way he did show that the FCT officials that oversaw the revocation and re-allocation of the land were either incompetent or they have no regard for the law they are supposed to help administer. The 1st and 2nd defendants, the FCT Minister and FCT Administration, respectively, claimed that the revocation was predicated on non-compliance of the plaintiff, Mr. A, with the clause in the allocation letter that states that approval for a development building plan must be obtained within 2 years of allocation. The judge pointed out that determination of whether the revocation of the plot is lawful should be based on the answers to the following: whether the plaintiff contravened the terms of the allocation and whether section 28 of the Nigeria Land Use Act was complied with by the FCT Minister in revoking the right of occupancy; and whether a notice of revocation was properly served on the original allottee.
The judge believed that the plaintiff failed to provide enough proof to show that the delay in developing the property was due to the failure of the defendants to approve the building plan. Nonetheless, he clarified that for a notice of revocation of right of occupancy over a property to be valid, the allotee must first be served with a notice of intention of the Governor to revoke the right of occupancy before the notice is published in the gazette, and that a failure to do so amounts to a substantial non-compliance with the Law which renders any revocation exercise to a nullity.
While the FCT Administration published a notice of intention to revoke the right of occupancy of the land in the daily newspapers of 11th of November 2004 and 1st of January 2005, it failed to serve the notice on Mr. A before the publication in the newspapers. According to the judge, service of notice of revocation must comply with Section 44 of the Nigeria Land Use Act which states that the mode of service be:
- By delivering it to the person on whom it is to be served; or
- By leaving it at his usual or last known place of abode; or
- By sending it in a prepaid registered letter addressed to that person at his usual last known place of abode; or
- In the case of an incorporated company or body, by delivering it to the Secretary or Clerk of the company or body at its registered or principal office or sending it in a prepaid registered letter and addressed to the Secretary or Clerk of the company or body at that office; or
- If it is impossible to ascertain the name or address of the holder, by addressing it to him by the description of “holder” or “occupier” of the premises (naming them) to which it relates and delivering it to some person on the premises or, if there is no person on the premises to whom it can be delivered, by affixing it or a copy of it to some conspicuous part of the premises.
The judge states further that while the 1st and 2nd defendants claimed that a notice of revocation was served on the plaintiff; the onus is on the defendants who alleged that the plaintiff was served to prove that he was truly served. The judge believes that this burden of proof was not discharged by the FCT Minister and FCT Administration, and as such the revocation did not comply with Section 28 and 44 of the Nigeria Land Use Act. This rendered the revocation of the plaintiff’s right in the disputed property null and void.
It is apparent that the 3rd defendant, the VIP, who was the beneficiary of the revocation lost out because the right of the plaintiff over the property was still valid on the 25th of March 2006 when the property was vested in him by the FCT Minister.
The above clearly demonstrate that under peculiar circumstances the revocation of right of occupancy of a property can be rendered invalid by the provisions of the Nigeria Land Use Act, a Law which also accord State Governors the power to take over people’s land.