I heard once, on television, of a child of a celebrity in America who was less than 10 years old and had an estate worth millions in her name. Of course, she wasn’t the youngest business mogul in the world, her parents probably acquired the properties for her but they were in her name, they were hers. Now, I’m not familiar with the property laws of USA, especially with regards to the ability of a child to own property but I am conversant with that of Nigeria and I have shared that below.
Definition of Terms
Note that “Property” in this context denotes “landed property” or simply, “land” which is legally defined in the Black’s Law Dictionary as “…any ground, soil, or earth whatsoever; as meadows, pastures, woods, moors, waters, marshes, furzes, and heath … everything attached to it, whether attached by the course of nature, as trees, herbage, and water, or by the hand of man, as buildings and fences”.
The legal definition of “child” is, according to Section 2 of the Children and Young Person’s law”, “a person under the age of fourteen years”.
Can a Child Own Property?
Now, the pertinent question, can a child own property in Nigeria?
The paramount statute in Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), in Section 43 confers the right of ownership of land to “every citizen” of Nigeria. It reads thus:
“Subject to the provisions of this constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immoveable property anywhere in Nigeria.”
What this means is that everyone who is a citizen of Nigeria has the right to own property i.e. every Nigerian can own property. No exceptions were created, every Nigerian. As long as you were born in Nigeria or you have acquired Nigerian citizenship by virtue of the conditions stipulated in Section 25 of the Constitution, you are qualified to own land in Nigeria
Does that Mean a Child Can Own Property?
I know what you are thinking right now, if everyone who is Nigerian can own property then Nigerian children can own property. Well, the answer is not so obvious. Although the Constitution seems to confer the right to own property on every Nigerian, the Land Use Act, in its Section 7, particularly Sub section (a) disqualifies any person under the age of “twenty one” from owning property except through a guardian or trustee.
Given that the Land Use Act derives its authority from the Constitution by virtue of Section 43 and 44 of the Constitution, it is regarded as being part of the Constitution itself and its provisions carry as much weight.
As with provisions of the law, there is an exception. Although Nigerians under the age of 21 are restricted from owning property except through a trustee or a guardian, by virtue of Section 7 (b) of the Land Use Act;
“a person under the age of twenty-one years upon whom a statutory right of occupancy devolves on the death of the holder shall have the same liabilities and obligations under and in respect of his right of occupancy as if he were of full age notwithstanding the fact that no guardian or trustee has been appointed for him.”
This means that a person may own property if the property passes onto him as inheritance after the death of the owner and the rights and obligations regarding the property shall pass onto him as well as if he were of full age whether or not a guardian or trustee has been appointed for him.
Conclusively, every Nigerian can own property in Nigeria but where such person is not up to 21 years, they can only do so through a trustee or a guardian except where such person who is below 21 years inherits such property upon the death of the owner.
Written by Mbachu Chinenye