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FACTSHEET: Who owns the land in Nigeria?

Nigeria's Land Use Act from 1978 abolished all existing freehold systems. This factsheet explains how land is secured in Nigeria and the rules for transfer and succession that apply.

This article is more than 8 years old

In colonial Nigeria, there were different land tenure systems for the northern and southern parts of the country. In the south, the land was deemed to be owned by families and communities (villages, towns). Where individuals exercised control over land it was by virtue of their belonging to the land-owning families and communities. The only land that was excluded from this arrangement was that which had purposely been designated public land by the British Crown.

The Land Use Act, enacted in 1978, was meant to standardise land administration systems across the country. It vested all urban land within a state in the state governor, and all non-urban land in the local governments in which they are found. (There are currently 36 states in Nigeria, and 774 local government areas.) The state governor and local government authorities are empowered by the Act to grant “statutory rights of occupancy”.

The Act also provided for the establishment of land use and allocation committees to advise state governors, and land allocation advisory committees to advise local governments. Excluded from the control of state and local governments are all lands designated to be federal – for example land occupied by federal agencies and departments.

What mix of land systems is there in Nigeria?

In 1978 the Land Use Act – which governs land use and administration in Nigeria, and is included in the Constitution – abolished all existing freehold systems, and provided for a nationwide leasehold system. The leases are typically granted for 99 years, the maximum period stipulated by the Act.

What share of Nigerians have a formal certificate of occupation?

Less than 3% of Nigeria’s land is thought to be formally registered with federal, state or local authorities.

Which laws and policies govern land administration?

There are multiple laws governing land administration in Nigeria. These laws vary from state to state. Most states have enacted laws providing for the establishment of a state land registry.

In January 2015, Lagos state governor Tunde Fashola signed an executive order to consolidate the state’s various laws into a single overriding piece of legislation.

The laws that govern land administration in Nigeria include the following:

  1. Land Use Act of 1978

  2. Registration of Titles Law (Lagos State, 2003)

  3. Land Instrument Registration Law (1925)

  4. The Registration of Titles Law

  5. Registered Land Act of 1965 (Replaced the 1925 law in Lagos State)

  6. Property and Conveyancing Law (1884)

  7. Land Use Charge Law (Lagos state)

  8. Urban and Regional Planning Land Law (Decree 88) of 1992.

How is urban land secured in Nigeria?

Through certificates of occupancy, which are instruments of title issued by state governors and local government chairpersons, as evidence that the state has conferred on the holder of the certificate the statutory right to occupy the land for a defined period of time (99 years in most cases). These certificates are the highest level of land security certification in Nigeria.

Through deeds of assignment: A deed of assignment outlines the agreement between the person with the rights to a piece of land and the person to whom the rights are being transferred. It contains, among other things, a detailed description of the land (including its ownership history), the agreed cost, and the date from which transfer takes effect.

How is rural land secured in Nigeria?

The same as with urban land.

Which governmental organisations are responsible for land registration and administration?

  • Land use and allocation committees (to advise state governors regarding urban land),

  • Land allocation advisory committees (to advise local governments regarding non-urban land),

  • Federal and state deed registries. 

What are the rules for transfer and succession?

These depend on whether the person died with or without a will recognised by the courts. Testate successions in most of northern and eastern Nigeria are governed by the English Wills Act (1837), and an amended version from 1867. In southwestern Nigeria, there’s a Wills legislation, Will Law Cap 133, enacted in 1959 and that still holds sway today (with exceptions in some states that have drawn up their own laws – which are typically adaptations of existing laws).

Inheritance rights in Nigeria for intestate circumstances (which applies in the majority of cases in Nigeria) are primarily guided by native and customary laws (with variations across ethnic groups) and religious laws (sharia law, based on the Koran). For example, sharia laws, applicable across the 19 northern states, stipulate that female children get half of what males get, and that children who are non-Muslims lose their inheritance rights. - 23/11/2015

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