Reading this latest article from The Atlantic magazine on the impact that secure land rights has on both individuals’ and nations’ ability to generate wealth, I think back two years to another October afternoon in Washington, D.C. when Thomson Reuters and the Atlantic Council hosted a Q&A with Nigeria’s then Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
She asked the audience during this event, “Can you imagine if a country of Nigeria’s size didn’t have a mortgage system?” Nigeria is a country of 170 million people – the most populous in Africa, in which an estimated 97 percent of land is still not registered.
As The Atlantic’s article articulates, land rights and land administration is a critical development challenge for not only Nigeria, but really for all of humanity. It’s a pathway to inclusive growth, as secured land rights allow governments to tax land and property, a critical source of government revenue to invest back in communities and to in-turn help support sustainable growth.
Two years later, oil prices have tumbled by more than a third – a serious challenge for an oil exporting country such as Nigeria. Yet Nigeria is, at a state level, sticking to its plans to modernize land administration and to implement equitable property tax systems.
This makes sense. We know empirically that a solid foundation for land rights has a lasting positive impact. With secured land rights you can confidently invest in land, gain access to credit from land, and you can protect land.
As the President of Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting division, I know from experience that modernization is not a sprint. It requires patience and perseverance to be successful.
Modernization isn’t a matter of ‘plugging in’ a system; rather it requires a tremendous degree of institutional change, training, capacity development, and in many cases the conversion of either decades of paper records or else the systematic mapping and registering of land ownership previously not defined. Of course modernization also requires the political will backed by community support.
We also recognize that modernization requires partnership. Our legacy with land administration and property tax systems dates back to 40-year partnerships with governments. These partnerships last decades – and transcend generations.
To successfully partner with a government with different customs and varied traditions of land management, we recognized that we needed to get closer to those governments. We closed that gap by working with our local Nigerian implementation partner, Teqbridge Ltd., to transfer skills and technology so that their teams could configure our Aumentum software platform to best fit the needs of Nigerian governments. Teqbridge has also provided the front-line support and training to develop capacity locally with governments – to ensure that these modernization efforts were sustained.
So here is an example of a global company sharing technology and expertise with a local Nigerian firm with local technology professionals jointly serving Nigerian state-governments; moreover, jointly building stronger professional capability in Nigeria. This is not a fly-in, drop-in, and then fly-out software install model.
I’m pleased to report that this partnering strategy has worked. Cross River State and Plateau State have both implemented the Aumentum software platform.
Registering land in these states once took months or years. It can now be completed in a week. Citizens now conduct land transactions on a Web portal or at newly opened customer service centers. All land transactions are transparent and publicly searchable. In Cross River more search and registry fees were collected in just two months than in the entire four years before the onset of the Cross River reforms. Fees covered the system cost in the first three months of operation.
Land administration modernization initiatives in Nigeria will pay big dividends for many years to come – for the government and for the people. This is especially important as Nigeria – and Africa more broadly – looks to stimulate more inclusive economic growth and opportunity for citizens.
I think for the global development community we need to ask ourselves: what is holding back countries from making more progress to secure land rights? How can more partnering pathways be cleared to even better harness technology, skills and knowledge?