Private and Property Law Project Topics

The Land Use Act: Ownership and Use of Land in Nigeria

The Land Use Act Ownership and Use of Land in Nigeria

The Land Use Act: Ownership and Use of Land in Nigeria

Chapter One 


The aim of the study is to examine the effects of the Land Use Act of 1978 on land ownership in Enugu Urban in terms of ease of accessibility, ease of acquisition and security of title.


To achieve the aim of the study, the following objectives were pursued: –

  1. To determine the extent to which the objectives of the Land Use Act has been achieved;
  2. To identify the various socio-economic problems generated by the Land Use Act on land ownership;
  3. To determine the effect of the Land Use Act on land accessibility, acquisition and security of title on land ownership; and
  4. To recommend better area of study on the Act with respect to land ownership as a means of providing effective strategy for increasing land price.




Long before 1960, when Nigeria became politically independent, various land policies had been laid down for the country. These policies the bulk of which were couched in legal language were for the most regional rather than national in scope. They ranged from the land and Native Right proclamation of 1910 through the public land acquisition ordinance of 1958, the Land Tenure Law of 1962 to the public land (miscellaneous provisions) Decree of 1976.

Apart from all these land policies, the most profound, easily the most controversial, and probably the most explosive and vertical measure of land policy in the country is the Land Use Decree (Now Act) No. 6 of 29th March, 1978. It generated a lot of interest and controversy that surpasses the reaction and interest shown in any other previous known land policy in the country. According to Umezurike (1989), The Act seems to be a landmark in the history of land tenure in the country.

For about a decade before the Decree (Now Act) was promulgated there were incoherent demands for a change in the land tenure system of Nigeria. It was felt in many quarters that the absence of a proper Land Policy and the existence of mainly customary land tenure in Nigeria was responsible for the under development of the country. Virtually all the public agencies had cited the difficulty in land acquisition as the most prominent problem which caused delay in the implementation of their development projects. The Land Use Act could be seen as an attempt to harmonize the different land tenure system in the country and also to abolish the idea of individual landownership in order to facilitate development. In the traditional Nigerian Society, land was communally owned. Land was virtually not owned by individual members. The legal estate under the customary land tenure was therefore vested in the family or community as a unit.

However, with the advent of the British rule, commerce, increased economic activities and industrialization, it became necessary for individuals to privately own land. Individual ownership of land came into operation due to the introduction of the English ideas. It is also important to note that the introduction of the English land law did not completely abolish the traditional land tenure system in Nigeria. It only streamlined the existing land tenure system in the country and documented them into laws for effectiveness.

In this regard therefore, the then military government established an eleven member Land Use panel headed by a justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Atanda Fatayi Williams and gave them the following terms of reference:

  1. To undertake an in-depth study of the various land tenure, land use and land conservation practices in the country and recommend steps to be taken to streamline them;
  2. To examine the feasibility of a uniform land policy for the entire country, make necessary recommendations and propose guidelines for implementation;
  3. To study and analyse all the implications of a uniform land policy for the country; and
  4. To examine steps necessary for controlling future land use and also opening new land for the needs of government and Nigeria’s growing population in both urban and rural areas and make appropriate
  5. Examine steps necessary for controlling future land use and also opening developing new land for the needs of government and Nigeria’s growing population in both urban and rural areas and make appropriate

The need for the establishment of this panel arose from the recommendations of previous commissions and panels set up to examine some aspects of the structure of the country’s social and economic life. The problem had been foreseen in the Third National Development Plan. Both the Anti-inflation Tax Force and the Rent Panel Reports identified land as one of the major bottle-necks to development of the country. Thus after much homework from various panels set up by the government, the Land Use Decree (Now Act) No. 6 of 29th March 1978 was announced by the then Head of State to Nigerians.

The Land Use Act of 1978 generated a lot of interest and controversy among Nigerians and foreign observers. Of more fundamental consideration than the generation of expectation is the place of land in the mind, socio-economic horizon, and general life of the ordinary Nigerian, particularly the male and more so the landholders.

