By Nzube Akunne
This Article discusses the issues surrounding Federal Government Land, the payment of Ground Rent and the perfection of Land Title to Lands vested in the Federal Government of Nigeria looking at the extant laws regulating the powers of the State Government to administer and control Lands within their territories.
From the promulgation of the Land Use Act 1978, it had become common knowledge that the Land Use Act vests all lands within the territory of the state in the State Governor by virtue of Section 1 of the land Use Act. The State Governor is therefore clothed with the requisite power and authority to superintend and administer the Lands within its territory in line with the provisions of the Land Use Act. By virtue of the Land Use Act, all the States of the Federation have established Land Registries for the Perfection of Titles and promulgated Laws for the payment of Ground rents. For instance, the Lagos State Government promulgated the Land Use Charge Law of Lagos State by virtue of which the State Government impose Land Use Charges payable on all real properties situated in the State.
Lands Vested in the Federal Government
The Lands (Title Vesting, Etc.) Act 1975 made provisions for Lands to be vested in the Federal Government which is controlled and managed for and on behalf of the Federal Government by the Federal Ministry charged with responsibility for lands and land matters or any other authority designated by the Ministry for that purpose. The Land Use Act also made provisions excluding Lands vested in the Federal Government within the State territory from the power and control of the Governor. And by virtue of the preamble; sections 49 and 51  of the Land Use Act, the powers of the State Governor do not extend to Lands within the state but are vested in the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Lagos State Government recently introduced the payment of Land Use Charge (Ground Rent) and Perfection of Title (Land Registration and Consent) over Lands vested in the Federal Government which is fast becoming a norm as most owners and occupiers of Lands vested in the Federal Government had been complying with the extant position without any challenge and or recourse to the provisions of the Law.
This write-up discusses the position of the Law with respect to the imposition of Land Use Charges (Ground Rent) and Perfection of Title (Land Registration and Consent) by the State Governments on Lands vested in the Federal Government using Lagos State as a case study and looking at the relevant Laws like the Land Use Act, the land Use Charge Law of Lagos State amongst others.
Ground Rent (Land Use Charge)
Ground Rent is a tax charged and collected by a State Government on land (both developed or undeveloped) that was granted by the state government. The provisions of the Land Use Charge Law of Lagos 2020 especially Sections 2(1) and 14 empower the Governor to levy Land Use Charges on all Lands within the State.
The issue, therefore, is whether the State Government can impose Ground Rent (Land Use Charge) on Land vested in the Federal Government.
Whilst it appears that the State Government may have the locus to make laws (Land Use Charge Law of Lagos State 2020) with respect to the payment of Ground Rent (Land Use Charge) on all lands located within the State, Lands vested in the Federal Government was clearly excluded by the Land Use Act. It is therefore pertinent to state as I shall demonstrate afterwards that the State Government cannot impose Ground Rent (Land Use Charge) on Lands within the State but vested in the Federal Government.
Firstly, the provisions of the Land Use Charge Law of Lagos 2020 cannot override the provisions of the Land Use Act excluding Lands vested in the Federal Government within the State territory from the power and control of the Governor.
It is the law that where there is a conflict between federal legislation and state legislation, the Federal Legislation takes precedence, has priority and overrides local state laws on the same subject being federal legislation enacted by the National Assembly. See Nwandiaro v. SPDC (1990) 5 NWLR (150) 322, P.H.M.B v. Ejitagha (2000) 11 NWLR (677) 154; Attorney General, Lagos State v. Eko Hotels (2006) 2 All N.L.R. 141.
One can argue that Section 1 of the Land Use Act empowers the Governor of Lagos State to administer and collect Land Use Charges over Lands within Lagos State including those vested in the Federal Government. This argument may seem valid but from the clear provisions of Section 1 of the Land Use Act which started with the expression “Subject to the provisions of this Act” which makes Section 1 of the Land Use Act subject to other provisions of the Land Use Act.
It is the Law that the expression “subject to” subordinates the provisions of the subject section to the section referred to which is intended not to be affected by the provisions of the latter. See Tsokwa Oil Marketing Co. (Nig) Ltd v. Bank of The North Ltd (2002) LPELR-3268(SC).
What this implies is that other provisions of the Land Use Act take precedence over the provision of Section 1 of the Land Use Act and where there is any conflict or inconsistency with the provisions of Section 1 of the Land Use Act and other sections of Land Use Act, the other sections shall prevail. The Preamble and Sections 49 and 51  of the Land Use Act which excluded Lands vested in the Federal Government within the State territory from the power and control of the Governor are contrary to the provisions of Section 1 of the Land Use Act and therefore shall prevail over Section 1 of the Land Use Act.
