Land Ownersip Rights in Nigeria

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Land, in the law of real property term includes the surface of the earth, the land beneath the surface to the center of the earth, and the air above. The term also includes property permanently affixed to the soil, such as water collected in wells, houses, and fences. Property is usually obtained by purchase, inheritance, or gift. Ownership may be public or private; Public ownership is by the government and Private ownership is by an individual, a group of individuals, a corporation, or some other form of organization.

The ownership of land may be classified according to the various types of interests, the principal of which are estates in fee simple, life estates, reversions, remainders, and leaseholds.

Land remains a gift of nature to man. It remains the most important factor of production. Land in its physical form is immoveable. Its products however can be moved from one part of the globe to another. It is part of our history that Nigeria, like some other countries in Africa and some other continents, was colonised. One thing the colonial masters could not do was to remove the land, the terra firma, from its location to their home country. Granted that they were able to exploit some of the natural resources on the land, the physical land remains. As vast and available this nature’s gift to man is, It is a fact that one of the problems faced by some Nigerians urban or rural poor is that of landlessness. This is obviously tied to poverty or low economic status. Beyond landlessness even for those who ‘hold’ or ‘possess’ land is that many do not have secure rights to the land. Legal title to the land may not be available or forthcoming. In essence one problem of land management is the issue of rights to land or title to land. The scenario of problem of title to land has its roots in our colonial history.

Brief Historical Data on Land Management

It is necessary to understand the antecedents that have led to the current state of land administration and the agitation for reforms. The formal British rule in Nigeria and the declaration of the Protectorate in 1900 led to the acquisition of Crown land (land formerly held by the Royal Niger Company) as well as the land, which the Fulanis had acquired, by conquest from the Hausas. The colonial government called the acquired lands public lands. The Crown lands were vested in the Governor in trust for Her Majesty. The public lands were held in trust for the people. In 1910 through the Land and Native Right Proclamation of 1910, the colonial government declared that all lands in Northern Protectorate became public lands and were vested in government in trust for the natives. Other subsequent amendments and legislations saw the emergence of the Land Tenure law of 1962. Consequently, in Northern Nigeria, the colonial administration vide the Land Tenure Law of 1962 vested the control of all lands in the North under the control of the Governor. The main provision of the law was that the whole land was vested in the Commissioner responsible for land matters who held the land in trust and administered it for the native people. Furthermore, there was no valid title to the use and occupation of such land except with the consent of the Governor. The Governor had powers to grant statutory or customary right of occupancy to land seekers. Statutory rights of occupancy could be granted to natives and non-natives alike. Customary rights of occupancy could only be given to natives, however.


The land tenure system met by the colonial masters in Southern Nigeria was the customary land tenure system. The system recognized the principle of extended family lineages and kinship of ownership of land. Land was ruled to belong to the community, village, and family and not to the...
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