Ezeorah (1985) commented, that “of all man’s material assets, land ranks second only to the possession of children”. It is not astonishing, therefore, that the Land Use Act, which impacts so directly and heavily on this hyper valued asset hold for the man an intense degree of interest. This interest was evidenced by the turnout and composition of crowds during the tours by the various State Military Governors undertaken at Federal Governments directive to explain to the public the provisions of the Act.

In the Government’s view in connection with the concept of equity and liberalization of opportunity, all Nigerians are collectively owners of all land in the country and the rights of all Nigerians to use and enjoy the land of the country and the natural fruits thereof in sufficient quantity to enable them provided for the sustenance of themselves and their families should be ensured, protected and preserved. Ownership of land per say is irrelevant. What is important is the use to which land is put and no government should abdicate its responsibility in respect of a proper planning of land use within its territory”.

The main purpose of this Decree (Now Act) is to make land available to all, including individuals, co-operate bodies, institutions and governments. The aim of these is to achieve fast economic and social development at all levels, and in all parts of the country, and to minimize the action of the Land Use Act, the then military Governor of Lagos State stated the purpose of the Decree (Now Act) in the following terms:

  1. To remove the bitter controversies resulting at times in loss of lives and limbs, which land is known to be
  2. To streamline and simplify the management and ownership of land in the
  3. To assist the citizenry, irrespective of his social status to realize his ambition and aspiration of owing a place where he and his family will live a secure and peaceful life.
  4. To enable the government to bring under control the use to which land can be put in all part of the country and thus to facilitate planning and zoning programme for particular


Section 14 of the Land Use Act provides that subject to the provisions of the Act and laws relating to way leaves, to prospecting mineral oils or to mining or to oil pipelines and subject to the terms and conditions of any contract made under section 8 of this Act, the occupier shall have exclusive rights to the land against all persons other than the Governor.

On this Uzo (1980), pointed that this can be contrasted with leasehold before the Act in which a lessee can alienate his interest either by subletting, assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession and he has exclusive possession against every body even the landlord. He concluded that the above notwithstanding, the main privilege conferred upon the holder of a right of occupancy is to alienate it provided that the necessary consent is obtained.

Section 21 provides that a customary right of occupancy or part thereof may be alienated by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession or sublease, provided that the approval of the appropriate Local Government Authority is obtained.

Egwummuo (1999), in connection with the above said that, it is difficult to see how a holder of customary right of occupancy can sublease his interest. But a holder of a customary right of occupancy holds an interest that is equivalent to that held under customary law. Therefore he cannot sublease. He will find it very difficult to sublease his right unless he holds it in his individual capacity, otherwise he has to consult the principal members of the family or community.

Again, section 22 provides that the holder of a statutory right of occupancy can alienate his right or part thereof by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sublease or otherwise howsoever provided that the consent of the Governor was first had and obtained. From these wordings, Ezeorah (1985) observed that a statutory right of occupancy cannot be validly alienated unless and until the Governor’s consent is obtained while a customary right of occupancy can be validly alienated if the consent of the Local Government is obtained through the principal members of the family if the person is not the sole owner of the land.






This research adopted the survey research design, seeking to survey the opinion of land operators on the effects of the Land Use Act of 1978 on the rate of land ownership in Enugu Urban as well as its inherent problems. For purposes of data collection some stakeholders on landed matter were involved.


The population of this study consequently included several individuals whose profession deals on the development of property. Such persons include investors in land such as members of Redan (Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria), qualified practicing Land agents and Selected Landlords. The selection of these people was based on the fact that within this period of study, they were engaged in one development or the other. The total population of study was 4650 distributed among the groups as indicated in table 3.3 below.



The data were presented in tables and statistically analysed in this chapter based on the research questions and hypotheses that guided the study.


A total of 368 questionnaires were distributed and 350 of them were correctly filled and returned. This represents 95% of the distributed number. The returned questionnaires formed the basis for the analysis.




The issue of the effects of the Land Use Act of 1978 is important to consider in every state as it functions to regulate Land Use system which eventually affects land ownership. This research work is aimed at analyzing the effects of the Land Use Act of 1978 as measured in terms of ease of accessibility, ease of acquisition and security of title to land for land ownership in Enugu State.

