Saturday, 18 December 2010

Questioning the Land reform in Imo

Joachim Ezeji

All over the world there is a universal crave for good democratic governance mainly because of its immense advantages and by necessary implication, because of the negative consequences of bad governance. There is no doubt that Nigeria is, and must inevitably be part of, or join this universal crave. This aspiration or crave necessarily has to be guided by awareness, knowledge, reason and purpose that promotes sustainable development.

According to the UNDP, Nigeria is one of the twenty-five poorest countries in the world with about 48.5 per cent of the entire citizenry living below poverty line. Again, according to the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International (TI), Nigeria as at year 2000, was virtually the most corrupt in the world. Thus, Nigeria as at today, is paradoxically a country rich in immense natural resources but with her citizens lacking most of the basic needs of life like three square meals a day, adequate shelter, potable water and access to basic health care facilities.

Inadequate shelter attracts my attention today because of the growing insensitivity and seemingly outright greed by those whose job includes protecting and serving the interests of the poor in our midst. Among this concern is the current land reform happening in the Imo State Ministry of Lands and Urban development.

From most indices, the reform aims to open up Owerri, that is the Imo State Capital city, by deforesting, clearing , demarcating and allocating virgin plots in and around Owerri. Virgin areas such as areas ‘V’ and ‘W’ as well as Nworie and Otammiri layouts in Owerri are already massively being exploited in this regard. Also, land owners in various parts of Owerri in particular, and Imo in general have been directed to process /reprocess their Certificate of Ownership (CofO) under a new computerised system which is currently being implemented by a consultant for the Imo State Government.

However, the reform of Owerri lands by the government and its agents needs to be properly done to guide against hazards, and these includes hazards of corruption, graft and environmental mismanagement. This emphases needs to be further underscored because of the likely temptation to abuse the process simply because somebody wants to generate income for the government. Persons pursuing this objective should ponder awhile and understand that it is foolish to sale all the lands in Imo simply to generate funds for today, and in the process ignoring that there is a future whose needs and challenges must also be put into scope. For example, if our leaders past; particularly those of 1976 had sold all the lands in Imo State, what would we have had done today with our grown population?

It is germane to recall that the African Ministers responsible for housing and urban development had while meeting in Bamako, Mali, from 22 to 24 November 2010, discussed and considered the role of land in the process of sustainable urban development in Africa. Recalling the Durban Declaration of the inaugural conference of African Ministers of Housing and Urban Development in 2005, which resolved to champion and support innovative urban development and land management practices in Africa; the meeting also recalled the Abuja Plan of Action of 2008 which urged governments to use land for leveraging resources in the provision of housing and infrastructure.

The African Ministers’ meeting therefore committed themselves to promoting housing reforms that can make land available for sustainable urbanization and bring housing opportunities at scale as a key element in slum prevention. The meeting also recognized the centrality of land as primary base of sustainable urban development and as providing linkages between the economic, social and environmental developmental processes in our countries and the African region as whole.

Aware of the efforts being made by respective governments to introduce innovations and reforms for improving systems of land management and providing secure access to land for all segments of society; the meeting recognised the commitment of the African Union, working with the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, which adopted the Land Policy Initiative Framework and Guidelines to encourage African member states to pursue land policy development and implementation, in order to eradicate poverty.

Four emerging concerns from the meeting are issues of poverty alleviation, innovation, environmental sustainability and overall sustainable development. In the Imo State context, all these concerns are apparently lacking, and therefore exposes the urgency and need to review the on-going land reform in Imo State in order to correct the inherent weaknesses.

I am keen to find out how the interest of the poor in Imo State is being taken into scope. The poor here includes all those currently trapped in the low income bracket such as informal traders as well as all low income civil servants. What plans have the government put in place to assist them access and own plots of land as well as developing same in other to own their own housing. From the look of things only the rich and elites are the ones buying up and developing all the available spaces in Owerri. The Imo poor have been relegated to mere spectators in this regard.

But, Governor Ohakim needs to be reminded that he owns Imo people the commitment to facilitate access to urban land for all citizens and to ensure security of tenure for the urban poor in line with the Millennium Development Target of improving the lives of slum-dwellers by 2020. Anything short of this tantamount to insensitivity and poor governance. One glaring consequence of this is the inevitable sprawl of slums.

In 1990, almost half the urban population in developing regions were living in slums. By 2005, that proportion had been reduced to 36 per cent. Slum conditions are defined as lacking at least one of four basic amenities: clean water, improved sanitation, durable housing and adequate living space. Despite some advances, sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest prevalence of slums. Both slums and urban areas in the region appear to be growing at an equally rapid pace, and the living conditions among impoverished populations are severe, often involving multiple deprivations.

Also, the rate of deforestation currently moving in tandem with the so called land reform contrasts with the government’s slogan of ‘clean and green’. The prevalent felling of trees and associated vegetation, runs foul of global efforts to adapt to climate change. There is need to allow some of these undeveloped urban areas to remain as protected areas by conserving and leaving them unexploited. Over half the area of Sweden (especially Stockholm, its capital city) is so reserved as forest reserves, and that is the authentic ‘clean and green’. Protected areas are the cornerstone of efforts to conserve the world’s species and ecosystems as well as a key component in climate change mitigation

Even in Africa, despite economic and other pressures, many developing countries have managed to protect vast stretches of both land and water. In 2007, for example the Democratic Republic of Congo established one of the largest protected tropical rainforests in the world. However, the number of species threatened with extinction worldwide continued to grow. According to the Red List Index of the International Union of Conservation of Nature, mammals are more threatened than birds. But both groups are more endangered in developing than developed countries. Sustained investments and strategies are needed to effectively conserve biodiversity in Africa, starting from Owerri, Imo State.

Land reform in Imo State that merely derives its legitimacy from the mere use of exotic consultants whose competence is limited to electronic data base of allotted plots of land is grossly parochial. We need much more than that in order to build an egalitarian society that will not short-change generations yet unborn, leaving them in utter stupor, shock and anger.

Governor Ohakim should show leadership in this regard now!

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