Land Use Act in Nigeria – Explained

The Land Use Act in Nigeria is one of the important laws you need to understand either as a land-owner or land-owner to be. Activities of land grabbers, scam agents and the number of professionals required are some of the biggest challenges in legitimately and successfully acquiring a land in Nigeria. Understanding the Land Use Act and how it affects you is the first step against needless headaches.

In this article, we will talk about what is land use act, features of land use act, implications of land use act, controversies and problems of the land use act. Read on to gain more knowledge.


What Is Land Use Act?

The Land use act (formerly called the Land Use Decree) was promulgated on 29th of March 1978. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo takes credit for being the man who made the Land Use Act an integral part of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during the military regime before he eventually handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari-led Federal Government.

According to Chapter 202 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, the Land Use Act is:

“An Act to Vest all Land compromised in the territory of each State (except land vested in the Federal government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State , who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are  conferred on Local Governments (27th March 1978) Commencement.”

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Features of the Land Use Act 

The main objectives of the Land Use Act were:

  1. to effect structural change in the system of land tenure;
  2. to achieve fast economic and social transformation;
  3. to negate economic inequality caused by the appropriation of rising land values by land speculators and landholders and;
  4. to make land available easily and cheaply, to both the government and private individual developers. Although, experts have argued that rather than make land cheaper, the contrary has happened.

Some of the key features of the land use act of 1978 are the four major issues it addresses, which includes: The problem of lack of uniformity in the laws governing ownership and land-use; the issue of uncontrolled speculation in urban land; the question of access to land rights by Nigerians on equal legal basis; the issue of fragmentation of rural lands arising from either the application of traditional principles of inheritance or population growth and the consequent pressure on land.

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Importance of the Land Use Act

Land Use Act bothers majorly on ownership rights. If you acquired a land without a Certificate of Occupancy, C of O, then the land is not yours, all you have is a lease. You never have a freehold because the government can seize your land or property without any form of compensation.  The power to do this rests within the Land Use Act, which reads: “All the rights formerly vested in the holder in respect of the excess of the land shall in the commencement of this Act be extinguished and the excess of the land shall be taken over by the Governor and administered as provided in this Act.”

Under the Land Use Act, the governor is responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals’ resident in the state or to organizations for residential, agricultural, commercial and other purposes while similar powers with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on the Local Government.

The act altered the existing land laws in the Southern part of the country by removing corporate groups, families and chiefs from the trusteeship of land and replaced them with the state governors.  This poses as both an advantage and disadvantage of the Land Use Act.


Controversies Over the Land Use Act in Nigeria

One of the most contentious legislation in Nigeria remains the Land Use Act. Many of the stakeholders in the real estate industry have described it as monster crippling the housing development in the country. Experts have opined that the Act is overdue for a comprehensive review. They have also repeatedly called for the Act to be removed from the Constitution to make its amendment more realistic and less cumbersome. Arguing that there will be no meaningful growth in the real estate sector if land continues to be under the firm grips of the State governors.

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Constitutional requirements are the main reason for the failures experienced in amending the Land Use Act as moves to amend proved abortive. Past Presidents Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Good luck Jonathan during their administrations attempted to amend the Act but their efforts did not yield expected results as a direct result of inherent bottlenecks involved in amending the Constitution.

Experts have asserted that land has become so expensive because unlike in the past, you could buy a piece of land from either the community, an individual or from even a company and you go and register that title at the Land Registry. Once it is registered, it becomes a bankable document.

Today, however, the process has changed. Now, you go and pay the usual fee and you take the document given to you and the survey plan to the government who will then issue you a Certificate of Occupancy also known as the C of O.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Land Use Act

This part of the article seeks to shine the light on the pros and cons of the land use act in Nigeria while highlighting possible solutions to the challenges. The Land use Act promulgated in 1978 and made an integral part of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was aimed at promoting the proper and efficient use of land.

Advantages of the Land Use Act

To a large extent, the land use act achieved its aims and objectives:

  1. Ensuring that whosoever requires land for any purpose with the ability to make optimum use of it will obtain it.
  2. Making it illegal for indigenes to allocate land without prior government’s approval as only the Governor of each state has the power to allocate urban lands, and the local area councils have the power to allocate rural lands.
  3. Preventing the practice of land speculators buying up large acres of land, especially in developed urban locations with no intent of immediate or future use, but to tie it down in order to obtain high prices for a future sale to another person.
  4. Reduction in boundary disputes, the number, and frequency of court cases of land ownership since the survey of acquired land is mandatory for occupancy right to be granted.
  5. Allowing for easy acquisition of land for agricultural use as it provides farmers with not more than 500 hectares of land for crop production or 5000 hectares of land for grazing.
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Disadvantages of the Land Use Act

The Land Use Act, however, is not without pitfalls as there a number of challenges associated with the act and many have argued for the need to have a Land Adjudication Act (LAA) to address these issues. The adoption of systematic titling and registration will help combat the challenge of value gap between a land with a registered title and one without it. For example, an individual with a registered title to his plot of land is potentially wealthier and better positioned to take advantage of opportunities than another individual with land in abundance but without a registered title.

  1. Abuse of Office: Another fault of the Land Use Act was in the transfer of title and ownership of land from individuals and communities to the Governors who hold the land in trust but many of whom have been known to have abused the power and privileges conferred on them by the Act. Section 22  requires the acquisition of Governor’s consent before a statutory right of occupancy can be alienated as this is necessary where there is a transfer of title from a vendor to a purchaser.
  2. Delay in land acquisition: Acquisition of land by individuals and corporate bodies for commercial and economic development purposes have been extremely difficult as a result of the Land Use Act. The government’s approval amongst other reasons from the Land Use Act results in the delay in making land accessible to an average Nigerian.

For any law or Act to have a full effect on the populace it must be free from loopholes and easy to adhere to by the common man. That being established, it is highly imperative for the government and lawmakers alike to critically look into the Land Use Act and address all possible faults pointed out by major stakeholders within the real estate industry.

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