Lafia — Petro Ministry is what it is called. But its name is Nasarawa State Ministry of Lands, Survey and Town Planning where numbers are being reeled out in land taxes in a manner never seen since creation of the state 16 years ago.
It is a ministry to beat when it comes to Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), which the governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has consistently said his administration has an eye on, in order to look away from the federally allocated funds.
So far, numbers at the ministry show a new commitment which has yielded far more than the revenue projected in land charges for the current fiscal year. The numbers show that the ministry has hit the record sum of N38,873,957.08 in ground rents alone in the month of August, far surpassing the total revenue receipts for the 12 months of 2011, which stood at N34,810,681.02.
Biggest revenue in 16 years
This record, which is also the biggest leap ever recorded by the ministry since the creation of Nasarawa has jerked the total receipts for the year so far to over N150 million, surpassing the revenue projection of N111 million from ground rents. A perusal of the records at the ministry showed that the August revenue collection effort has also hit over 1,000 percent of the monthly receipts of the monthly collection in 2011. The records showed that in the last six months of 2011, when Al-Makura took over as state governor, ground rents stood at the average of N1.5 million.
The ministry recorded N1.3 million in June, N1.8 million in July, N800,000 in August, N2.3 million in September, N2.1 million in October, N2.3 million in November, and N2.6 million in December.
Exploiting advantages of proximity to Abuja
Nasarawa's proximity to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is a goldmine. But that is when the state's government is aware of its potentials, and when there is a competent, honest and business-minded leadership, driven by a true vision to salvage the state from years of backwardness.
Al-Makura, earlier in the year, introduced reforms in the sub-sector, to bring a rebirth in the management and administration of lands from where ambitious revenue of about N1 billion monthly accruals, is being expected. Sonny Agassi, the commissioner in charge of the ministry, sits at the helm of the reform programme. Agassi who left Ontario, Canada where he holds citizenship to return to his birthplace said he is exploiting his experience as senior municipal officer, to make things happen big time.
The reforms took off with the governor's approval of the upward review of ground rents, for the first time since 2006. The approval to the memoranda from the ministry is expected to bring government into harnessing in full, the revenue generation potential of lands, from where over N1 billion is being projected as proceeds in the current year. The proposal was made in strict compliance with Section 46 (2)(b) and (c) of the Land Use Act Cap 202 (1990).
Designation of business areas
Al-Makura has repeatedly said his government will introduce effective land administration and management in the state, aimed at controlling the emergence of slums and uncoordinated physical development especially in urban centres of Lafia, Karu, Keffi, Akwanga, Nasarawa and Doma.
For better results, Agassi said the ministry has sought and received approval for the review in the designation of the state into business zones in four blocs with charges reflecting the level of patronage of land.
The planned zoning shows Lafia, Karu, Keffi, and Nasarawa into Zone A, Akwanga, Doma and Kokona into Zone B, other urban centres into Zone C and rural areas as just Rural Areas Zone.
For rents, the ministry went ahead to designate and classify certain areas within Lafia and Karu urban centres as Central Business Districts (CBD), namely UAC Road, Doma Road, Abuja Street, Jos Road and Makurdi Road in Lafia, while Karu has Mararaba Gurku as its CBD.
"This approval came like an energizer. We are going to make this ministry the mega revenue magnet of the state. Our projection has shown that we are going to yield in over a billion naira from ground rents, this year alone", Agassi said.
The reforms also saw a lift on the ban on the issuance of land titles including Certificates of Occupancy (C of O), and Rights of Occupancy (R of O). After several years of ban on the issuance of the land documents, respite finally came the way of land owners including those who had to contend with selective issuance of land titles by previous administrations.
The last Cs of O issued in the state were in the last days of Abdullahi Adamu who governed between 1999 and 2007. That was over six years ago. His successor, Aliyu Akwe Doma sat tight on files requesting the issuance of the documents, in an embargo that attracted widespread criticism.
Withheld titles stifled business space
Only recently, Mallam Ibrahim Safiyanu, state president of Nasarawa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NASCCIMA) who led his executives to the office of the state Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Ahmed Mohammed Wamba complained that small and medium scale businesses sub-sector of the economy was facing serious setback because of the ban on issuance of Cs of O.
But Agassi said that is over now. "There was embargo on the issuance of the certificates. But Governor Al-Makura has lifted it. That is big news for our people because for many of them, it is a source of funds. It can serve as collateral for them. Recently, a retired police officer stormed my ministry, complaining that he could not get bank loan to start a farm business because he had to wait long years for the embargo to be lifted", Agassi recalled. Currently, the administration has issued not less than 2,000 titles to land owners who never thought that their certification was going to be possible in their life time. The number is still counting.
It is from these two steps taken so far that the state ministry was able to leap forward to heights where receipts in rents in eight months of the current fiscal year have far surpassed the revenue forecast for the whole of 2012, with the month of August alone recording more than the 12 months of 2011.
Al-Makura who was impressed by the receipt described the efforts as "amazing milestone", stressing that the ministry's management under Agassi far surpassed his expectation. "If we have the proper leadership, Nasarawa State has the most serious and committed staff to achieve milestones in various sectors," he noted.
How did this happen?
Agassi explained, "It is no magic, just sheer dedication to reforms introduced by the governor in the management and administration of lands. The reforms introduced by the governor have brought us to this height so far because there is a new approach to business which is that the service you render or product you put out for sale determines the kind of patronage you get."
But he said the record receipts are just a fraction of what the ministry under him can fetch for the public purse. He explained, "We are expecting nothing less than N1 billion monthly receipts from ground rents alone before the end of the current fiscal year." He said by 2013, the ministry can hit far above N1 billion, even surpassing the about N1.5 billion which the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) rakes in monthly, when the ongoing project of urbanization called Nasarawa Geographical Information System (NAGIS) takes further steps.
The current reforms introduced to tidy up land management and administration saw NAGIS in the hands of a consortium of firms under Siraj Consultancy Engineering at the cost of N2.7 billion. The ongoing project entails 21st Century urbanization process which seeks to put the state's land in use on the computer through Digital Aerial Mapping (DAM) as well as the creation of Cadastral Districts for development control.
NAGIS will make for habitat planning in terms of good network of roads, water supply, drainage system, grazing routes and general development control. The commissioner said government is not just looking at income through this urbanization process but will first, build confidence in property owners through the provision of a habitat with all social infrastructure to compete with and serve as a twin city to Abuja.
With a land mass of 8,000 square metres, Abuja records receipts of about N1.5 billion. With the right leadership, Agassi's projection of over a billion naira rents from the land mass of 27,000 square metres - over three times the size of Abuja is realistic. If the ministry hits this milestone from barely 9,000 titles, realizing this projection will be certain when the certification of land ownership is complete.
Fears and expectations
With this well mapped out plans to generate revenue and enhance business opportunities, words on streets of Nasarawa are; given the success of the move will be government at ensure accountability, and stand by its words at all time on that. Just as fears rife that the occasional demolitions visiting Abuja do not replicate themselves in Nasarawa while proper use of thee parcels of land is also seen to the