Having been involved in efforts towards finding lasting peace in Nigeria’s rural communities over the years, I am witness to the fact that various methods and approaches have been utilised.
While not undermining the other methods, one overlooked approach I will recommend for lasting peace in Nigeria’s rural areas, is the adoption of the delineation, mapping and registration of rural lands as a peace and conflict policy.
From my observation, most conflicts over ownership of land start at the first level of exchange having to do with the transfer of ownership from land owned through family inheritance, clans or community ownership to third-party ownership.
Conflicts arise because original ownership of the land is disputed due to lack of or inadequate records as proofs.
Consequently, most ownerships are confirmed mainly by human witnesses which even when relied upon might be long gone when the disputes arise.
State governments, which are constitutionally vested with the authority over land administration, can create avenues for increasing synergy between administrators and actors of formal and informal land tenure holdings and create joint problem-solving forums based on mutual respect and adherence to rules and laws governing land administration in respective communities.
This approach is important because land conflicts in rural Nigeria are tied to every major conflict social, livelihood, economic modernisation conflicts and tensions witnessed.
With technological advancements, however, record keeping and mapping have become more accessible to people as anyone with a smartphone and access to GPRS signals could use it.
Consequently, state governments need to take advantage of the GIS technology to map rural land in the state and go further to support online fee-based publicly verifiable land ownership database.
Furthermore, state governments need to take leadership in building the capacity and regulating the practices of the various stakeholders operating along the land administration and ownership ecosystem – especially those at the community level, where opportunities for abuse are rife because of multiple jurisdictions, multitude of operators, poor understanding and enforcement of the rules/laws.
To complement these efforts, there’s the need to make land administration services easily accessible at the rural areas by opening more land administration offices at the community and LGA levels, so they can be easily accessed by the majority rural populace.
Equally important, is the need to make these services affordable to the rural populace and land owners; most of the costs associated with mapping, delineation and registration are set at the national level, with Act No S18 LFN 2004 providing legal backing.
The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) in collaboration with the Surveyors Council of Nigeria and the National Assembly should work together to make the cost affordable as a necessary ingredient for national cohesion, economic prosperity and peace.
Since we are operating in the context of communities and diverse stakeholders, to ensure the success of the processes, there’s the need to take further measures like building an inclusive process, especially for minority and marginalised groups; develop trust among multiple stakeholders; broaden the participation of government (especially at the local government levels), the private sector and civil society organisations representing the interests of marginalised groups who would normally have a weak influence on government policies.
This is especially important so it responds to the needs at the local level, especially given that most of the violence takes place in rural areas.
The adoption of this strategy comes with numerous benefits.
Firstly, it guarantees tenure security for all land users while incentivising the cooperative use of land and its resources.
Mapping and delineating rural land holdings will increase trust and social harmony that makes cooperation and rule-based competition, cooperation and co-creation possible.
Rural land mapping, registration and delineation will bring peace in the rural communities by reducing and resolving grievances, disputes and violent conflicts over land resources, access and use.
It will ensure land tenure security, trusts and social cohesion amongst the different groups that own and use rural land to work out modalities for ownership, usage and access that benefits all without having to resort to violence to prove ownership or guarantee access rights.
Land tenure security will encourage social harmony, respect for the rules, non-violent means of resolving disputes over land administration and land tenure security disincentivising resorts to violence; which in turn will guarantee economic prosperity and nation building.
This is a key to building social cohesion in a diverse, multi-ethnic and religious democratic federal republic.
I started my career as a surveyor before joining the Nigerian Army, this has given me an appreciation of the value of proper mapping and delineation. My experience as a surveyor helped redirect my career into the military.
Though land reform takes time and requires trust building by reform actors between the different actors from government agencies, individuals, land administrators formal and informal, development partners and marginalised actors, it can be achieved within a reasonable period.
Starting with the basics, tenure security can be guaranteed by improving record at the community level. The process must however take into consideration the complexities and local dynamics of policy making, the informal dynamics that exist, history and narratives in our rural communities.
It is critical to learn and adapt during the process to respond to the needs on the ground. But it is best to use a participatory process that will ensure representation of the various diverse stakeholders, led by technical experts and actors with contextual knowledge, established credibility amongst the stakeholders and groups.
There’s no doubt that the rural communities in Nigeria which had been bedevilled by communal clashes, can equally achieve peace through rural land delineation and mapping as a peace and conflict resolution policy.
This is because it will Increase access to land resources, investments and spur economic activity especially in the rural areas. But most importantly it will form the basis of social cohesion that is necessary for nation building and guaranteeing our social contract.
It will also help rural dwellers access finance thereby raising their economic profile and lifting rural dwellers out of poverty with the overall result being disincentivising violence as a means of resolving land claims, increasing access and use of land resources leading to increase in economic wellbeing of rural communities.
During my time as the Force Commander for the United Nations/AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, I witnessed firsthand the toll unchecked violence over control of land resource and access takes on rural communities. It is imperative that leaders at the community, LGA, state and federal levels pay attention to and address the violence in our rural communities.
As a country, improving the delineation, mapping and registration of rural lands will reduce incentives for violence as a means of resolving land claims; increase our tax base and increase our GDP to be amongst the top 20 globally.
General (rtd) Agwai CFR is a former CDS and Chief of Army Staff