Before the promulgation of the Land Use Act of 1978, it was clearly observed that there was no uniformity in land operation which poses untold difficulty in assessing to land by an average Nigerian. Based on the foregoing the then Head of State set up a committee that itemized four major reasons for the promulgation of the Act. These include:

  1. To remove the bitter controversies resulting at times in loss of lives and limbs, which land is known to be generating
  2. To streamline and simplify the management and ownership of land in the country
  3. To assist the Nigerian individual, irrespective of his social status to realize his ambition and aspiration of owing a place where the citizenry and his family will live a secure and peaceful life.
  4. To enable the government to bring under control the use to which land can be put in all parts of the country and thus facilitate planning and zoning programmes for particular

To these may be added the following implicit objectives:

  1. To reduce the quantum of compensation payable for kind compulsorily acquired by public authorities thereby facilitating the establishment of public projects or development schemes
  2. To make land easily available to the government, government agencies and other public bodies for the performance of their functions
  3. To eradicate completely or reduce drastically the practice of land speculation in the

It follows therefore, that the Act empowers the governor of a state to set up Land Use and Allocation Committee, which however will not be autonomous. Due to this lack of autonomy of committee the government still has a controlling influence over it which works out at the expanse of the general public thereby defeating the general claim of the Act that it is intended to benefit all and sundry. This in turn led to serious insecurity of title to land, difficulty in land acquisition and inaccessibility to land especially to private land investors.

In Enugu State there has been this controversy amongst members of the committee that any application for land from the governor should be treated with urgency as against the necessary process/stages required. This preferential treatment, created a bias in the mind of ordinary citizens who may desire to acquire land for land ownership. The issue of preference to applications of indigenes against non-indigenes has created a serious problem and hindrances to land investors who may not be citizens of Enugu State; which also conflicts with the preamble to the Act that the land of Nigeria should be used by all Nigerians.

Though the preamble of the Act and the objectives enunciated for its promulgation would present a picture of an Act aimed at enhancing the quality of life of all Nigerians through a liberal land policy an unbiased consideration of the overall provisions of the Act would readily reveal that its general intendment is to favour government policies respecting land.

Granting that this observation is true, it can then be said that the Land Use Act has stimulated public land ownership at the detriment of private land ownership.

More so, section 5 of the Act authorizes the governor to grant rights of occupancy in respect of any piece of land (urban or rural) to any person for all purposes. It is observed that, too many responsibilities have been assigned to the governor with the result that it seriously ties down the quick processing of the application brought to him.

Isn Enugu the problem is compounded by the non-delegation of this power to another officer.

Further more, when land is compulsorily acquired for overriding public interest, compensation is supposed to be paid for such land. Prior to the promulgation of the Act, assessment of compensation for land compulsorily purchased was governed by the Public Lands Acquisition Act, 1976 section 15 of the Act states the basis of computing such compensation as follows: –

  1. No allowance shall be made on account of the acquisition being compulsorys
  2. The value of the land, estate, interest or profit shall be fair market value of such land, estate, interest or Open Market Value being such a value of the land if sold in an Open Market by a willing seller to a willing buyer with knowledge of all the disadvantages and advantages to which the land can be put after being properly advertised.
  3. Where part of the land is acquired, the court may take into account any enhancement of the value of the residue by reason of the proximity of any improvements or works made, constructed or to be constructed by the
  4. The court may also have regard, not only to the value of the land, interest, estate or profits to be acquired but also to the damage if any sustainable by the owner by reasons of severance of such land from other lands belonging to such owner or other injurious

It follows that dispossessed landowners are being treated unfairly and unjustly since they will be under- paid.


