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Informal residential land market in Nigerian cities: pro or anti-poor: The case of Ibadan metropolis

Olaniran M. O  and Ashaolu T. A

Department of Estate Management & Valuation, School of Environmental Studies, the Federal Polytechnic Ilaro, Nigeria


Despite intendment of the Land Use Act, 1978 to bring all land under the control of respective State Governors, there remains a dichotomy of access to urban land: formal (government) allocation and informal (traditional landowner's) route. The general concern has always been delayed and initial high costs of getting land making the formal market inaccessible to poor citizens. This paper conducted a study of informal residential land market in selected localities of Ibadan, Nigeria to ascertain whether it constitutes a blessing or curse to the poor. Data elicited through field observation and questionnaire administered on informal participants were analyzed statistically. Among other findings, virtually all transacted lands in the informal market were in peripheral locations lacking efficient layout and deficient of basic infrastructure. Invariably, additional sums were being incurred to provide and maintain these facilities. Furthermore, to secure recognizable title to give economic value to the land obtained from this market, re-acquisition from the government must take place through a process of 'ratification'. Ultimately, land acquisition through informal market has higher long-term costs and results in non-sustainable housing, infrastructure and environment. Urgent corrective measures by urban management authorities anchored on incentives for popular public participation were recommended.

  Keywords: Access to land, informal market, infrastructure, sustainability, urban poor

1. Introduction

In Nigeria, access to land at both rural and urban centres followed various customary laws until the promulgation of the Land Use Decree, 1978 (which later transformed into an Act and formed part of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution). Customary laws often place emphasis on communal ownership of land with restrictive opportunities for alienation to non-members of the community concerned. Invariably therefore, policy makers believed economic development would be hampered if the fast-growing urban population brought about by enhanced national wealth continued to grapple with local customs to gain access to land. The Land Use Act was aimed at making land more accessible by vesting such in the hand of the Governor in each State to be held in trust for all Nigerians. Allocation of land by the State Governor was to be made irrespective of the applicant's state of origin, tribe or religion. Allottees were also given certified right of occupancy to instantly confer economic value on land as it becomes a collaterable asset. Nevertheless, there has been a deluge of attacks at the implementation of the provisions of the Act as it is believed to only favour the political class, the highly-placed public and civil servants as well as their privileged business associates (Onibokun, 1985; Ayeni, 1991; Tobi, 1997; Mabogunje, 2007 & 2011; Aluko, 2010 and The Guardian, 2016). Several decades thereafter however, not more than 3% of the stock of property holdings in the country had official certificate of occupancy being granted under the Act (Vanguard, 2014).

With the foregoing, it is not a surprise that a vast majority of physical expansion of many Nigerian towns and cities take the form of informal settlements on land acquired through the back-door, otherwise referred to as the informal land market. In Ibadan for instance, most of the left-hand side of the Ibadan-Lagos Express Road on approach from Ojo towards Toll-gate developed rather sporadically through the informal land market (except few formal allocations of land like Akobo Housing Estate) transactions and this is typical of the peripheries of some other Nigerian cities.

The general perception remains that acquisition of land through this informal market is cheap and relatively stress-free. More so, the poor who could not afford a complete plot size would go for a half or even one-quarter plot as the tracts of land being transacted under traditional terms are seldom laid-out but sold haphazardly. Not only do they suffer from narrow allowance for roadways with no provision for drainage, the tracts are often remote from basic infrastructures like electricity and potable water, including complimentary educational, health and security establishments. But housing and its environment are neither functional nor sustainable in the absence of these facilities. Invariably, informal living entails the search for piece-meal solution to such infrastructural requirements in a non-coordinated manner.

This paper is set to examine informal land supply to ascertain whether or not it is really a relief to the poor in terms of sustainable land, housing and urban environment. Research questions that arose and have been addressed are: What informed the recourse to demand for residential land in the informal market? Do the patrons of this market envisage additional costs of providing pertinent infrastructure themselves? What is the state of housing and environmental quality within the area of study?  What corrective measures are required to ameliorate any observed inadequacies towards ensuring sustainable housing and environment for residents within the area of study? The city of Ibadan has been found suitable for this study because its exponential expansion was observed to have been anchored on the informal system of residential land delivery as would be elaborated under literature review and description of study area in the sections following.

