Nigerian Land Use Act Of 1978: Everything You Need To Know

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Land is Nigeria’s major national asset, the basis of the country’s technological, social, and economic development. Because of the importance of land to Nigerians, the ‘land question’ involves several crucial issues such as the use to which land is put, the nature and categories of land users, and the nature of rights exercised. 

This has got me thinking, what is Land Use Act? And how does it fit into all things concerning Land in Nigeria?

“The Land Use Act formerly called the Land Use Decree is a law that vests all land comprised in the territory of each state solely in the Governor of the state who would hold such land in trust for the people and would therefore be responsible for the allocation of all land in all urban areas to individuals residing in the state and to organizations for residential agriculture and commercial purposes and other purposes.” 

While all other lands in non-urban areas shall subject to this Act and be under the control and management of the Local Government of the area in which the land is situated.

What brought about the Land Use Act in Nigeria?

The Land Use Act (No 6) of 1978 was promulgated by General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime on 29 March 1978. This decree was made part of the Nigerian constitution before the handover to the civilian Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and therefore became an Act.  

It is by far the most reaching and controversial legislation in Nigeria passed as an attempt by the Federal Military Government to try to correct some of the problems with the existing land tenure regimes in the country, to provide the country with a uniform land tenure system, and to ensure equitable and secure access to the utilization of land and land resources in the country. Thus energizing the nation’s economic development.

Some believe the Land Use Act was borne out of the necessity to control the difficulties confronted by the government when acquiring land for development purposes, especially in urban areas.

 Aim of the Land Use Act

The Aim of the Act are as follows:

1. To promote the rapid socio-economic transformation of the country through rational land use;

2. To ensure that state Governments administer the land for the benefit of their people;

3. To bring an end to artificially high land prices as a result of the activities of speculators rampant in the urban areas;

4. To accelerate economic development by making it easier for State Governments and their people to gain access to land.

5. To eliminate the leading cause of socio-economic inequality,

6. The primary objective of this act was that “all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Military Governor of that State and such land’ shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians.” 

What are the Implications of the Land Use Act?

  1. The implication of this act affects only landowners. Landowners need to acquire a Certificate of Occupancy, generally known as C of O, which the State Governments of the land will issue as evidence of a right of occupancy. This right of occupancy is granted to individuals to occupy, develop and use the ground for a period not exceeding 99 years.

This means all the rights you have for this land are a lease, which just means the government may take your land anytime.

Although the Land Use Act states that land use must not exceed 99 years, the Act does not specify if a Certificate of Occupancy granted can be renewed after the expiration of the 99-year leasehold. Leaving the Governor with the option to continue or not. 

  1. The Land Use Act empowers the state Governor or the Local Government to revoke a right of Occupancy if your land is needed by the Federal, State, or Local Government for the Public Purpose of the country.
    According to the Land Use Act, in the case whereby a right of Occupancy is revoked, the occupier ad the holder shall be entitled to compensation for the value as the land was cancelled.

The compensation as provided by the Land Use Act shall be in respect of the following;

  • The land for an amount equal to the rent, if any, paid by the occupier during the year in which the right of occupancy was revoked.
  • Building, installation, or improvement for the amount of the replacement cost of the building, structure, or improvement thereon.
  • Crops on the land excluding any building, installation, or improvement thereon for an amount equal to the value prescribed and determined by the appropriate officer.

In a situation whereby a developed residential building was revoked according to section 33 of the Land Use Act, the Governor has the discretionary right to offer resettlement instead of compensation. And If a person accepts resettlement, his right to compensation will be considered to have been fully satisfied, and no further balance shall be paid to such person. This only implies that the State Governors may have unlimited power over the land use.

  1. An individual is entitled to no more than a half hectare (1.25 acres) of undeveloped land within a State. However, in rural areas, the country’s customary grant of land is limited to 5,000 hectares for grazing and 500 hectares for agricultural purposes.
    The Act’s provisions limit an individual’s continued interest in undeveloped urban land to a half hectare in any state. Still, no limit was placed upon the restricted area of developed land by an individual or upon the size of undeveloped land. It is doable for an individual to have a half hectare of undeveloped land in any one of Nigeria’s thirty states and the Federal Capital Territory.

