Lagos State Government last month accused some property owners of converting their residential buildings into religious centres in order to avoid paying the Land Use Charge (LUC). The Commissioner for Home Affairs, Dr Abdulhakeem Abdullateef warned those who indulge in such to desist from it and operate within the ambit of the law. He maintained that when a building is approved for a purpose, it is an aberration to convert it into something else without the approval of the Ministry of Physical Planning.
Similarly, the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) Coordinator, Mr Umar Shuaibu has expressed the council’s readiness to remove lounges and night clubs in residential areas to curb the menace of noise pollution in Abuja.
Shuaibu said city residents had complained about noise pollution within the residential precincts. This noise nuisance from lounges, night clubs and worship centres within the residential areas is in contravention of the extant statutes and city regulations. The coordinator noted that beyond noise nuisance, this phenomenon causes intractable traffic challenges even as there is negative social influence on the psyche of youths resident in the areas where these land use violations occur. Wuse district is notorious for this.
Authorities’ concern is not limited to conversion of property. The Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Mr Imohimi Edgal recently raised alarm saying dump sites, undeveloped lands and uncompleted buildings have become dwelling places for criminals who pose danger to the city. He said many criminals have been living and keeping arms and ammunition at different dump sites as well as abandoned lands and buildings in the state. Owners of undeveloped land and disused or uncompleted buildings within the metropolis were advised to ensure that their facilities are not used by hoodlums.
Apparently, a layout has residential, business, education, religion demarcations. These are always not enough to satisfy ever increasing and changing human needs. There is therefore, always violation of planning specifications. The incidence of this violation is steadily on the rise, causing serious concerns to urban and regional planning authorities.
In fact, as Nigerian cities continue to grow, so is conversion of premises into uses not intended. Places originally allotted for residential purpose especially, have been turned into business premises or worship centres in many big cities like Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Onitsha.
It is common to see a medley of uses which planners had neatly put under their various classes in a single street. For example, retail outlets, shops such as hairdressers and dry cleaners; financial services, such as banks and estate agents, lotteries; and premises carrying out light industrial processes like bakery are all put in one area. Hotels, clubs, lounges, law firms and other offices not suitable for residential areas are ubiquitous.
A commercial property is any building designed to turn a profit – a gym, warehouse, supermarket, cinema or office block, for example.
Converting a residential property into commercial one results in chaos and ugliness. It therefore needs seeking planning permission. Not doing so amounts to planning breach, which could land one in legal trouble.
Several reasons account for the prevalence of planning breach in Nigeria. The property owner(s) may jettison the original plan for the premises due to attraction the property has for business for being in a strategic place in the city. Property in the city centre can easily serve commercial purpose. In Abuja for instance, Wuse District was designed as a residential area but as the city grew in population and size, Wuse became a huge business district.
Of course, some property owners who lack the means to acquire appropriate business premises for the business they venture into take the easy option of turning whole or part of their home for business transactions.
Those who engage in premises conversion might also do so to evade tax. A good example is the case in Lagos.
Cost of acquiring the Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) is high. One might spend as much as half a million naira to secure the all-important document. In the process, one incurs both receipted and unreceipted costs. In 2016, the Delta State government had to reduce the cost of procuring CofO from N425,000 to N200,000 per plot of land. The cost of obtaining this document is always inflated by self-serving government officials. This makes some holders of title to work toward recouping what they expended by converting premises into anything that can generate income for them.
And government might be culpable. Where government has failed to develop and strictly enforce a plan for its cities, residents will have no regard for land use specification. Even where there is a plan, failure to periodically review it to meet the changing needs of the people could be a cause of abuse of land use.
Sometimes the cost and process involving land use change is high and cumbersome. High charges for conversion of property use can be inhibiting just as a winding process might make residents ignore authorities and simply do as they wish.
Conversion of premises has been a troubling phenomenon to both residents and government. Once premises are not used for the purpose they were not designed to be, dire consequences arise. The biggest worry is noise pollution in the neighbourhood. It also comes with security concerns.
It also leads to pressure on existing infrastructure. In Abuja for instance, every square metre is planned for, so any alteration in use of premises results in crisis.
Under the Land Use Act, the governor is responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the state. It is therefore, wholly government’s responsibility to ensure that cities are not ugly.
Government should step up enlightenment campaign on the dangers of unilaterally converting premises.
Government should develop business places to take care of all business interests and groups. This means apart from developing markets for the different needs of the people, government should give due consideration for low business groups who can hardly afford to pay rent for premises.
On the whole, infrastructure is key. Government should continuously provide infrastructure and open up new city phases to enable expansion and avoid over concentration of attention and scramble for space in already developed areas of the city.
Government should constantly review the city plan to meet the ever changing demands. Experts suggest that the city plan should be reviewed every five years.
Those who seek land use conversion should be expeditiously attended to as delays might lead to frustration and non compliance. Authorities should realise that cities are not always what planners plan.
The trusteeship of land is placed in the hands of the state governor mainly to enable easy access to land and promote orderliness. They must live up to these responsibilities.