By Paul Ndiho, Washington D.C
Once crippled by land mismanagement, the Nigerian state of Cross River is making a comeback due to a cutting edge plan to restore trust and transparency in the land ownership system.
Land reform in Africa is not just about correcting a historical wrong. Today, it’s also about having a sense of ownership and food security– about political and fighting economic corruption– and in many cases about fundamental human rights.
Only a few years ago, Cross River, a coastal state in southeastern Nigeria, bordering Cameroon to the east, with just over 3 million people, was in the grips of land anarchy. The land management systems there were at best, dysfunctional. Land titles were forged and sometimes parcels of land were allocated to multiple owners. The entire system was rife with theft and corruption.
Now, Bassey Oqua, commissioner for special projects in the state, says the mismanagement is being straightened out. He says they have invested about one billion, Naira– approximately 6 million U.S. Dollars to revamp the system.
“When I came on board I realized that the land administration was manually handled and that created a lot of confusion in land administration matters. So it became necessary that we needed to automate the system.
Oqua notes that recognizing and documenting informal property is fundamental to allowing landowners to invest their time and personal funds in the upkeep and improvement of land. But, he acknowledges that the process has been a bit rocky. Especially confusing are land issues relating to property belonging to rural dwellers that was passed down by their parents. Much of this family and community land has never been legally registered.
“That’s why this system we are putting in place, will ultimately piece every land within the state, it will be registered and will have land tittles. Rather than people forcefully coming and taking their land, resulting in community clashes and fighting here and there… so those are some of the issues that the land reform will address.”
Recognition of customary tenure and establishing a land reform program that considers all facets of land administration is enabling the success of land reform in cross river state. Led by Governor Liyel Imoke, the land reform program has become the centerpiece of his administration.
In 2009, the governor created the cross river geographical agency, an independent group designed to give the public easy access to geographical and land related information with the help of Thomson Reuters and the logos based Teqbridge limited of Nigeria. The two tech companies are expected to offer training, and oversee the implementation of the digitalized system aimed at modernizing a formal land tenure system.
Chiemeka Ngwu, is the president Teqbridge limited a logos based ICT inspired company that specializes in geo special information and land administration.
“We’re ready and we’re also working with Thomson Reuters to domesticate the skills so that we don’t call them whenever we have issues. And we have been able to skill up our people locally to be able to solve most of the problems. They have recognized that it’s in our interest, their interest, and the interest of the local business community and the state agreement to have local skill. So that, they are not just selling their solution and technology but they have the people on the ground that can solve problems.”
The reform is expected to stimulate land transactions and improve the banking sector by providing the ability to use land as collateral. Despite the daunting challenges facing the land reform program, Ngwu is optimistic that the digitalization process will succeed.
“I can’t tell you that everybody is on board and even though there are still a lot of parcels out there that haven’t come. But we want re-assure our citizens is that whatever parcel we have in our fabric, we’ll make sure that are accurate as possible and they are within a towable limit that will allow us to issue bankable tittles. Because at the end of day, the story should be, how reliable is this information and how reliable are these titles, where is the confidence, do the people have this tittle issued by the organization, issued by the agency.”
Analysts say that Cross River State is one of the few Nigerian states that is in the right position between establishing economic independence, and having a huge potential for growth. This should make it possible to see immediate positive results from land reform as the state progresses with modernization.