“China raised 760 million citizens out of poverty in the last 30 years through land reform. It brought about huge economic and development activities in the rural areas. Rwanda has also started and I believe that country will soon show Nigeria how to move forward”
Those were the words of renowned professor of geography, Akin Mabogunje. He spoke at a seminar organised in honour of his 86th birthday on Wednesday in Ibadan. The seminar, themed, “Decentralized Governance, the People and Development in Nigeria”, as organised by the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP).
Urging the Federal Government to embark on urgent land reforms, the erudite scholar posited that the current Land Use Act in the country is further impoverishing the people.
He recalled how China used land reform embarked upon by Mao Zedong in 1950, to kick-start a series of events that brought up to 760 million Chinese out of poverty.
Following the liberation of China in 1949, the central government of the People’s Republic of China published a Land Reform Law on June 30, 1950 which removed lands from the ownership of former landlords and redistributed to landless peasants and owners of small plots, as well as to the landlords themselves, who now had to till the land to earn a living.
The reform liberated productive forces, increased the productivity of agriculture, and laid the basis for the industrialization of China. Around 300 million peasants who had little or no land were assigned some 47 million hectares of land plus farm implements, livestock and buildings.
Rwanda’s land reforms policies which started after the 1994 genocide, is believed to be responding to emerging social and economic development challenges in the country. For example, Article 30 of the 2013 land law prohibits the subdivision of plots of land reserved for agriculture and animal resources if the result of subdivision leads to parcels of land of less than a hectare for each of them.
According to Mabogunje, Nigeria is holding itself back through the Land Use Act which puts ownership of land in the hand of government.
He explained it took Britain 80 years to achieve land reform while it took the United States of America (US) 35 years to do the same. Afterwards, he said their citizens were able to easily use land for economic activities which lifted them out of poverty.
“The purpose of land reform is to ensure we take millions of Nigerians out of poverty. A similar idea is what I introduced to them in Ijebu-Ode which is known today as the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction which has built assets in excess of N1.4 billion mostly through aqua culture alone”, he said.
Other discussants at the seminar posited that there was need to restructure Nigeria and decentralize governance for true rural development to happen. Mabogunje, Nigeria’s first professor of geography agreed with them, adding that if government denationalizes land ownership, citizens will put more land into productive use and the end result will be massive economic activities.
He said that land can not be used as economic asset until it is surveyed and titled, adding that “that is why banks can not lend money to rural dwellers who don’t have titles”.
Prof. Mabogunje also challenged the elites to go back home and take development serious.
Welcoming participants, the Executive Vice Chairman of the school, Dr Tunji Olaopa, explained that the seminar was aimed at igniting a “national discourse on the obvious truth that the development ideas being implemented in the policy space in Nigeria is not just working, and as we approach 2019, ISGPP as a think tank is worried and concerned. And so, the best time is now for development experts to begin a level of conversation that will deliver an alternative model of development for Nigeria.”
Chairman of the occasion, Prof. Anthony Asiwaju, who was among dignitaries that heaped praises and accolades on Mabogunje for his rural development initiatives, described the professor as a source of rich and innovative development innovations for policy makers serious about development.
In his keynote address, Prof. Mike Adeyeye of the Department of Local Government Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife,urged states creating local council development areas to make them actual development centres rather than another political arm of corruption or for political correctness.
In his presentation, the Chairman, Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reform, Prof. Peter Adeniyi, called on the All Progressives Congress (APC) to fulfill its campaign promise of reviewing the Land Use Act, exporting it from the constitution and handing over ownership to Nigerians to pave way for real development activities.
Also present at the event were the former Vice Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Prof. Femi Mimiko; renowed historian, Prof. Bolanle Awe; the Oragun of Oke Ila, Oba Dokun Abolarin; Representative of the Awe community where Mabogunje started his rural development initiatives, Chief E.B Adisa; and the Shaderiron of Isonyin, Ijebuland, Oba Tayo Salami Cossy.
Others who spoke at the seminar include Prof. Ayo Olukotun, Chairman Oba Sikiru Adetona Professorial Chair in Governance, Olabisi Onabanjo University; Dr. Taiwo Olaiya, Department of Public Administration, Obafemi Awolowo University; Dr. Tunde Monehin, Local Government Service Commission unit, Obafemi Awolowo University and the General Manager of Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), Awujale Palace, Ijebu Ode.