FCT URP Tribunal – Untapped conflict resolution avenue
The Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law Decree No. 88 of 1992 provides for the establishment of Urban and Regional Planning Tribunals in all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. Its function is adjudication on matters relating to land ownership, revocations, multiple allocations, resettlement matters, contravention charges, quit and demolition order among others. With all the plethora of property development related conflicts predominant in Abuja, there is nowhere that the fulfillment of this proposal by the URP Law becomes highly imperative than the FCT.
The advantages the tribunal has over the conventional legal institutions is that in addition to the presence of a legal practitioner who would provide a guide from the point of law, the panel members include professionals in the built environment, like town planners, architects, surveyors and engineers, who are more conversant with the technicalities of property developments. It is thus different from having a sole jurist hearing and determining the case in the law court. Instances could arise when the whole panel or some members would undertake site visits for more clarification of matters for adjudication.
However, aggrieved parties can appeal at the High Court in the event of non satisfaction with the determination of their case by the tribunal. Of additional advantage is that, the appellate court on the other hand would be guided by the professionalism of the members of the jury in the tribunal while determining its cases, should there be any further appeal from the decision of the tribunal.
For any complaint related to the violation of allocation guidelines prior to land allocations, or violation of planning procedures and development control guidelines and regulation, or land conflicts as a result of double or multiple allocations, the reputable town planner of proven integrity from the private practice, who also has experience in the public service, at the same time, a fellow of the Town Planning Institute is made the tribunal chairman according to the law. Whatever concerns on design requirements that could make the Control Department to reject granting of development permit, the architect member who is registered with the Architect Registration Council of Nigeria and conversant with both public and private practice is available for the determination of the veracity of the complaint or otherwise. The tribunal shall thus hear matters of disagreements between developers and the Development Control Department, in matters concerning stop work, quit and demolitions.
For matters that usually make the Control Department to take hard stand on developers whose developments eventually collapse, or are subject to collapse, a structural engineer is available to assist in determining the truth or otherwise. If the case bothers on boundary encroachments within and outside the city, between individual plot owners and corporate organizations that require resurveying to ascertain the real boundaries of properties. The appropriate professional to determine the beacon positions is the land surveyor who is also made a member of the tribunal.
For the first time in Nigeria we have a situation where a vast inhabited land as wide as 8,000km2 was declared as a no-man’s land, because it is transformed to be owned by the entire citizens of the Federal Capital Territory. The agitations of the original inhabitants that feel shortchanged are now issues of major concern. More so that there are breaches in program for their resettlements and compensations, most at times these become matters for litigation.
It is a common knowledge that there are many people who have genuine allocations from the FCT Administration or the area councils, with Certificate of Occupancies but whose lands were encroached upon by mass housing allocations. The tribunal offers the best avenue for the resolution of these types of conflicts, rather than outright approaching the conventional courts.
With the opportunities provided by the establishment of the tribunal in FCT, one would expect it to now be overwhelmed with activities. The FCT URP Tribunal is now about 18 years from establishment. Unfortunately, it seems the greater majority of people who would find solution to their property related problems are not even aware of its existence.
Section 83, subsection 3, stipulates that an aggrieved owner, occupier or interested party of a building which is the subject of a demolition order may appeal against the order to the planning tribunal for determination, and a further appeal to the High Court of the state or of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as the case may be, whenever the appellant is not satisfied with the decision of the tribunal.
The tribunal is guided by the FCT Urban and Regional Planning Tribunal Procedure in all its proceedings. This was issued by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. The tribunal shall entertain such witnesses and receive such documentary evidence which in its opinion shall assist it in arriving at a just conclusion. The tribunal has the right to proceed to hear and determine a case in the absence of any party upon proof of service on such party.