Land Administration and Management in African cities - Professor Modupe Omirin

What inspired your research in Land Administration and Management?

My undergraduate head of department at University of Nsukka, (Enugu campus, Nigeria) whom I found to be a very inspiring Lecturer had a lot of knowledge about land traditions in Nigeria, and whenever he shared his experience in class; it often quickened something in my mind. I realized that the way our land matters were handled, were not really supporting the aspirations of people, and secondly, the socio-economic development of the country (Nigeria). So I felt that there was a need for more research into land policy issues. It was always interesting discussing with him and seeing successive governments come in to pursue their private agenda, without thinking of the long term effect on the people of Nigeria. Whether we like it or not ‘the people’ are the original land owners, and then when their land is taken away ‘from them’ without adequate compensation, and the land is used for things that don’t benefit them in the long run, it is something that impoverishes them more than necessary.

Remember that as cities grow, the need for housing and urban uses grow, and it is this same people who keep losing their land, whether by direct market influence or by government acquisition. They are the ones who keep losing and this compounds our social problems, because when they lose, they don’t have good sustenance anymore where they are, and they are forced to migrate to the cities. On getting to the cities, they compound the problem of homelessness, unemployment, poverty and so on, and then we all know the long term effect of proliferation of such problems in urban areas. So these issues are what inspired me and that’s why I did my B.Sc. research on public land acquisition, compensation, and the provisions of various laws (on such matters). As at that time, the Land Use Act (of Nigeria) had only just been introduced and ‘I’ was interested in what changes it would make and how far the influence will be and so on.

Now, I am looking at land accessibility for private low income housing because…those who invest in housing focus on the high end of the market

By the time I went for my Masters degree, I was now looking at land use issues in Lagos, Nigeria and how over time different policies on urban management issues have emerged. However, none of them really was trying to tie things together in a way that could make for harmonized improvement in the urban environment, in housing, in infrastructure and so on. Now, I am looking at land accessibility for private low income housing, because it is as if those who invest in housing focus on the high end of the market, and doing that means they are expecting high profit. Thus, they often don’t mind paying much for land, but then, facts have it that over 70% of the housing available, especially in Lagos, is provided either privately for self use or by petty investors, whom build what we normally regard as tenement buildings with rooms facing a central corridor. We have up to 35 families living in one house and all of them sharing facilities, simply because getting land is expensive. Also, they the real estate developers cannot do better in terms of the profit expectation, and the poverty level of the people they are aiming for. However facts had it that these same people were able to provide about 70% of the housing available to those of the lower income level, and this is not a good situation. Then I looked at the Land Use Act, as I wanted to know whether it was making any positive impact on the situation and whether there were any prospects of improvement, and I could see from my research over time, that although there were few areas where some improvements could be observed. However, when it came to actual accessibility of land, being able to purchase, get a lease, retain and invest there were still several gaps. In a nutshell, these are the issues that pushed me into research on land issues.

“There is a home- grown response to escalation of land prices”

Can you highlight your current research activities in the area of land administration and management?

There is a serious transformation in the land market in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos. Let me just try and put all the issues together. First, one notices that land prices have been escalating at a tremendous rate. For Lagos in particular, we have a thousand percent increase (in land prices) over short periods of time and this has greatly accentuated the demand for land as an investment on its own, so speculative demand is extremely high vis-à-vis legitimate demand for non-speculative uses. The rate of expansion at the urban periphery is such that prices keep escalating and housing development is spreading out towards that direction, but at what cost? Cost to agricultural land uses and cost to so many other issues. So I have been looking at those trends and particularly I have been trying to evaluate changes in land affordability for housing purposes.