2. Literature Review

This research takes recourse to theoretical framework that the quality of life of a population - where they live and work, their possibilities for recreation, and the environment which surrounds them - will depend in no small measure on the systems (tenure) used for the acquisition, management, allocation and servicing of land (Aluko, 2003, Olaniran, 2012). The contemporary concern relates to sustainable land development and land management which Magel (2001) described as one of the greatest challenges and tasks of the new millennium because they are simply important pre-requisites for as many people as possible to live in conditions of the greatest freedom and self-determination and thus make important contributions to the (common) goal. Campanera, Nobajas, and Higgins (2013) viewed it as socio-geographic conceptual framework, that is, the analysis of urban environmental quality and well-being, which has been widely used to frame research into the person-environment relationship.

According to Agbola and Agunbiade (2009), sustainable land development is a multi-disciplinary concept of political ecology which is the study of the "politicised environment" or "the political economy of human-environment interactions". It uses the methods of the social sciences to understand the human processes that result in the initial destruction and re-creation of material environments. As a conceptual framework, political ecology argues that the outcome in environmental change is determined by the relative power of agents with conflicting agendas including government and the people whose actions and inactions have created two types of land delivery systems especially in urban areas - formal and informal land systems (Olaniran, 2016).

In the study of Honiara and Port Mores by Chand and Yala (2007), informal settlement was referred to as groups of households in localities and in conditions that contravene the laws and regulations of the state. More specifically, the breaches include those relating to the physical planning and building requirements of urban authorities and other state agencies. They concluded that informal urban settlements are a growing and permanent feature of Pacific towns and cities exhibiting features like overcrowding, inadequate basic services, crime, conflict and poverty. Also, UN-HABITAT (2015) perceived informal settlements as residential areas where the neighbourhoods usually lack, or are cut off from, basic services and city infrastructure and the housing may not comply with current planning and building regulations, among others. They considered informal settlements, slums and other poor residential neighbourhoods as constituting global urban phenomenon which exists in urban contexts all over the world, in various forms and typologies, dimensions, locations and by a range of names.

Incidentally however, the scenes of study of most of these authors bear no resemblance to Ibadan. While their 'informal urban settlements' are often located on marginal land, including riverbanks, steep gullies and mangrove swamps, and/or on land with disputed ownership unlike Ibadan metropolis where portions developed informally are located on good and build-able land except for being in localities and conditions that contravene the provisions of governing Land Use Act. Nevertheless, these settlements are also characterised by haphazard housing, poor access to most basic amenities such as reticulated water, sewerage services and electricity, and sometimes, substandard (temporary) housing units.

One factor that apparently facilitates informal settlement is the ease of access to residential land. Though Chand and Yala (2007) agreed that access to land is a concern to the urbanites, it was observed that within Melanesia, it is not the shortage of land per se that is the issue, but rather the lack of entitled/registered land. Settlers were found not having the patience for formal systems to deliver them tenure security. Instead informal arrangements often evolved to meet the demands of the settlers. This happens because informal settlements and slums are caused by a range of interrelated factors, including population growth and rural-urban migration, lack of affordable housing for the urban poor, weak governance (particularly in the areas of policy, planning, land and urban management resulting in land speculation and grabbing), economic vulnerability and underpaid work, discrimination and marginalization, and displacement caused by conflict, natural disasters and climate change (UN-HABITAT, 2015).

Exponential growth of urbanization in Nigeria immediately after independence in 1960 created problems of land accessibility to both governments and people for housing and other developments which eventually prompted the enactment of Land Use Act in 1978. Apart from this, the promulgation of Land Use Act by the Federal Government of Nigeria was to actualise the recommendation of UN-HABITAT Conference of 1976 held in Vancouver, Canada on Public Management of Land (PML) and control. It was then believed to be the surest way of ensuring efficient and equitable distribution of land resources. Among other advantages, it was to guarantee equitable distribution of land rights on the basis of non-commercial criteria; empower government to ensure a more judicious, orderly and healthy development of urban areas; guarantee cheaper and easier access to land for both public and private land development (Aribigbola, 2007).

