A fortnight ago, the Special Assistant to the Minister of the FCT on Media, Abdullahi Zuru, told newsmen that 105 fraudulent and irregular plot allocations have been uncovered at the AGIS and names of the illegal allotees have been compiled and forwarded to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He also revealed that a committee has been set up to investigate AGIS officials who had aided the fraud.
Anybody who had one thing or the other to do with AGIS told. Weekly Trust that up till now, the computerisation has not fast-tracked the process of getting certificate of occupancy and even the opening of files after obtaining draft sometimes takes up to a month. Others complained that the design of the new C of O is too simple and can easily be forged. There are also complaints that since el-Rufai centralised the entire land system, nobody has been able to get C of O for the lands in the area councils. There is an allegation that in spite of the closure of the recertification exercise, some staff of AGIS are still doing it behind closed doors.
Malam Abubakar Anako, a property dealer, told Weekly Trust that he prefers the old land allocation system to the so-called computerised system of AGIS. “You see, when Nasir el-Rufai came with this idea of computerisation, we thought it would eliminate forgery and fake land allocation. I think that the design of the C of O is too simple and makes its easier for people to forge. The former C of O is about four pages with about three signatories. The Minister, Permanent Secretary and Director of Lands were all signatories. Today, the C of O is just a single sheet like a secondary school testimonial with the signature of the Registrar of deeds and Minister. Land is an important document anywhere in the world. To reduce a whole C of O to just a page is ridiculous,” he argued.
Anako said early this year, an Igbo man forged the C of O of the land of one businessman and almost sold the land for N25 million if not for the eagle eye of the computer operators of AGIS who detected the forged signature. He said the case was taken to Area 11 police station. Anako also complained that the computerisation of land matters was supposed to fast-track the issuance of C of O in the FCT, but up till now, it still takes up to three months or more than that for someone to get C of O.
For Joe Amakwe, the responsibility of AGIS is too much. It should be reduced to the provision of information of service in order to reduce confusion in land allocation. “You see, formerly, the land department identified land, the department of survey surveyed the land and put beacons, the town planners saw the land and decided how it would be put to use while cartographers did the TDP. Land department allocate the land and send back to town planners for final planning. All these functions now have been vested in AGIS. Let the function of AGIS be restricted to providing information. That way, things will be easier for the agency,” he explained.
Malam Ahmadu Dabo, a land agent, said opening a file with AGIS for the past one month has been a problem. “You see, this entire computerisation thing was supposed to enhance efficiency. I have been trying to open a file for the past one month after obtaining my draft, but no success. They keep asking me to go and come back. I think something must be done to improve on that.”
An AGIS client bitterly complained that he is not impressed with the efficiency in the legal search department that verifies documents. “They are either short-staffed or some persons are overworked. Because a situation where you have paid for search and you don’t get it is not proper. Sometimes, you see one person busy while another staff is idling away,” said the client who does not want his names in print.
AbdulAzeez Mohammed, an agent, said his own problem is the recertification and the C of O of the area councils. “Ever since they created AGIS and transferred all the land documents in the area councils to them, they have not processed or issued one C of O for lands in all the area councils and we are seriously worried because we don’t know what is going on. They also said recertification has closed but we hear that they are still doing it behind closed doors”.
The Director of Land in AGIS, Hajiya Nana Buhari, told Weekly Trust that they are trying to improve their services all the time in AGIS. She said the discovery of fraud was itself a sign that the agency means business. “We are an agency that is constantly trying to improve itself. It is because of our diligence and efficiency that we were able to uncover the fraud, complete our preliminary investigation and forward the report to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)”, she explained.
Hajiya Buhari said though there is still room for improvement in their services, most of those who complain about delay in opening of files don’t appreciate the processes involved in opening a file for land application. “If you are applying for residential land, we need your two passport photographs, tax clearance certificate, photocopy of birth certificate or declaration of age in case birth certificate is lost, and the bank draft.
“For company, we need the photocopy of the incorporation of the company, form 207, three years of tax clearance certificate preceeding the year of application, article of memorandum, feasibility study of your proposed project and the draft has to be taken to the finance department for confirmation. These are the documents that are supposed to accompany application for land. If any of these documents is missing, it could be responsible for the delay in issuing acknowledgment.”
She added that there could be logistic problems where acknowledgment paper is out of stock, which can cause delay. “Apart from that, where all things are equal, two to three days are enough to process the acknowledgment,” she emphasied. The Director also informed our reporter that she has given directive to the effect that people coming from far distances like Lagos, Port Harcourt for example should be attended to on time.
On the delay in the issuance of C of O, a staff who preferred not to be named said most people don’t know that the rules have changed. “Before if you pay half of the money for the C of O, it would be issued to you, but the new rule is that you have to pay 100 percent before you get your C of O,” he explained.
The Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of AGIS, Tijjani Sanusi, told Weekly Trust that those who are complaining that there is delay in legal search and confirmations of titles don’t understand how the process works. “We have four staff manning the search desk. When they are busy, we complement them at times. But the search is even beyond bringing title papers to confirm their authenticity. We check for relevant information about the title and the authority of the title and we ask for the original document. Through this, we have discovered forged documents which we have forwarded to the EFCC.”
Mutilated and unreadable documents, according to him, also account for the delay in the legal search process because most agents handling land matters on behalf of their clients prefer to either erase the name on the title or scrap it. Sanusi said the delay in the processing of area councils’ C of O is because the over 180,000 documents brought to AGIS from the six area Councils are undergoing data clearing and vetting. He said there are a lot of discrepancies in the allocation of land in the councils where a particular plot is allocated to ten people.
The legal adviser said recertification also has closed but the minister can ask that a particular case be considered on its merit, and even at that, facts have to be cross-checked.
It would be recalled that a similar fraud occurred in 2005 where those alleged to be involved fled the country. el-Rufai, when confronted then, said he was betrayed by the very people he trusted in various positions, including AGIS.