Let me put it this way; there is a home grown response to the escalation of land prices which manifest itself in the way those who sell land now encourage people to come and buy on instalment basis. So you line up for a purchase of land and you can pay on monthly basis until you have paid the entire cost, or you pay on quarterly basis or pay a huge chunk now and then pay in two other instalments later. It seems to be a more affordable and better approach but at the end of the day a lot of people burn their fingers, they fall victims to fraudulent land sales organisations. On the other hand, there are those who genuinely start the process but then at the end of the day instead of the land price remaining what it was, problems keep popping up. They then keep having to pay more money until they reach a level of frustration that they give up eventually. There are changes in land market in response to accessibility constraints, particularly affordability constraints, so my interest is to study these constraints, analyse them and then come up with ideas on how best to solve these issues.

What are the major issues associated with land administration and management in African cities?

There is a big issue with regards to titling, which is; providing documentary evidence of land rights. Land rights are issues that pop up a lot of concern from many dimensions because it has linkages with poverty and its proliferation and perpetuation. Then they also have links with issues of gender inequality and so on. Invariably, in most African cities, the people who are worse affected are women and their children who are dependent on them, because traditionally it is either that women’s’ land rights are ignored or relegated or given secondary attention. So, there are issues with land rights and how to really document them, on one hand and in other, to prevent the level of troubles over land in order to promote sustainable development, which is the second issue. Thirdly, in order that government might be able to practice better governance with regards to land. Without proper records of who owns what, you cannot correctly adjudicate when there are issues over ownership. Without proper records, taxation or revenue generation from land is problematic because who do you even charge in the first place or what do you charge them. So, the issue of documenting land rights is a very big one and there have been series of efforts by international organisations to address this problem, but it is not always that they get the success that is expected.

“Land titling has issues has linkages with poverty, its proliferation & perpetuity, and gender issues”

Some years back, Hernando de Soto, who is a Peruvian researcher came up with the idea that if documentary titling is provided, you empower the people, thereby taking them out of poverty by expanding their options. When they (the people) have land rights they can be able to approach banks and get loans and be able to start businesses. These ideas were grabbed by the World Bank and other donor agencies, but unfortunately it wasn’t in all cases that providing title yielded the expected result. There were so many other factors attached, but they were not given adequate attention at the point in which his ideas played out. 

Right now, there are issues such as; titling and the broader aspect of land governance; which entails proper documentary and the application of GIS technology in those areas. There is also the aspect of support for urban agriculture, which is in an area that is relatively new in terms of the attention. Traditionally, agriculture has been regarded as something that is confined to rural areas but with the food crisis which is in some parts of the world, it is now being taken seriously. Planning laws in urban areas within African cities, do not make adequate provisions for agricultural activities.

Also, there is the aspect of upgrading of slums. There are so many issues, and in virtually all African cities, there are terrible slum conditions for majority of the poor populace. The slums in African countries look the same in terms of the terrible outlook, that you can hardly tell the difference, and this is a global issue that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, it has to do with combining a proper perception of the importance of land rights with the issue of upgrading of slums and dilapidated urban settlements. 

“Rural dwellers don’t have to drift to the cities...”

Over the years, there have been issues of urban governance, and over time the responsibility has been 
on municipal authorities, however we now have what is called private public partnership approach to solving these problems. So we can see evidence that it can work and it does work in some parts of the world. There are so many issues that can’t be solved at once; therefore research has to be done to see how we can draw down the lessons in order to forge ahead with improvements. There is need for integrative approaches to solving the problems of urban areas. On the market level, when it comes to land; the integration of formal and informal land market is something that we must keep on addressing for as long as that divergence persists. Also the formal market is operating alongside the informal and there is no proper method to connect the two, and we lose out in the sense that informal markets will continue to yield suboptimal solutions; whereby formal markets will continue to satisfy the needs of only the few. There is need for integrative policies and integrative approaches to urban management and integrative approaches to infrastructure provision. We also need to address the matter of rural-urban drift which is a continuous challenge. We need to address the issue of land grabbing, I don’t often like to use the words land grabbing, because it has so many dimensions. There is the local and the international dimension and I don’t like using them, but it is a reality we need to face in order to evolve solutions, so that rural populations can be allowed to remain where they are and enjoy better socio economic support. This will then make them more productive while the urban area can be free from added pressure. Until we devise a means of stemming the drift, we will keep having urban issues.

