Who Can Own Land In Nigeria



Land is one of the most important items in the economy of every country of the world. It is the first thing that comes to the mind of anyone who wants to do business in Nigeria.

In acknowledging the importance of land in the economy of a people, Mr. Raji Fashola , former governor of Lagos state of Nigeria while signing a law to consolidate all laws relating to registration of land in Lagos state of Nigeria on 21/1/15 had this to say about Land “ In our basic economies, land is a very important asset to capital formation, you can’t start a bank, you can’t start a business, you can’t farm, you can’t even extract oil without identifying a particular piece of land or oil well. So it is the basics of capital formation, it is the basics of property; it is the basics of economic well being and basics for job”.

Aligning with the above statement of fact on land, we in Property Advisory Network ( PAN) believe that it is very important to educate potential business persons or investors in real estate who may wish to acquire land in Nigeria on the basic facts about ownership of land in Nigeria because of it’s complexity.

A lot of literature has been written about ownership of land in Nigeria but the focus of this essay is on who can own land in Nigeria.

  • Section 43 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended confers the right of ownership of land to “every citizen” of Nigeria. This simply means that every citizen of Nigeria can own land anywhere in Nigeria. However this right has been qualified by section 7 of the Land Use Act of 1978 which is of the effect that any person below the age of 21 cannot be granted land by the governor of the state unless through the guardian/trustee. Note that the LUA is a part of the Constitution. Some other legislations in Nigeria have also conferred the right of ownership of land to corporate persons and aliens (foreigners).

Therefore for the purpose of informing and educating persons intending to acquire land for the purpose of business and residency in Nigeria, we have to consider ownership of land in the following contest.

  1. What is land?
  2. What constitute ownership of land in Nigeria?
  3. Who can own land in Nigeria (can foreigner own land in Nigeria)?

What is land: Section 2 of the Property & Conveyance Laws of Western Region (1959) defined land as “any tenure, buildings or parts of buildings, (weather the division is horizontal, vertical or made in any other way) and other corporeal hereditaments, also a vent and other incorporeal hereditaments and easement, right, privilege or benefit in, over, or derived from land, but not individual share in land”.

Also the Public Lands Acquisition Law (CAP) 136 Laws of Bendel State defined land as any estate or interest in land. These definitions have been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of AG of Bendel state v P.l.A Aideyan 1989 NWLR (Pt 118) 646. Therefore anyone acquiring land in Nigeria must understand that land includes everything therein.

The next question here is, what constitutes legal ownership of land in Nigeria for the purpose of acquiring land for business and residency. The Supreme Court of  Nigeria in the case of Idudun v Okumgba (1976)  9-10 5C 227  held that there are four ways to prove ownership of land in Nigeria. They include:

  • By Traditional evidence.
  • By production of documents of title.
  • By acts of ownership over sufficient length of time numerous and positive enough to warrant the inference that the person is the owner of the land.
  • By legal possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances rendering it probable that the owner of such connected land or adjacent land world be the true owner of the land.

Therefore for you to prove that you own a land in Nigeria, you must do so by one or all the above circumstances.

However it is important that a person acquiring land  in Nigeria ,(weather a Nigerian or a foreigner) should insist on valid title documents of the land for easier investigation and certifications as government agencies, banks, financial institutions and purchasers will insist on genuine documents of title to the  land in any business transaction.

Who can acquire ownership of land in Nigeria? As already stated , section 43 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended is of the effect that every citizen of Nigeria have the right to own land in Nigeria.

This brings us to the question:

Who is a citizen of Nigeria for the purpose ownership of land? Chapter 3 of the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended has explained the several ways one can be or acquire the citizenship of Nigeria.

What it means is that once you are born in Nigeria or you have acquired citizenship by virtue of the above conditions, you are qualified to own land in Nigeria subject to section 7 of the Land Use Act .It is also important to note that though the constitution did not mention corporate persons ,however section 5 of the LUA has conferred the right of ownership of land to corporate persons (Companies and organizations registered under Company and Allied matters Act 1990 (CAMA).

We now look at the issue of a foreigner: CAN A FOREIGNER ACQUIRE AND OWN LAND IN NIGERIA? The answer is YES, however it is subject to Section 46 of LUA and the Acquisition of Land by Alien Laws of various states of Nigeria and that of Federal Capital Territory. In determining who is an alien for the purpose of  the application of these laws, section 2 of the Acquisition of Land by Alien Law of Lagos State which is in pari materia with other states of the federation is of the effect that  any person who is not a native/indigene of Nigeria or any company or organization registered in Nigeria which the majority shares are not held by Nigerians .Any company that is empowered by any law to acquire land in Nigeria can do so like a citizen weather it is owned by alien of Nigerians. Also any organization which the governor has exempted from the provision of this law can acquire land in Nigeria like a citizen.

As the world is increasingly becoming a global village and trying to close gabs between countries and persons of the world, both in business and private life, we in PAN do feel greatly concerned at the unfortunate restrictions placed on ease of doing business in Nigeria by these laws  which restrict any person from alienating his/her land without the consent of the governor of the state .The Laws that state that foreigners cannot acquire land without the written approval of the state governor and the one that restricts the interest of a foreigner in land to only 25 years subject to renewal .We are calling on the National Assembly to as a matter of urgency consider expeditious amendment of these sections of our laws which is constituting a clog in the wheel of doing business in Nigeria.

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