PROPERTY Procedure and guide to presentation to URP tribunal
Our last episode highlighted the unexploited avenue provided for conflict resolution by the tribunal due to lack of awareness by the public. As a result of the responses received, coupled with the current tribunal chairman’s speech at the just concluded FCT NITP Planning Week, it became necessary to highlight the tribunal’s procedure and how to guide the public on how to make presentation to the FCT URP Tribunal.
As stated by Tpl. Mallam I. D. Suleiman, the immediate past chairman of the tribunal, “Abuja is one of the few cities in the world and certainly the only one in Nigeria that is privileged to have a Master Plan and Development Plans prior to its development. The purpose was essentially to guide the growth and development of the city and its regions in such a manner that it will be conducive for living, working, recreating and transportation”. The rapid expansion of development activities in the FCT and the concomitant issues of land use administration and compliance with the Master Plan arising from development necessitate the tribunal. The success of the institution requires the contribution of legal practitioners and professionals in the building industry, those with the in-depth knowledge of the requirements of the Abuja Master Plan.
For the purpose of settlement of disputes on landed properties, each party to the dispute shall appear in person or be represented by a legal practitioner or town planner, nominated by the party in the dispute. It is advisable for the complainants to ensure that their representatives are legal practitioners with bias for land and urban development or urban planners who are into advocacy planning with adequate knowledge of the provision of the Land Use Act, Urban and Regional Planning law, Abuja Master Plan and the Abuja Development Control Guidelines and Regulations. It is important to note that the tribunal also serves as a very potent and veritable tool for the restoration of the Abuja Master Plan.
The tribunal is guided in its operational proceedings by the FCT Urban and Regional Planning Tribunal (Procedure) Rules as issued by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation. Despite the fact that the tribunal was established in 1996, the rules were not approved and gazetted until in August, 2008. This satisfied all the legal requirements necessary for its sitting in line with the Act.
Developers, the Control Department and other interested persons or their representatives forward their complaints to the tribunal’s secretary at the tribunal’s registry. In defending a client at the tribunal, there must be collaboration between town planners and the legal practitioners. This is because the presentation to the tribunal secretary containing the complaint must be supported by the relevant provisions according to the Land Use Act, the URP Law, the Abuja Master Plan and the Development Control Guidelines and regulations. These are the relevant guides to land allocations and revocations, the procedure for the implementation of the Abuja Master Plan and enforcements of Development Control. The town planners have more knowledge of these documents and their applications than any other professional. Hence, the wisdom to have town planners with the specified experience as provided by the URP Law as chairman and secretary of the tribunal.
Problems arise from abuse or misapplication of these Land and Planning Laws by the authorities, hence incidents like double or multiple allocations and wrongful revocations from the Lands Department or wrongful demolition by the Development Control. Ideally, before the Control Department should embark on any demolition exercise it should channel the matter to the tribunal first for determination. The tribunal can stop the Control Department from the demolition when it confirms the veracity of the complaint lodged by the aggrieved developer. On the other hand, many cases fail not because of lack of credibility, but due to the absence of references to the relevant Land and Planning laws in the presentation by legal practitioners.
Other complaints entertained by the tribunal include: the refusal of Development Control to grant building permit after three months or rejected without satisfactory reasons, amendments of conditions attached to development permits, revocation of development permit without satisfactory reasons, encroachment of property by neighbours or neighbours using property for different use from the official approval causing nuisance, erection of structures on sewer lines, misuse or conversion of open spaces or green areas for non-conforming uses and many others.
The secretary shall consider the complaints, draft a charge and prepare a report and forward same to the chairman for consideration of the case. The tribunal shall hear witnesses and receive such documentary evidence which will in its opinion assist it in arriving at a just conclusion. In order to encourage amicable resolution of conflict, there is a provision for prehearing in the proceedings of the tribunal. Cases could be determined by alternative dispute resolution after the pre-trial. The primary activities of the tribunal are pre-hearing conference for accelerated judgments and full hearing of cases in its court room.
Our next discussion shall center on the tribunal’s achievements and challenges.