By Abasifreke Effiong
Akwa Ibom state has received huge influx of migrants from different parts of the country and abroad in the last 14 years. The population of Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo communities and expatriates doing businesses in the state has scaled up. Increase in school enrollment at both the elementary, secondary and tertiary levels; increase in vehicular traffic in the towns and the growing burden of waste evacuation and management across towns in the state are also indicators of rapid growth in population.
The Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, told journalists last year that the current population estimate of the state is 7 million, that is about 3 million higher than the 2006 census figure. Akwa Ibom state is blessed with arable land, even spread of rainy and dry seasons, large deposits of solid minerals, large maritime shoreline, rich culture and colonial relics. The state is renowned for being the most peaceful and hospitable state in Nigeria; consequently, it is a destination of choice for investments in agriculture, maritime, tourism, aviation and solid minerals.
It is projected that by 2024, the population of the state would have increased by at least 1 million people who are within active employment age bracket. This would be due partly to the rapid growth of the state’s aviation sector, increase in investments in petro-chemicals refining, agriculture, the social industry, industrial manufacturing, as well as maritime transportation due to the takeoff of Ibom deep seaport and industrial city as well as the Liberty oil and gas free trade zone.
Despite, being famed for being an investment destination, investors have hold contrary opinion to that effect for a long time because of the challenge of access to land. While sharing thoughts on investment potentials on agriculture in the state, the agropreneur said, “Akwa Ibom land is fertile, the weather is fantastic, but, Akwa Ibom is not an investment destination. If you want to lose money come to Akwa Ibom. You are taking huge risk investing in a land where your investment is not guaranteed. I am speaking as an agropreneur, to me a piece of land is a land – an asset – when it has a title. Your government is not serious about land titling…”
Checks within the civil service showed that until recently, the last time the Governor signed C of O was in January 2013.
Sometime in 2016, a real estate investor who was desirous to build at least 1,000 very low income housing unit in the state left the state frustrated after trying hard for more than two years to secure a Certificate of Occupancy for the land they got for the project. Two years ago, the Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Land Use and Allocation Committee, Prof. Peter Esuh, told the House of Assembly Committee on Finance and Appropriations that his Committee would have generated revenue if the Governor was signing C of O. Prof. Esuh said a lot of applications were lying down unattended to.
Last year, a group of agro investors in Okobo local government area reportedly lost their investment capital because the land they acquired from locals for their farm belonged to the government. Last month, the CEO of Benny Agro and Farms Limited, Mr. Brezhnev Langwa, told the Commissioner for Trade and Investment in the state that his company will employ the 168 trainees its trained under the Ibom3000 skill project if he is given a C of O. Benny Agro and Farms has over N100 million agric investments in the state.
Nebulous bureaucracy in documentation of land transactions, land registration and titling, had sent away some real estate investors and agro companies that should have invested in the state. Individual indigenes, groups and organisations who require land documents as collateral for access to economic and social opportunities have complained variously in the past about government bureaucracies on land documentation. These bureaucracies are now simplified. Serious investors be it in real estate, agriculture, manufacturing, etc., can get conditional letter of allocation as they arrive the state and a C of O in 90 days. Many other reforms are taking place in the Ministry of Lands and Water Resources in the state aimed to make land everywhere in the state a more valuable capital.
The state government is aware that the rapid population growth recorded in the state would soon create huge housing deficit and exponential increase in the cost of house rent. Already, there is a deficit of purpose-built commercial houses, office spaces, and residential houses. Real estate investors have come in and are taking money out of the state, but the government is not benefiting optimally from their profits. Tens of thousands of houses dot the 10km radius area covered by the state capital city development authority, yet less than 10 % of these property have government title. This is a huge revenue loss to the government, which the land reforms seeks to block.
In Lagos State, the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Sam Egube, while providing the breakdown of the state’s budget, said the real estate sector is expected to fund at least 15% of its N1.16 trillion budget in 2021.
The Akwa Ibom state government is not unaware of the IGR potentials locked up in the real estate sector. Recently, the state government decentralized the signing and issuance of Certificate of Occupancy as part of commitment to ensure ease of doing business and bringing businesses back on track after the first and second COVID-19 lockdowns.
The Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources in the state, Pastor Umo Eno, said the administration of Mr. Udom Emmanuel, has simplified the processes of land documentation and titling.
Pastor Eno said as part of government’s private sector investment support agenda, Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, has delegated the powers to sign and issue C of O to the Commissioner for Lands. This cherry gesture is to ease the difficulty in having access to land for investment, and make it possible for indigenous SMEs who own land through inheritance to use same as means to access social and economic opportunities.
The Commissioner said, “one of the greatest things that have happened to the state is the decentralisation of Certificate of Occupancy (CoO) which has been a key factor in the lockdown of businesses. When you talk of opening businesses and part of it is that you want to encourage the Small Medium Enterprises to grow. With COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of businesses went down and there was need to stimulate the economy.
“And what are the ways to stimulate the economy and regain businesses? A lot of people have property which they can use as collateral for loans and their land documents are tied up in government, so we met with His Excellency Governor Udom Emmanuel and spoke with him. The constitution empowers him to delegate authority to issue C of O. So, he graciously delegated that authority to the Commissioner for Lands for the first time in the state.”
“You don’t take that lightly because that is part of his duties he has delegated under Section 45 of the constitution. That delegation was done and we can now sign C of Os and we are signing to decentralise and make businesses get back on track.”
“That is wonderful because I come from a business background and I know what it is. You can take any facility in any bank now regardless of what they will like to tell you, they will always ask you for your C of O. The governor cannot sit down to be signing C of O manually. For each, you will sign four copies and you have about 3,000 lying down. When would the governor have time in all of the executive duties to sign those documents”?
The state government appears to be serious about eliminating land-grabbers who steal government land and sell to unsuspected investors and fraudulent estate agents in the real estate sector. In the interim, it is safe to say that ongoing land reforms in the state have provided safeguards for investors and would likely set in motion a framework to regulate real estate businesses.