This study primarily focused on the analysis of the effect of the Land Use Act on land ownership in Nigeria, with Enugu Urban as the case study. It investigated the effects whether positive or negative which the Land Use Act has on land ownership. Based on the analysis of the data collected; the following findings have emerged from the work;

  1. The Land Use Act of 1978 has not enhanced land acquisition for land ownership. It has rather impeded growth of real land ownership by imposing difficulty on the process of acquiring land by an ordinary
  2. The process of accessing land is characterized by procedural delays and red tapism. The process of obtaining access to land beginning from the identification of acceptable site through obtaining Governor’s consent down to the issuance and collection of certificate of occupancy is cumbersome and therefore very expensive. Some times it may take up to two years to achieve; leading to the abandonment of the effort
  3. Based on the cumbersome process of land acquisition, people tend to resort to informal land market which doesn’t guarantee security of title to land and which also encourages fraudulent dealings on land.
  4. Landowners no longer enjoy security of ownership of land in the sense that some mischievous state governors may under section 28 of the Act revoke the right of occupancy of any person under the guise of “public purpose”.
  5. There is inequitable allocation of the available developable land in favour of the well-to-do or the well connected in the society at the expense of the poor who are actually in need of the plots to carry out one or the other types of
  6. The vesting of sole power to the governor to hold in trust for the citizen limited the ease to which a common Nigeria can access to land for land ownership.
  7. That there is inefficient implementation of the Act based on the lack of skilled manpower with required integrity to serve in the land use and allocation
  8. The delay in issuing of certificates of occupancy to applicants makes it impossible for developers to obtain loan from financial institutions which invariably causes delay to the
  9. The limitation imposed on the number of hectarage granted to individual makes it impossible for large estate developers to operate effectively.
  10. The nature and manner of political system has frustrated the efficient implementation of the Act.

Despite antecedent problems created by the Land Use Act of 1978, it was also clearly observed that the Land Use Act has created land consciousness on Nigerians. It grants them a sense of belonging as far as Nigerian Land is concerned. It is also seem that the Act has curbed the activities of the Landed gentries who speculates on land


The study has carried out investigation collected and analysed the data leading to the decision that the Land Use Act of 1978 has retarded the rate of land ownership in Nigeria.

In spite of the sentimentally packed concept in the preamble to the Act to the effect that it is in the public interest the rights of all Nigerians to use and enjoy land in sufficient quantity to enable them to provide for their families was dashed to the ground.

The Nigerian citizens still find it as difficult as before to access to land on which they can erect their shelter. The vesting of land to the hands of the governor has also created insecurity for title to land which also limit the level of land acquisition for a common citizen. It is conclusive to say that the attainment of the co-operate goals of the Act through property provision may never be possible if the operations of the Land Use Act are not committed to proving well planned procedure for their ministry of Lands.

There is undue delay in obtaining consent before ones interest in land can be alienated. These shortcomings and many others incorporated in the Act do not augur well, especially for private property developers. Therefore the operators of the Act should sincerely ensure that the right of every Nigerian to shelter is assured, protected and preserved.


In order that the problems imposed by the Land Use Act of 1978 on the rate of land ownership is solved, we recommend as follows:

  1. There is need for statutory reshaping of the Act to promote people’s access to Land Rights, so as to improve access to land and guarantee effective land ownership.
  2. Some stipulations of the Land Use Act need to be re-visited for a review so as to eliminate ambiguity of expression, resentment as well as rivalry and conflict of authority which causes serious obstruction to the implementation of the
  3. The Act should expressly provide for all the requirements – ownership, control, management, nature of use, and manner of distribution of land among the
  4. Direct State allocation is recommended such that the Act should guarantee access to developable land for those citizens deprived of theirs through the process of revocation of land for public
  5. The management should deploy experienced and well-motivated staff which will provide a conducive environment for identification of weakness in the system of Such arrangement could also assist in reducing the incidence of frauds which is very prevalent in the ministry these days.
  6. A holder of a certificate of occupancy should have exclusive possession against all persons including the governor and his delegates.
  7. The procedure for land acquisition should be made less cumbersome, since this poses great problems to those who seek land for development
  8. Appropriate definite time frame should be fixed as the maximum for the processing, issuance and collection of certificate of
  9. There is need to maintain a stable government in order to enforce a well managed National Development Plan.
  10. It should be made mandatory that such state government should provide annually specified number of serviced plots to be distributed equitably among the cross section of the
  11. Finally, the government should aim at providing adequate planning authority, monitoring and evaluation committee who will serve as a watchdog to the activities of the land operators.



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