More so, the Lagos State House of Assembly in furtherance to its duty under Item 9 part 2 of schedule II of the 1999 constitution to make laws establishing the chargeable rates and the procedure to be adopted cannot delegate the power of the Local government as a collecting authority to the State Government on the basis of a purported Agreement and or Understanding between the Local Government and the Lagos State Government. This is an exclusive right of the Local government.
Looking at the case of Grinaker LTA Limited v Board of Inland Revenue and Knight Frank Rutley v Attorney General of Kano (1998) 7NWLR (PT 556) 1 at 24. where Kutigi JSC (as he then was) stated as follows: “The Court of Appeal must therefore in my view be right, when it opined thus: Could the powers of the State and Local Government Councils to order for valuation of rateable hereditaments co-exist and be complementary? I believe that once the State passes legislation assigning the functions of valuation of tenement rates to the Local Government as the Constitution has directed, only the Local Government Council will have the power to deal with that subject. The State has no power to deal with the matter and the Local Government Council cannot, even if it wants to, divest itself of those powers”. Consequently, section 2 (3) of the Land Use Charge Law of Lagos State is unconstitutional.
This issue of whether the Lagos State Government or the federal government can charge Ground Rent (Land Use Charge) on land vested in the federal government was laid to rest in the case of Attorney general of Lagos State v. Attorney General of the federation & 35 Ors (2003) 12 NWLR (Pt.833) where the Supreme Court held that “the National Assembly, as well as State Houses of Assembly, have concurrent power to legislate on issues relating to urban and regional planning and also physical development.” Hence, it is within the National Assembly & Houses of Assembly powers to legislate on Urban & Regional Planning in respect of lands vested in Federal and State Government respectively. The court also held that ownership rights of the Federal government over land in State territories include the power to control and regulate town planning and physical development in relation to such land and by extension prescribing and collection of any tax, fee or rate on the land vested in it. The State Government town planning and physical development powers are limited to lands vested in the State Government. It will be unlawful and inequitable for the State Government to levy charges in respect of land vested in the Federal Government as that is a recipe for double taxation.
Perfection of Land Title in Nigeria (Consent and Registration)
Perfection of title to land entails obtaining the requisite consent and Registration of Lands at the prescribed Lands Registry. By the provisions of the Lands (Title Vesting, Etc.) Act 1975 and the Federal Lands Registry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act [1992 No.7.] LFN 2004, all Lands vested in the Federal Government and its agencies are registered in the Federal Lands Registry established by the Act for that purpose. In Lagos State, there is the Federal Land Registry, Ikoyi, Lagos where the perfection of title to all Lands vested in the Federal Government is done.
The imposition by the Lagos State Government for the perfection of title (Consent and Registration) of the lands vested in the Federal Government in the State Lands Registry amounts to the usurpation of the powers of the Federal Government pursuant to the Federal Lands Registry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act [1992 No.7.] LFN 2004 which is also double Registration.
Flowing from the foregoing, it is imperative to note that Lagos State Government cannot impose Ground Rent (Land Use Charge) and perfection of titles (consent and Registration) to Lands vested in the Federal Government by virtue of the aforementioned provisions of the Law. Therefore, the Lagos State Government imposing Ground rent (Land Use Charge) and perfection of titles (consent and Registration) on Lands vested in the Federal Government is unlawful as the same is not within her powers. it is the Federal Government that is saddled with the responsibility of collecting revenues (Ground Rents) and the Perfection of titles (consent and Registration) thereof.
Undoubtedly, so many owners and occupiers of Lands vested in the Federal Government had been complying with the Lagos State imposition of Land Use Charge and double Registration of their Titles by the Lagos State Government compulsorily issuing Governor’s Consent and Certificate of Occupancy over their Lands.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government had acquiesced in their Rights to implement and enforce the provisions of the Land Use Act with respect to Lands vested in it and has allowed the State Governors to rack in revenues from these Lands by imposing Land Use Charges and issuing Governor’ Consent and certificate of Occupancy over them despite having its own Registry [Federal lands Registries established to register all titles to Federal Government Lands].
This extant position to the best of my knowledge has not been litigated upon and or subject of any ongoing litigation in Nigeria because most of the owners and occupiers of these Lands vested in the Federal Government had been complying with the Land Use Charge issued on their Properties and have equally obtained Governor’s consent and Certificate of Occupancy [double Registration] with the State Government despite obtaining same with the Federal Government at the Federal Lands Registry. I, therefore, recommend that the Federal Government should wake up and exercise her rights over these Lands vested in her and stop the illegal and unconstitutional collection of revenues therein by the State Governments in the guise of Land Use Charges and double Registration over these lands by issuing Governor’s Consent and Certificate of Occupancy. Also, those occupying Lands vested in the Federal Government should also seek Legal intervention through the Courts in a bid to stop the State Government’s imposition of Land Use Charges and issuance of Governor’s Consent and Certificate of Occupancy [double Registration of Title documents] over their Lands.