To consolidate these objectives the Nigerian government adopted the Sites and Services Scheme (SSS) in 1986 as a method for housing delivery through increased supply of serviced plots at affordable cost (Ajanlekoko, 2001 and Olaniran & Adedokun, 2016). This was to make access to land very easy, convenient and at affordable cost to members of the public. The goals of the programme were to provide serviced land for housing development, industrial and commercial activities in a well-planned environment, remove all barriers to the supply of housing and provide incentives to all parties involved (government, private sector and individuals) in the housing delivery system. It was noted that this complemented and consolidated Government Reservation Areas (GRAs e. g. Agodi allocated in 1903) and some housing estates like Mokola (allocated in 1920) that had earlier been executed in Ibadan (Olaniran, 2012).

Perhaps, in a controvertible manner, the Act recognizes the parallel existence of informal land. Sections 34(2) and (5) permit owners of already developed and undeveloped parcels of land respectively (including Section 35(1) for leasehold interest) to hold onto and enjoy them wholly or partly. Where hitherto land owners were to be dispossessed on account of their holding being in excess of ½ hectare according to Section 34 (6)(b), there is no provision for compensation whatsoever. State Governments (who hold and administer the state land in trust for the people) also failed to evoke preventive measure of section 34(7) and punitive provision of section 34 (8) for contravention of the law on plot subdivision and transaction (, under the punishment the offender is liable on conviction to imprisonment of one year or a fine of N5, 000.00). Thus, the Act is clogged with implementation problems whereby land-owning individuals and families capitalize on these loopholes and oversight to persist in keeping, using, enjoying and transacting land as they deem it fit, against the intendment of the law.

Many studies have however advanced reasons why PML and all government's efforts so far failed to supply adequate number of formal residential land for the increasing urban population in the country (Omirin, 2003; Agbato, 2006; Oyedele, 2008; Olaniran, 2012; Olaniran, 2015; Olaniran and Adedokun, 2016; Olaniran, 2016).  Omirin (2003) found that formal land supply could not cope with surging demand for residential land. It was also observed that few people who are mostly high- and some medium-income earners, often belonging to the educated and formal employment sector could afford the land to the exclusion of non-educated and informal sector people (Ajanlekoko, 2001; Ibem, 2010; Olaniran, 2012 and Olaniran, 2015).

For example, in 2009 at Samanda Government Reservation Area (GRA) a medium plot of 1296 m2 was allocated for N3, 784,878.90, at Kolapo Isola GRA in the same year a medium plot of 1746.246m2 cost N3, 758,100.00. At Apete GRA in 2009 a high-density plot of 562.448m2 cost N600, 316. At Olunde in 2010 a medium plot of 990.1951 m2 cost N445, 881.90 to cite but just a few (Olaniran, 2016).

Consequent upon the foregoing, informal land delivery and development evolved to take care of the poor. However, there is problem of under regulation of private land development, leading to unplanned or ribbon development of land in the urban periphery (Olaniran, 2016). Prospective developers of various social and economic classes secure residential lands of desired sizes - ranging from a quarter of a plot to an acre or more- within the same vicinity resulting in haphazard building developments. Invariably, many developing suburbs in Nigerian sprawling cities remain unplanned, lack basic infrastructure and often-times manifest various degree of environmental degradation even at infancy (Ashaolu, 2015).

They are devoid of planned layout, presence of potable water, availability and regularity of electricity supply, quality of access routes, efficiency of drainage system, refuse and sewage disposal, provisions for security and access to health facilities. These are indeed the variables that differentiate shelter from housing (Ashaolu, 2015 & UN-HABITAT, 2011).

Today the whole of Ibadan land or all the 11 Local Government Councils seem to have been or come under the intense pressure exerted by urban expansion of the largest city south of sub-Sahara Africa. It has given way to haphazard housing development and overcrowding in an unsanitary urban environment and almost unfit for human habitation thus calling for urban upgrading or renewal (Olaniran, 2016).

To this end, inhabitants of informal areas have introduced, to the extent possible, 'user-pays mechanisms' to provide basic infrastructure in an effort to improve their environment (Chand& Yala (2007) and achieve sustainability of land, housing, environment and urban development as well as management.

Accordingly, the payment for provision of infrastructure by the affected people, usually on continuous basis, increases the overall cost when taken together with the initial cost of the bare land.  Perhaps, this might have brought the cost of land in informal area to the same level with, if not more than, the cost of formal land and eventually become anti-poor instead of being pro-poor that was originally intended to give relief.

