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16 Mar 2018

Activists, lawyers criticise Lagos govt’s Land Use Charge reduction

Some lawyers and activists have criticised the decision of the Lagos State Government to reduce the payable sums in the controversial Land Use Charge Law.
Governor Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode
Following a public outcry and criticism that trailed the charges, the state government announced on Thursday that it had reviewed the law.

According to Akinyemi Ashade, the Commissioner for Finance, charges on commercial properties have been reduced by 50 percent while penalties for late payments have been cancelled across board, among other reviews.

But speaking to PREMIUM TIMES in separate interviews on Thursday, the lawyers and activists said the decision of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led government to introduce more taxes at a time the economy is still recovering from recession is condemnable.

Olanrewaju Suraju, the Chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda, said the reduction had not addressed the issues that led to public outcry.

“I think it is the most unfortunate action of the government that claims to be progressive is to have subjected the citizens to such an arbitrary increment in the land use charge,” said Mr. Suraju.

“Considering the cosmopolitan and urban nature of Lagos you can understand the decision for such an increment. What is most challenging about the increment is the valuation that is criminally and fraudulently done by agents of government such that it does not conform with the reality of the value of the property.

“It is a law that was not well thought out and a law that is not taking into cognisance the economic circumstances of Lagosians and the reduction is certainly not the reason for which people are protesting.

“The reduction is not an issue, it does not address the concern, it is not what people are demanding for. It is a total reversal and it must be a product of extensive consultation with the people and at that point they can then consider what is the economic circumstance of the people and then you can look at different areas to apply such different laws.”

“It is a different thing for you to say you want to apply high end areas that you know that people are running business and not where you issue a blanket law, its not done anywhere. A blanket law that affects both the down end people, the average earners and the high end earners.”

Mr. Suraju also faulted the government’s claim that it consulted with stakeholders such as professional bodies and Community Development Associations before reaching its latest decision on the Land Use Charge.

“There was no consultation, I mean, the law was rejected last week, the government promised to have consultation last week and early this week, so the consultation is between Monday and Wednesday so how thorough can such a consultation be? How extensive? What is the extent of consultation that is between government and government agencies within 48 hours?

Adesina Ogunlana, the Chairman of the Ikeja chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association, said the government’s reduction is not acceptable.

“The announcement is not acceptable because in the first instance, they are the ones that have the yam, they are the ones that have the knife. 25 per cent here, 50 per cent there is arbitrary,” said Mr. Ogunlana, who led a protest in Lagos on Tuesday against the “obnoxious” law.

“They said they met with stakeholders, who agreed with them that it’s 50 per cent it should come to? What is that 50 per cent? And that is what I’m not comfortable with.

“Then secondly is that, I doubt whether by mere proclamation, what instruments, there is a legislation, and you are now making an announcement, have you made reformation?

“The law is still there the law has not been amended, so if tomorrow somebody is giving a charge, will you now decide on the announcement from the minister of information, is that the law?

“So it’s not acceptable, it’s arbitrary and it’s not legal since its not a military rule where you can rule by decree and proclamation. This is my immediate reaction but a fuller reaction will come by Monday when my branch meets on an emergency meeting on the development.”

Also, Abiodun Aremu, the Secretary of the Joint Action Front, said nothing short of a total reversal of the Land Use Charge would be acceptable.

“We are not talking of negotiations,” said Mr. Aremu, who also participated at Wednesday’s protest.

“Our position is total reversal. This point we made clear in our statement. We will go ahead with the mobilisation of Lagosians to resist until it is reversed.

“We in JAF are not new to a long-drawn struggle. The struggle that defeated the hike in LASU school fees started in December 2011 and the Fashola Government was compelled to reverse the wicked hike in 2014 following our series of mass actions, including his humiliation at the May Day event at the Onikan Stadium on 1st May 2014.”

“We joined the NBA Ikeja in the last protest and we will encourage them to stand firm on total reversal. We anticipated the antics of the Lagos Govt on negotiations, hence made the point clearly at the March 13 protest march.”

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a human rights lawyer, said though the government acting on the yearning of the people is commendable, it came a little too late.

“This measures announced by the governor are not the issues, it is more or less ‘tokenism’ and does not address the fundamental question of the capacity of people to meet the obligations contained even in the review,” Mr. Adegboruwa said.

“We are talking about the period of recession, we are talking about the period when people lack purchasing power, people have lost their jobs, and in the midst of it you have to power your generator, provide your water, transport yourself, pay for your medical bills, and the least any government should do now is to impose greater financial burden on the citizen.

“This is not the time to introduce more tax and I know that the government is very responsive and would still listen to the people of Lagos by totally suspending the Land Use Charge until such a time when the economy gets better.”

But Monday Ubani, a former Chairman of the Ikeja chapter of the NBA, said the government’s action shows it’s “a listening government.”

Mr. Ubani, however, called on the government to slow down its “aggressive” drive for revenue.

“Some of us were insisting on total return to status quo but when you take into account that Governor Ambode is doing a few things you can see physically in Lagos, he is somebody that if he has little more, he will do more for his people so we should try as much as possible to cooperate with him,” Mr. Ubani told PREMIUM TIMES.

“The government should also reduce this aggressive drive for revenue to fund their budget. There are so many other things that the Lagos State Government is doing now that I’m not comfortable with.”

“Take for instance, when you make a mistake in your deed or any of the papers you filed with the Land Registry, you pay a bill of rectification to rectify the mistake and they usually charge a flat rate. Now Lagos State government has introduced charges that are no longer flat rates making it more expensive than it used to be.

“Almost everywhere the Lagos State Government is looking for money and these are people who are just coming out of recession, there are no jobs, economic conditions are so harsh. I need them to be more lenient in their revenue drive so that they don’t kill people.

“Because this infrastructure they will build it’s human beings that are alive that will enjoy it. So I think they have to put a brake to this aggressive revenue drive so as not to kill people. But it’s a commendable step that the Lagos State government has actually reduced the percentage.”

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