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GOVERNOR CANNOT LAWFULLY REVOKE A CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY BEFORE NOTIFYING HOLDER – BY DELE UCHE IGBINEDION ESQ

My attention was recently drawn to the trending Letter by Mrs. Nora Ohiwerei dated 22nd July 2021 along wit a request for my reaction. The said Letter purported to notify one Barrister Osagie Ize-Iyamu that the Governor has formally revoked his right of Occupancy over his land.

I do not purport to hold brief for Barrister Osagie Ize-Iyamu. He is a lawyer, so I do believe that he can hold his own brief. Besides, if it is the same Osagie Ize-Iyamu that is well known to have graduated from the University of Benin and was called to the Nigeria Bar, then he is my senior colleague at the Bar.

Well, let me start by saying that I deeply respect the person of Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the Governor of Edo State. He is trying his best to move the State forward under difficult circumstances. His Deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu, is also well known for his sincerity of heart, and for being ‘the strong man’, as the revered Oba of Benin described him, in not too distant past.

But I cannot say the same glowing things about the close aides and trusted advisers of the Governor and his Deputy, particularly in matters the law. I dare say that those on whom their Excellencies rely for legal strategy and advice always fall short, every day, every time, unfailingly. I really cannot understand why this is so. These persons always allow the Government of Edo State to be embarrassed in Court, at least from my admittedly limited experience of litigating public interest cases against the Edo State Government.

This belated Letter notifying Barrister Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the revocation of his Right of Occupancy over his land is a case in point. What is the wise strategy here? Is it to hastily comply with the requirements of the Land Use Act requiring notification of the government action to the holder of the right of Occupancy? Is it the law that the holder should be notified post revocation? Definitely not.

Pray, is it not more in accord with established jurisprudence that the holder of a right of Occupancy should be notified pre-revocation of the intention of Government to revoke his right of Occupancy to enable him make representations to the revoking authority? Is this not elementary land law? It certainly is.

So, why did someone in a legal office or advisory capacity advice His Excellency to adopt this lame, congenitally defective and ineffective fire brigade approach?

Put in simple terms and for the avoidance of doubt, there are Four (4) steps to revocation of a right of Occupancy:

  1. Government comes to a decision to revoke a right of Occupancy for a specific public purpose, which must be clearly stated. The purpose cannot be nebulous. If Government intends to erect a public park, such use must be so stated. If it is to build a dam, Goverment must say so. This is elementary enough.
  2. Government must then notify the Holder of the right of Occupancy of the Government’s intention to revoke his right of Occupancy. This is legally expected to be done by Letter either delivered personally or pasted on the premises, with evidence of the same available for scrutiny, if necessary. In the light of the Judicial authorities on the subject, mere publication in a Newspaper or Government Gazette will be insufficient to establish this mandatory Notice. In this regard, post revocation notice cannot satisfy the requirements of the law. Government cannot put the Cart before the Horse and expect it to move. Nay, it will not move.
  3. There must be a person or Panel to whom the Holder of the right of Occupancy, which is being threatened, can present his objections, if any, or request for compensation. This person or authority must be communicated to the Holder of the right of Occupancy which is being sought to be revoked in the same correspondences notifying him of the intention to revoke his right of Occupancy or so soon thereafter.
  4. Compensation must be assessed and paid promptly. Revocation of a right of Occupancy takes a person’s land from him. In that circumstance, the law expects that such a person should be compensated for his loss. Failure to pay compensation will nullify the revocation for failure to fulfill a pre condition. Note that payment of inadequate compensation will not affect the revocation.

The above are simple steps. Anyone or Government can comply with them. This is why I wonder why none of the Edo State Governor’s legal advisers told him the above. Are they afraid of losing their prized closeness to their Excellencies? Well, I can tell such a person that being candid as a lawyer never caused a lawyer worth his salt to loose income or friends, job or even patronage.

Besides, I do not perceive of Governor Godwin Obaseki or Comrade Philip Shaibu as such persons who will sack an aide for giving candid, but humble, advice. How do I know?

Well, I have handled and I am still involved in handling some public cases against the Government of Edo State. Yet, till date, I can go to Edo Government House freely without being disadvantaged because of my legal adventures. The Governor does not hate me. The Deputy Governor remains my treasured friend.

Unfortunately, it is the aides, yes, the legal advisers to the Governor and his Deputy, who always look at me with surly expressions when we meet in Court. They perceive of me as some kind of enemy, despite my innate harmlessness. They forget that I am just doing my job. Ironically, their bosses see me as their friend and we remain so till date.

Anyway, this article, which is meant for educational purposes only, is long enough already. So, I have to stop. See you in the next article.

Dele Uche Igbinedion is a Legal Practitioner and Public Affairs Commentator.

 

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