3. The Study Location- Ibadan Metropolitan Area

Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, Nigeria, is located between longitudes 7°2' and 7°40'E and latitudes 3°35' and 4°10'N. The city has been having rapid growth both in territorial boundary and population since 1829 to become the largest indigenous city in tropical Africa. It is about 24 km. from Akufo (after Apete) in the West to Egbeda along Ife Road in the East and about 28 km. from Moniya along Oyo Road in the North to Omi Adio along Abeokuta Road in the South. This gives 672 km2 measured with the aid of google earth (Olaniran, 2016).

Presently, Ibadan land is divided into eleven local government councils with informal land delivery system thriving across six of them: Akinyele, Egbeda, Ido, Lagelu, Oluyole, and Ona Ara. Acquisition of land for residential use by public authority (under British system of administration) started early in twentieth century in Ibadan. The erstwhile Ibadan District Government allocated official residence (quarters) to government officers (both expatriate and selected indigenous staff) and granted leasehold interest in Government Reservation Areas in 1903 to European traders. The GRAs were at Agodi, Onireke, Jericho and Iyaganku. Mokola layout was allocated in 1920.As at 2006, there were 63 schemes with about 18,000 residential plots formally allocated among a population of more than 2,550,593 and 550, 000 households, as per 2006 estimates (

However, succeeding authorities could not sustain the tempo and informal residential land allocation continues mostly in the eastern and northern sides of Lagos - Ibadan Expressway from Ogunpa River to Ojoo (apart from Governments' Housing Schemes such as Akobo Housing Estate, Oke Ibadan Schemes, Olubadan Estate, Ejioku, Temidire, Olunde, Lam Adesina etc.) was developed by people haphazardly through informal land transaction. Other affected areas include Agbowo, Ajibode and Apete, Odo Ona and Apata, OdoOnaElewe, Owodu/Elebu. Physical expansions of Moniya, Apata, Omi Adio, Akaran, Ejioku, Lalupon, Egbeda, Sasa etc. that have fallen within the metropolitan area are in the same vein.

4. Methodology

Purposive sampling of residential property developers was carried out in early January 2017 across informal settlements within Ibadan metropolis. This was achieved with the use of structured questionnaire survey that sought to know among other things, whether the respondents had made prior attempts at obtaining land through the formal route, what led to their resort to informal market, their assessment of facilities and cost of informal settlement living and whether if giving the opportunity, they would be ready to trade their existing residence for a formal location. Forty-two responses were found useful for the study and the results obtained have been analysed using descriptive statistics. Though the number of respondents appeared low, the authenticity of responses was invaluable since only actual property owners were targeted, and direct contact was considered necessary (as against responding through proxy in view of the sensitive nature of some issues involved), coupled with the shortness of survey period. In addition, questionnaire was administered on the 14 institutions in charge of land management for residential development among others in 11 Local Government Areas of Ibadan.

5. Discussion of Findings

Table 1 present the socio-economic characteristics of survey respondents. While about 31% were graduates (of Universities or Polytechnics), it was found that only about 15% were in government employment with more than 38% being Artisans. Invariably, majority of patrons in the informal land market have low education and belong to the lower cadre of private sector employment.

Table 2 depicts the different circumstances and background to the demand for informal land within Ibadan metropolitan area. Only 3 (or 7%) of the respondents had ever applied for allocation of land from the government with just one of them successful. The remaining 39 (93%) never made the move for reasons ranging from inability to afford the required monetary requirements (55%), lack of understanding of the procedures involved (29%), perception of its bias towards a class of people (17%) to total ignorance of the existence of such opportunity (about 10%) among others. On why resort was therefore made to the informal market, some 69% saw land there being relatively affordable or cheap, more than 41% were influenced by a trusted third party (invariably, prior landowners in the area) while 9 (over 21%) of the respondents considered such location being appropriate for their nature of occupation (often-times the artisans like masons, carpenters and building/construction-related tradesmen). Apart from other assorted reasons however, it was interesting to discover that as many as 10% of studied respondents opted for the peripheral informal settlements of Ibadan city to take advantage of easy commuting to and from their places of origin.

