Lafia — The heavily iron drawers at the Nasarawa State Ministry of Lands, Survey and Town Planning are, themselves, rusty, having stayed there since the creation of the state from the old Plateau State in 1996.
It is one of the properties the mother state gave out to its offshoot after the then military government of the late General Sani Abacha oversaw assets and liabilities sharing between the two states.
These drawers, which are used for the safe keeping of documents containing vital records of the state land use, are not only obsolete; they have stayed there - from the date of the assets and liabilities sharing - to this day, for over 15 years to add up to the date the old Plateau State procured them. Now the drawers and the vital documents they have kept have all changed status from assets, and have become liabilities themselves for the state.
One particular document in those obsolete office drawers is the Intelligence Sheet - itself, a liability which first came in the form of an asset from Plateau in 1996. The document - a broadsheet containing the Nasarawa State land use was created from records obtained before the British colonial masters that gave independence to Nigeria. The colonial administration fled in 1953, and captured the topography of the part of the country which later fragmented into states, including Nasarawa. The fifth generation state, at creation, copied its portion of the 1953 data, and created its Intelligence Sheet.
But this sheet now looks like it was recovered from a dump site: it is tattered; old age and poor keeping have completely mutilated it into a state where it is hardly recognized by even the best of surveyors. The drawing on this map has completely eroded.
The Priority Sheet, from where an intelligence sheet is drawn, among various other sensitive materials about the land use in the state, are all in this state of complete mutilation, rendering them useless. Thousands of individual land files are also in this state, in what made the management and administration of land in the state impossible in previous dispensations.
Findings at the ministry showed that most land files were hidden from property owners, who had taken years trying to trace them without success.
It was difficult to link this development to the denial of land titles to thousands of applicants in the state, but uprooting of files from where they were hidden by authorities at the ministry, in the past, has attracted title applicants in their thousands to the ministry as no day passes by without the office receiving hundreds of property owners with one complaint or the other, these days.
Daily Trust recalls that early this year, the reforms introduced by Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura in the administration and management of land, saw measures introduced by the ministry to tidy up, and strengthen the subsector in what has earned the state more than triple of what was anticipated in the 2012 budget.
Sonny Agassi, a tough talking reformist, who is commissioner in charge of this ministry, has introduced measures that have so far restored the confidence of developers in the state; so far lifting the ban on the issuance of land titles including Cs of O, and Rs of O - now seeing not less than 1,000 land owners receiving their certificates in just months of his stay at the ministry. In a state with an advantage for property development, not more than about 600 land owners have their titles issued - the last of who had theirs in 2006 - before the present administration.
Daily Trust visited the ministry last week and witnessed the ongoing cleanup process. The reforms had run into hitches because of obsolete land management process at the ministry. This informed the administration's award of a contract for the project called Nasarawa State Geographic Information System (NAGIS), with a component in digital area mapping of the state. This component of the N2.7 billion, 24-month-period project entails the aerial capturing of images of Karu, Keffi and Keffi, and putting them on computer. Siraj Consultancy Engineering, the consortium handling the project is also to put all land data in the ministry on computer.
The contract which was signed according to World Bank standard, has the overall project of putting Nasarawa land management and administration into international best practice which will phase out the obsolete data storage system and management.
A team from Aeropresica Limited, partners in the Siraj contract, was called from the field, to the ministry's headquarters in Lafia, where the mutilated Intelligence Sheet and other sensitive materials were shown them. The commissioner, Sonny Agassi explained that, "we are gathering all land documents including individual land titles, to make them available for computerization. Then, we stumbled on the old and torn Intelligence Sheet and the Priority Sheet, among other vital documents. We decided that the team visit and take a look, with a view to recreating new ones so we can immediately computerize them."
He showed the materials to the team headed by Aeropresica director, Roland Klaus, saying, "the data base is completely eroded, damaged such that it cannot be read." Roland Klaus told Daily Trust that in recreating the data base, the team will assemble all land files and tediously locate the plots on the map to be provided by the NAGIS project. "It's going to be a tedious job, but once we complete it, and computerize it, a situation of damaged records such as we have on our hands now, will not be there. The data base will now have several computer backups."
The commissioner, in company of the state Surveyor General, Emmanuel Ibi, and other top officials of the ministry, took the team to all data stored at the ministry, and extracted commitment to fast tract the computerization process.
"We want to upgrade land administration in the state to 21st Century, by fast tracking the record keeping, and then the computerization of land documents themselves. By the time the images from the NAGIS project start arriving, our ministry will be complete; it will be a one-stop shop where a tap of a computer button will take you to the complete data base on land use in Nasarawa.
"What we are going to have here is a completely computerized system where every data can be easily reached by just pushing the button on the computer. The days of missing files, or hiding same is over", Agassi who has severally advertised for property owners to visit the ministry and collect their land titles - which have been denied them for years - said.