What are the problems with the land Use Act?

The Land Use Act remains the most controversial legislation in Nigeria. The Land Use Act has reportedly failed to meet its objectives. It is said to have caused many distortions to the land rights and access to the land of Nigerians resulting in many experts suggesting that the act should be overviewed.
In contrast, others have even been told that this act should be removed from the Constitution. Some of the problems are;

1. The main problem with the Land Use Act in Nigeria is that land has become very expensive. Unlike in the past, you could buy a piece of land from either the community or an individual and register the title at the land registry.
The process has, however, changed today. Now you have to 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. 

2. Delay in land Acquisition: The acquisition of land by individuals and corporate bodies for commercial and economic development purposes has been extremely difficult due to the Land Use Act. The government’s approval, among other reasons from the Land Use Act, results in the delay in making land accessible to an average Nigerian.

3. Abuse of Office: Another fault of the Land Use Act is in the transfer of title and ownership of land from individuals and communities to the Governors’ who hold the ground in trust, but many of whom have been known to have misused the power and privileges conferred on them by the Act.
Section 22 requires acquiring the 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.

4. The Act makes it unlawful for any holder of a statutory right of occupancy granted by the Governor to alienate such right or any part thereof by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sublease, or otherwise without the consent of the Governor first had and obtained.

In case of unauthorized transfer of interests in the land among living persons, rights of Occupancy are revoked, but getting the consent of the Governor is filled with administrative hold-up, financial burden, and delays, and even in some cases, political interference.

5. The most problematic question for the Land Use Act is a lot of loopholes. These loopholes are used by a lot of people who understand the legislative principles. Therefore, you can see many examples where people have the same piece of land bought from the same scam agency. 

Impact of the Land Use Act on Nigeria’s real estate economy

1. The Land Use Act introduces a land tenure system restriction that brings the government control over the use into which land can be put in all parts of the country, thus facilitating or formulating programs for a particular service.
The act succeeded in removing better controversies that land acquisition/ transfer has generated in Nigeria. Initially, the act eliminated land speculations, but today has encouraged investors who cause artificial scarcity of land for investments.

2. For the smooth running of uniform management and ownership of land in the country, the land use act imposed taxes on land, thereby restricting prospective investors.

3. Another one is that it hinders the ethnic estate management profession in compensation, rating, and probate by dictating their valuation processes. By either overestimating or underestimating the values of properties. When it comes to payment, valuations are dictated.

This provision drains off any choices or freedom a landowner may have over his property except the one dictated by the mountains of authorities, which he unavoidably has to deal with.

4. The result of this Act is that the land cost continues to rise big time, and land speculation has become even more common than previously.

The land has continued to be accumulated in the hands of the private rich few who have the money to acquire them. Alongside, the harsh economy of the country with the rising cost of living has put Nigerians in a severe predicament such that People who possess land through inheritance, previous purchase, or family or communal allotments are more likely to sell them to meet immediate survival needs.

Thus, the rich continue to accumulate more and more land to the detriment of the poor. The situation has been complicated by political interference in almost all public affairs and institutions. This has resulted in a case where sitting governors revoke the certificates of occupancy of political adversaries or refuse to grant them to those who do not share their political vision.

At the same time, in some cases, grants of rights of occupancy have been made to political allies and associates of the Governors, even against the tenets of the Act.

It is no wonder then that, after more than three decades of operating the Land Use Act, few of its set objectives could be said to be accomplished, and the Act has neither generated the anticipated economic prosperity and equality of access to land for Nigerian nor the desired economic development that it was hoped to usher in.


The Land Use Act so far has not caused any economic development. Most of the stated aims of the Act are being undermined, and the rural people are not seen as feeling the impact of the Act since they still acquire rural lands through the agelong practices (Buying Land from individuals).

For any law or Act to have a full effect on the general population, it must be free from loopholes and easy to adhere to by the ordinary person. So many people are clamouring for the government and lawmakers to look into the Land Use Act and address all the possible faults there. 

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