Land and Land Ownership in Nigeria

Land Ownership

Land. Ala. Ile. Kasa.

It has become commonplace in our society. We walk it, we love it, we live on it (some in it), we buy it, we sell it, we farm it, we own it. It has become so valuable that some kill for it. It begs the question, what is Land? Why is something that is common, so valuable?

Land Defined

Land generally speaking is the solid surface that covers part of the world and that which enables humans to live life as it currently is. It is due to its importance not just as a place to live but also a source of sustenance that land is considered to be the most valuable asset anyone can have. The law not only recognises what is on the land but what is in it as well. That’s why the Federal Government sharply claimed all minerals found in the land. Section 1 of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007.

This fact has led to many conflicts great and small alike. Infact, majority of the cases in courts deal with land or issues relating to Land.

Legally speaking, land doesn’t only refer to it’s solid nature or content both on it and below, it includes interests either legal/equitable or other incorporeal rights.

Types of Land Ownership

It’s no surprise that everyone wants to own land somewhere. Either in their hometown or in one state or the other or both or every. It then becomes pertinent to note the various ways by which land can be owned in Nigeria.

Communal Land Tenure System

Here, the community holds the land. The head of such community decides how best to share the land and how its people can own the same. This system encourages large scale farming but unfortunately, cannot be used as a collateral since it’s ownership is communal.

Inheritance Tenure System

This system allows for ownership in land to be transferred from the owner to his/her next-of-kin in the event of the death of such owner. In Yoruba land, ownership of land is inherited by the children and shared equally. In Igbo land, the first son or ‘di okpala’ is said to inherit the land and properties of his father. Unfortunately, this system sometimes leads to issues among family members as to who is the rightful owner of such land.

Gift Tenure System

Land or a piece of land is gifted by the owner to another person. It can be used to source for a loan from financial institutions by the new owner although the land ownership can be revoked by a court order.

Rent Tenure System

Here, a tenant pays some amount for the period of using the land to a stated landlord. The period of rent is relatively very short compared to leasehold systems. Although this system discourages long-term plan on the part of the tenant.

Freehold Tenure System

A person pays a certain sum of money for the right of ownership of a piece of land. Under this system, land can be used as collateral for the loan but the purchase of these lands under this system is expensive. However, Section 1 of the Land Use Act abolished freehold and we currently operate a leasehold System.

Tenants at Government Will

Tenants at government will system occurs when land is given out to farmers by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The land is usually cheap to acquire. This is done in order to encourage agriculture in the country. The Land however, cannot be used as collateral for a loan.


The enactment of the Land Use Act 1978 brought about the abolition of the Freehold Tenure System. This was done by the government in order to regulate Land Ownership in Nigeria.

Section 1 of the said Act transfers all ownership of lands to the government who then hold it in trust for the people. This means the government is chiefly in charge of allocating valid title to citizens that comply with the requirements set. In this system, the Government acts as the Landlord and we, the Tenants. Each state government holds land in trust for the people of that state. After following due process, a Statutory Right of Occupancy will be issued to the applicant. The term is for 99 years. (Who’s counting? Lol).

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Written by Usha

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