As at the time the respondents entered into the informal settlements, 88% reported no single complimentary housing infrastructure in terms of motorable access road, electricity and water was present in their area (see Table 3). Findings from Table 3 also revealed that virtually all respondents are bearing the costs of water and security to lives and property on their own. Water, we understand come either by private open/deep well, borehole or by procuring from nearest private commercial borehole providers while in most cases, security to lives and property was arranged through communal vigilante system with members making monthly contribution.

Public institutions like schools and health centres were reported to be fairly available within commuting distances, as subsequent government interventions. The planlessness of the settlements occupied by respondents is evident from the discovery that only about 26% of them have their developments on land approved by the relevant authorities. On the whole however, about 74% of the respondents expressed non-satisfaction with the state of infrastructure in their informal communities with 79% being willing to relocate to a planned government layout were the opportunity to come in affordable form.

The study respondents were requested to present estimates of their additional housing costs that come in the nature of infrastructure provision and maintenance. Findings in this respect were aggregated and averaged in Table 4 indicating that about N20,300.00 are spent annually to maintain basic infrastructure even in their deplorable conditions, apart from monthly bills still payable for electricity (in spite all supporting infrastructure privately provided not being reimbursed). This is higher where well/bore bole was sunk to access water and electric poles, wire and transformer were purchased.

In Table 5, a comparison of costs of formal with informal plots in some areas revealed there was no significant difference. For instance, at Apete GRA in 2009 a high-density plot of 562.448m2 cost N600, 316 translating to N1,067.33/m2 and at Olunde in 2010 a medium plot of 990.1951m2 cost N445, 881.90 (about N450.30/m2) while informal plots of practically the same sizes, high density plot of 707.075m2, at Akuru cost N90,000 in 2001 (N127.29/m2) and N620, 000.00 by 2009 (N848.57/m2). In fact, as at 2001, informal plot at Akuru was more expensive than a formal plot at Owode.

Apart from the foregoing findings from respondents, the following general observations were made in the course of the survey:

i) There are haphazard land allocations with developments on as little as a quarter of standard 50 feet by 100feet plot co-existing with those of double plot or more within the same immediate vicinity;

ii) Akin to 1) above are the presence of one or two-room shed-like structures abutting onto modern detached houses;

iii) Majority of the buildings were ill-planned and occupied in various states of partial completion;

iv) Most of the infrastructure facilities on ground were in deplorable conditions. For instance, many of the roads are earthen and only seasonally motorable with electricity poles and wiring done haphazardly, drain channels grossly inefficient (whenever available) as they are not coordinated for continuous flow;

v) The dominant residential developments co-existed with other uses structures such as private schools, places of worship (especially churches and mosques), petrol filling stations, shops, brothels/hotels and even light factory/industrial activities like sawmill; and

vi) Overall environmental and physical outlooks were filthy.

6. Conclusion and Recommendations

Findings from this study indicate informal land delivery system in Nigeria is a creation of policy inadequacies. The informal land market sector has invariably become the resort of the poor and disadvantaged class in the society. The environment is typically unplanned with only a few seeking and obtaining piece-meal planning approval for their developments. Basic infrastructure like motorable access roads, drainage facilities, effective electricity lines and potable water are generally deficient as they are often privately or communally funded. Housing and environment in informal areas of Ibadan were developed haphazardly by the concerned poor with little and uncoordinated interventions from local government councils and Town Planning Authorities. Expenses were very overwhelming and thus the environment easily slid into urban blight and slum. Informal land delivery is therefore not pro-poor but overtly anti-poor system that worsens the sustainability of their economic and housing conditions.

To ameliorate the foregoing conditions in Ibadan and similarly affected Nigerian cities, the following recommendations are proffered:

i) Corrective measures by way of valorizing existing residential property interests with minimal immediate planning intervention (attended with fair compensation) whereby all the stock of present developments can be registered for subsequent control. This can take cue with improvements on the initiative of Ogun State's Homeowners' Charter programme;

ii) Ensuring all ill-located non-residential uses within the informal settlements are made to be converted to their proximate permissible uses (residential or educational) to blend with the dominant residential uses; and

iii) Further indiscriminate expansion of informal settlements to be curtailed through affordable government layout plans in abutting peripheral locations with provision for infrastructure facilities that could be self-sustaining through community mobilization and public monitoring.


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