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Fashola Officially Flags Off Issuance of Electronic Certificate of Occupancy (e-C of O), Says Old Document Still Remains Valid
• "This document that we now have is a more secure document with security printed papers

Jan 31, 2014 - Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Friday performed a symbolic flag-off of the issuance of the new Electronic Certificate of Occupancy to replace the old Yellow C of O saying, however, that the old document remains valid until Government is ready to make the total changeover.

In his remarks at the brief ceremony at the Lands Bureau to hand over the new document to some beneficiaries who were randomly selected, Governor Fashola expressed joy that the milestone has been achieved through a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

According to him, Government is doing everything possible to certify land titles to ensure safety of the investments that people put their life savings to acquire.

The Governor told Lagosians, "I am happy that we are here but there is a lot of work still ahead to be done. For those who already hold this document (the yellow C of O), you have no cause to worry. We believe that a substantial number of this document comes from us; but we don't eliminate the possibility that there may have been some undesirable conduct along the line".

"So we will invite you in a more organized process to turn in the yellow documents in order to have the e-certificate. It is not something we advise that you go into a stampede about. We are going to be orderly about it but we expect that you will take the opportunity so that we can gradually clean up", he said.

According to him, "We are a State and a Government of methods and I think that if we apply methods and processes we can do this handover and changeover seamlessly without inflicting any inconveniences and any pains on ourselves".

Assuring residents that Government would continue to produce more of the electronic document, Governor Fashola added, "We have flagged off this exercise and I know that in the weeks past some people have collected" pointing out that the ceremony was a symbolic one to communicate with the public the milestone already reached.

"This is just a symbolic exercise that enables me to communicate with members of the public that this is the milestone that we have reached on the journey that we committed to undertake to certify land titles to ensure safety of the investments that people put their life savings to acquire and to ensure that in the process of buying a land they no longer end up buying a lawsuit", the Governor said.

Reviewing the journey to the production of the e-C of O, the Governor recalled that it started when the administration of Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu first digitalized the entire land registry taking away files from public view and scanning millions of documents in the Lands Bureau.

"We have moved from geographic mapping of our State to being able to keep all our land records now in an electronic form. We know where land is and we know what sizes they are and I think that it is gradually making the work of all the land administrators a lot easier in the sense that it is not all the time now that they have to go into the bush to get dimensions of land", he said.

On the security of the new document and its advantage over the old one, the Governor explained, "This document that we now have is a more secure document with security printed papers. There are all sorts of features that if you tamper with them you will actually destroy them. They are capable of self-destruction and only a few people have access to this paper, I don't have access to it and I don't need to see it in order to sign".

"There is also a lot of information on this paper that the naked eye cannot see; so the backward reader is able to see all of the transactions and steps and then for registry of titles to be much more able to verify and advise people who want to buy land, who want to take mortgages, who want to lease out land and people who want to check whether there is any transaction on their land to do so.

According to him, "So, many of us are now operating on a digital platform until all the processes are completed. It gets to me electronically, I verify and I sign. So this way there is a lot of checks and balance to eliminate the possibility of people having an unauthentic document".

Thanking the management and staff of the State's Lands Bureau, the Governor noted that they had to work under intense pressure to meet the stiff demands he imposed on them to achieve the present result expressing joy on the arrival to "a glorious milestone in the sense that what we all conceived in our minds we are able to do with our hands and it heralds a season of land security in Lagos and for Lagosians".

He said with the State being able to keep all land records in an electronic form, the staff of Lands Bureau could now do their work on their laptops and i-pads adding, however, "there is still a lot of work to be done in that area to bring in the bandwidth to enable you see more images. I know that you are currently challenged by the bandwidth. So it is sometimes slower to open up maps".

"It shows that every time we reach a destination we must start a new journey. But we are where we are; we have migrated from this yellow paper which used to be printed by the Government press and that was as it should be. But we knew also that it has gotten into the hands of some private printers and there was always the possibilities that unsuspecting citizens would have ended up with some unauthentic copies, to put it mildly", the Governor said.

Governor Fashola argued that, in spite of some of its imperfections, the Land Use Act remains a legislation which almost all the sections have been tested up to the Supreme Court adding that such tests represent a very strong value for the law or any other law to have.

"People now know what each section means. But the fact people have difficulty in accessing land does not, in my view, suggest that the law is bad. I think where the problem really lies is in the administration of the law, the processing of documents and if we apply automation to the administration of the law, it will be better", the Governor said.

On why it takes so long to produce a C of O, the Governor said his response to such question has always been that the number of Certificates of Occupancy that are issued in one week in Lagos State is more than what some states issue in one year.

"And what it takes our staff to do this is that they sometimes have to come to work on Sundays in order to be able to respond to service. Lands Bureau is one of the few agencies that have to come to work on Sundays. But I think now with automation and technology and as the bandwidth improves many people will be able to do their work while they are in motion and come and coordinate in the office", the Governor said.

Earlier, in his introductory remarks, the Permanent Secretary of the Lands Bureau, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola said the Bureau was test running the process of issuance of the electronic Certificates of Occupancy which process, he noted , commenced two weeks earlier on the directives of the Governor adding that some people have already been issued the document.

He said the Bureau has also assured members of the public that the existing yellow Certificate of Occupancy remains valid "until such a time your administration, on your directive, will start the issuance of the process of recertification where members of the public will come in with the old ones to get the new electronic formatted ones".

Giving a brief hindsight into where the Bureau came from to get to the present position, the Permanent Secretary noted that the former system was "an analogue based system where we were issuing the yellow format Certificate of Occupancy" which Government had to change as a result of its perceived weaknesses

He told the Governor, "Upon your administration's realization of the weaknesses of that document being subject to cloning, forgery and misrepresentation and the fact that due to previous work processes we had at some point more than two or three copies in circulation, this led to the introduction of a more secure and digital process culminating in the electronic Certificate of Occupancy".

According to him, "features of the document will, in summary, include secure paper which is not forgeable, not clonable and also embedded with a machine reading only by authorized users. This adds to the integrity of the document being presented to the public evidencing their title to land. The journey to this place was a tough one which by your constant support we have been able to achieve this".

Highlight of the ceremony was the presentation of the new certificate to some beneficiaries who, according to the Permanent Secretary, were lucky to be at the Bureau on routine visit to check for their C of O.


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