The scale at which solutions should be addressed, often is not the scale at which we address them. Issues should be addressed in a more balanced and focused approach, and this will lead to collaboration of ideas in all disciplines and across issues. Most times, while we address the urban problems, we also need to ensure that those who are in the rural areas have sustainable means of livelihood. While doing that, those areas may even be more attractive to those who are suffering in the urban area and they will start going back to where they migrated from. This may take a long time, but strategic planning will do. The reason why urban or land problems keep escalating is because, we have not yet approached them holistically.

How have these land administration and management issues affected access to decent housing in African cities?

When it comes to poor housing conditions in Africa, much of it arises because some things have not been properly coordinated. First, there is a big link between residential and occupation related land uses. Often, that link is not adequately recognised and it is not adequately provided for in our planning activities. For example, people begin to provide spontaneous settlement in areas convenient for them whether regulations permit it or not. This is because it is close to their work place and they just have to find solutions. These settlements are being pulled down by the government, and before you know it a new one is springing forth in another place. A colleague once remarked that what we have now is not slum clearance but ‘slum shifting’. The poor housing and slum issue is really a land matter. Assuming that planning took cognisance of city expansion and the need for integrative settlement, whereby workplace and settlement can be in good proximity then we could minimize some of these problems.

What we have now is… ‘Slum shifting.


Can we really rely on private sector as far as Africa is concerned when it comes to housing provision?

Where there are incentives and the private investor perceives that there is profit to be made, they will move into that direction. Also, private sector partners are not well treated by the public sector when it comes to land accessibility. Also, the government is not stable, as a regime spends 4 years and another the same, indicating they change so quickly. The long term nature of real estate investment is not adequately supported because each new government has its own agenda, and its own priorities, and will not always want to follow through with what the previous administration started. The uncertainty in the public sector kills the drive of the people in the private sector. Lastly, there is need for collaboration of all expertise in solving these issues.

What needs to be done to address these issues across Africa?

Planning can be done ahead of need, it is possible, and it can be done in Africa. Planning can be done in such a way that people are involved, and can take part in it. Our land policies, process and acquisition procedures are packaged in such a way that corporate organizations can access land, can team up with financiers and provide several units of housing at a time. With a mass housing concept you will find out that the more investors are involved, the more competitions will ensue, and the more we will compete such that prices remain stable and then prices begin to fall. The idea of people going into self built is not sustainable, as it takes so long, they face so much trouble and they live below poverty level while the house is being constructed. Without good land provided with basic services, the housing problems will still remain difficult to solve. We can optimize the use of land by either vertically stacking housing units or laterally stacking them as flats. In a place like Lagos, bungalows are not land efficient, we could have block of flats also.

I am also trying to look at the transformations in the market and how this is affecting housing delivery, this is a very necessary area because the problems persisting are forcing a new direction in market reaction and it is necessary to explore, assess, evaluate and then come up with real solutions. Also, there is need to improve on land use efficiency, how to optimise land use, and this can be said to be smart growth. Another aspect is encouraging social interaction, by having a more integrated society. The issue of sprawl could be controlled by the smart city approach.

About Professor Modupe Omirin

My name is Modupe Omirin, I read Estate Management from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1978). I had my M.Sc. degree at University of Reading, England (1980-1981). I returned to Nigeria to gain practical real estate experience after which I joined the Department of Estate Management, University of Lagos in 1983. After lecturing for three years, I got a scholarship to proceed for my Doctoral Degree in the University of Cambridge (1987).  I am now a Professor in the Department of Estate Management, University of Lagos.


Citation: Omirin, M.M  (2018, February 19). Personal Interview.

Professor Omirin can be reached at

The views expressed in this interview are those of the respondent and do not necessarily represent the position of the Centre of Housing Studies.



Interview conducted by Dr. Basirat Oyalowo and Oluwayemisi Soneye

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