Published On: Tue, Jul 7th, 2015

Government needs to regulate the real estate industry — Gasper

 
Foloronso Gasper doubles as a legal practitioner and property consultant with over fifteen years of practice. In this exclusive interview with CHINWE AGBEZE, Barr Gasper speaks extensively on issues affecting the Nigerian Real Estate Industry, steps to address these problems and other matters of interest. Excerpts
 
What is your typical day like?
When I am not in court, my day is spent on property work. You can catch me doing either of these; land matters, writing legal opinions on lands, inspecting properties and conducting searches, litigation, assisting clients in buying or selling of properties, investigating and perfecting of titles.
Given the high cost of processing Titles don’t you think the government is shooting itself in the foot by discouraging people from obtaining C of O? What do you advice? 
The Land Use Act made it mandatory for one to obtain a C of O or consent depending on the area the property is located. Before this time, all one needs is documentation to show transfer of ownership which is dropped in Lands and payment for nominal or registration fee. Government is not making it easy and these issues should be addressed to encourage people to obtained titles.
Can we ever be free from ‘Omonilies’ or ‘landgrabbers’? In what circumstances can we be?
We cannot leave out the omonilies because they are the initial owners of the land. Land in Nigeria is a communal thing; no individual owns a land in those days unlike now. In buying family lands, principal members of the family must be aware of the sale otherwise the sale is not valid. Most times, victims of ‘Omonilies’ did not conduct enough investigations before buying the land but in situations where proper search was conducted, the new owner needs to stand his ground.
Government needs to document verified and authenticate land owners. Once it is documented, anyone who wants to buy a land can do a search of the owners of the land.  Although recently the state government came out with a policy to check the activities of ‘Omoniles’, I am not sure there wes any legislation to that effect.
Do you think the Lagos tenancy law has been effective? If No, what should be done to make it effective?
Not fully effective but to a large extent it has been effective. As Nigerians we always have a way of circumventing some of these laws and the government is also hypocritical about this because in this law it excludes some areas from this tenancy. According to section 1 sub section 3, areas like Apapa, Ikeja GRA, Ikoyi and Victoria Island are exempted from the application of this law. These are highbrow areas where the rich reside. By exempting places like this, they are simply saying that the law is for some areas just like ‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than the others’.
Also, there are no enforcements. Government can set up its officials as baits to catch defaulters as a way of enforcing the law. In these areas the law is faulty but in the area of recovery of premises, it is a bit flexible to landlords now.
House rent in Lagos is getting higher by the day to the extent that most families can hardly afford a decent apartment. Is there anything the government can do to salvage the situation?
Even though the old law was not working, it tried to fix rent for an area.
Government has relegated housing to the background and has failed in providing housing for people. This explains why people are building for themselves and this is where the ‘Omonile’ problem comes in.
Government should build houses and people can live and pay a certain period of them to further reduce the housing deficit problem.
Do you think government is doing enough in the area of mortgage banking? If not, what can be done to improve the situation?  
I don’t think they are doing well. The government has failed in providing mortgage banks for easy access to housing funds. Private mortgage banks like the Aso savings & loans cannot give loans to everyone. Government should build houses and let people pay gradually over a certain period of years. Also cooperatives should be encouraged; most cooperatives come together to buy a land. So, government can use cooperatives to give out loans.
On building collapse, what is the legal implication for those that go against the original building plan?
Some of these problems happen and still persist because our system is not working. There is nothing wrong in deciding to upgrade your building plan but the time and bribe involved in getting approval is what scares a lot of people. Some will not look at your structure to know if you can do an upgrade, they approve from a distance just because they want you to tip them.
Those who go against the plan should be punished by law. The buildings that have collapsed so far, how many have been prosecuted or government agency sanctioned? The system is porous and the government is not helping matters.
Looking at the Real Estate Industry, what will you say are the major problems in the industry?
Generally the industry has not been duly regulated. Although the estate Surveyors and Valuers know themselves but most of the time nobody can give the buyer guarantee for whatever property they are selling. To a large extent, it is safer to deal with them than with Agents who fail to investigate the properties they are selling. The industry needs to be regulated
In a bid to sanitise the system of fraudulent Agents, an association for Estate Agents was birthed but it needs to be monitored. To get Agents to register with the association, government can start with incentives rather than sanctions.
 What are the major challenges associated with your job?
Getting certain documents from government agencies is very cumbersome. In fact, I am even thinking of not doing any job that has to do with C of O anymore. The government keeps flaunting that one can get consent in a month and C of O in two months maximum but at times one might even get it for six years and clients will feel the lawyer collected money from them and refused to deliver. Another challenge is corruption in the system. To get things done, one will always have to tip the officials involved.
In your fifteen years of practice, which will you term the most challenging case you have handled?
It was a divorce matter that lasted for about two years and involved adultery on the part of a woman which produced a 23year old medical student. The man became worried and embarrassed when people singles the young man out from his children asking who he is. Incidentally, out of all his children the young man is the only one that took after his profession. A DNA test was conducted and the result confirmed his fears. It was challenging because of the emotional aspect of it.
For property, it was a land case. Someone bought a land from some members of a family and after some time, the family came for the land just like ‘omoniles’. During the high court proceedings it was very contentious; there were threats and anonymous calls from people I don’t even know.
Finally, where do you place Nigerian Real Estate Industry?
Looking around you will see that the industry has really grown; there are so countless property platforms online. The industry is not doing badly in this area. As Nigerians, we are very enterprising; all we need is a little bit of regulations from the government.

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