Many property owners expressed surprise at the figures they saw in their bills. According to media reports, many property owners were shocked to find increases of up to 400% on the bills they paid only a year ago.
The organised private sector, the segment most hit by the increases immediately went on air to vehemently protest these increases. Anyone who was present at the Town Hall Meeting organized by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry could not have missed the passion with which the representative of the OPS criticized the new land use charge regime.
“Any increase above a hundred percent,” he stated very forcefully, “is unacceptable.” But nowhere was the “war” as violent as cyberspace. Across various chat-groups, different people gave their own interpretations to the developments.
One famous WhatsApp message which became viral actually warned that “if you own a duplex in Lagos, you will now have to pay N3m annually as Land Use Charge…” Another asked “how can you increase tenement rate or the Land Use act (sic) from N120k to about N1million for a 3-bedroom bungalow?”
It was the gross misinformation on cyberspace more than anything else that befuddled the arguments of the government making the communication process increasingly arduous.
Government through its operatives including the Governor of Lagos, Mr. Ambode, had argued that the increases in land use charge had actually been sequel to the repeal of the 2001 Law and passage of a new Land Use Charge law by the state House of Assembly.
The review, it said, had been predicated on a need to bring obsolete charges up-to-date, standardize the practice of property valuation upon which charges are calculated, as well as ramp up property enumeration across the state and in the process bring more properties into the tax net.
Government had also explained that the taxation approach being employed was progressive one, wherein the poor are less affected than the rich. In fact, it added that the majority of properties, comprising some 75 per cent, were actually valued below N10 million implying that all they would need to pay would be N5,000 annually equivalent to some N417 per month.
The popular view, however, appeared to be that the taxes were on the high side and it is commendable that rather than refuse to bend, Ambode has chosen to engage the critics and give in to an extent, to their demands.
According to news reports, Land Use Charge payable for properties which are devoted to commercial activities has been reduced by half. This is very significant and should considerably reduce the antagonism from real estate professionals. What this translates to for instance is that for a property valued at N20m, which is used for commercial activity, instead of about N92,000 or so originally payable, such property would now only need to pay about N46,000 annually.
Another sore point was that the demand notices left a very short window for property owners to make payment. Those who were able to make payment during this short window would enjoy an additional discount of 15 percent. But not much longer thereafter, penalties of up to 200 percent would apply. Some Lagosians felt this was unfair especially as the majority only earn salaries monthly. There should at least be an opportunity for staggered payments, many canvassed. The new concessions granted by Ambode indicate that indeed, property owners will now be able to pay their Land Use Charge in instalments if they so desire.
Of course, this concession also means that the penalties for late payments have now been waived. Another category of property is those that are dedicated to manufacturing or industrial activity. Such properties now have their land use charge further reduced by 25 per cent. While those in which the owner-occupier also has part of his property deployed to commercial activity will also enjoy a similar discount of 25 per cent.
The owner-occupier category is not left out and enjoys a further 15 per cent discount on his land use charge payment, according to the revised land use charge law proposals.
It is hoped however, that these revisions will take effect after they have been properly analysed and agreed to by the law makers who passed the law in the first place. It is a mark of civilized governance and kudos to our growing democracy that the Lagos governor has chosen to listen to the people over whom he presides and accede to their request.
Thankfully, his track-record so far in the area of infrastructure development in Lagos is huge. He can therefore, bank on the trust of citizens that revenues from taxes will be deployed prudently and in pursuit of the bridging of the state’s massive infrastructure gap.
It is hoped that the various opposition groups including the Nigerian Employers Consultative Assembly, the real estate practitioners and others will positively appraise this move by the Lagos government, sheathe their swords and help create the right environment for the state to move forward with implementation of these taxes.
Odia, an economist and technopreneur, writes from Surulere, Lagos