THE NIGERIAN LAND USE ACT — HISTORY, OBJECTIVES, PROVISIONS AND PROBLEMS

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Land has remained the most important possession in man's life and an important source of wealth and legacy to those who possess it.

Due to its undoubtful importance and its importance to man and his society, every person generally seeks to acquire and own a land.

In Nigeria, to ensure that land is acquired and utilize in a manner that enhances the socio-economic development of Nigeria, the government during and after the colonial periods have enacted various laws to government the use of land in Nigeria.

Prior to the enactment of the land use Act of 1978, Both the north and the south had a different land tenure system. 

In Northern Nigeria, During colonization, the British issued the proclamation of 1900. This allows the British to annex lands in Northern Nigeria.

Following the annexation, the Northern Nigeria Lands Committee was established by the Colonial Government of Northern Nigeria in 1908 to recommend an adequate land tenure system for the region.

Based on the committee’s report, The Land and Native Rights Proclamation was enacted in 1910The Lands and Native Rights Ordinance of 1916 eventually replaced the land and Native Rights proclamation.

The Lands and Native Rights Ordinance of 1916 was repealed after Nigeria's independence and replaced by the Land Tenure Law cap 59 laws of Northern Nigeria 1963.

This statute designated all land in the northern region as Native land, and these native land have two recognized titles, viz:

1. The customary title of a native or native community using or occupying landed  These are defined in the law as Customary Right of Occupancy

2. The statutory title granted by the permanent secretary or by a public officer or Native authority Under the provisions of the law to any person. These are defined in the law as Statutory Right of Occupancy

While the North has a uniform land tenure system, there was no uniform land tenure system in the south.

This is due to the fact that different clans and tribes in the south operated different land tenure systems, which mostly withstood colonialism.

The fundamental idea of this diverse land tenure system was private ownership of land, where land was owned by private people, families, and communities.

This land was not in any way subject to superior control unless the occupier had a lower title such as a tenant or customary tenant.

The government only possessed direct proprietary control over a tiny number of areas it had bought for its own use.

Land could only be obtained by negotiating with numerous land-owning families, groups, or individuals. In other words, Land was View as an instrument that can be traded at any time and individuals, families, communities are free to sell, mortgage or lease the land

While the radical title of land was vested in its numerous owner, the government may sometimes acquire land compulsorily through the Public Lands Acquisition Laws applicable in the various States of southern Nigeria.

When this happened, the former owners were compensated, and the land was used for public purposes.

Despite the existence of laws governing land, the issues of land tenure and administration persisted in both Northern and Southern Nigeria.

New issues arose, such as land swindling and speculation as Landowners requested exorbitant compensation whenever the government purchased land for development.

This makes it very difficult for the government to acquire land needed for economic development.

Indeed, Lack of land for development projects was identified as the major stumbling block against the efficient implementation of the Second Development Plan 1975-1980.

To solve these problems, The federal Military Government set up some panels to look into this issues and the report of one of the panels (the land-use Panel of 1977) was used to draft the Land Use Act No. 6 of 1978.

The Land Use Act Of 1978

The Land Use Act, also known as Decree No. 6 of 1978, was enacted by the military administration and went into effect on March 29, 1978.

It is the main piece of legislation that governs land tenure in Nigeria today. The Act effectively nationalized all lands in Nigeria and entrusted their administration to state and local government committees.

Objectives Of The Land Use Act

1. To bring about structural change in the land tenure system

2. To reduce unequal access to land and land resources

3. To streamline and simplify the management and ownership of land in Nigeria

4. To assist every citizen, regardless of social position, in realizing his or her dream of owning a home where he or she and their family can live in safety. 

5. To reduce the high cost of land required for industrial estates and mechanized agriculture

6. To facilitate the economic and social development of the Nigeria economy through efficient use

7. o prevent the purchase of communal land on the basis of speculation

8. To put an end to customary land ownership, which has been a roadblock to national development programs.

Notable Highlights Of The Provisions Of The Land Use Act

1. The Act distinguished between two lands: Urban lands and non-urban (rural) lands

2. All urban lands (excluding those vested in the Federal Government or its Agenciesin each state are under the administration and management of the governor. That is, the governor of each state in the federation owns all urban lands within the state.

He is to hold the land in trust for the people and distributes it to persons and organizations for a variety of purposes, including residential.

3. The Land Use and Allocation Committee (LUAC), which is appointed by each state governor, is to advise the governor on matters relating to the administration of urban lands such as resettlement of persons affected by title revocation, and the resolution of disputes over the amount of compensation payable for land improvements.

4. Rural lands (non-urban lands) are to be administered and manage by the chairman of the Local government. He is to hold in trust for the people

5. The Land Allocation Advisory Committee (LAAC) is to advise the local government chairman on matters relating to the administration and management of Land

6. It gave the State governor the right to grant Statutory Right of Occupancy to anyone for any reason on all lands (urban and rural) and this grant may include easement, appurtenance and demand for rentals (at specified intervals

7. It also gave the governor the right to levy rent for violation of conditions linked to subsequent transactions on allocated lands (i.e. sale in part or whole, mortgage, transfer, sublease or bequest) without the Governor’s prior approval.

8. The government also has the authority to extend the time required of any holder of a Statutory Right of Occupancy to perform any of the conditions attached in the statutory Right of Occupancy.

9.  It allows the Local Government Chairman to grant Customary Right of Occupancy over nonurban areas for agricultural (maximum 500 hectares), grazing (maximum 5000 hectares), residential, and other purposes to any individual or organization. Except for the Governor, he has this right only against other people.

10. The Governor is empowered to waive or reduce the rent on the Statutory Right of Occupancy in the public interest.

11. The Act also gave the Governor the authority to grant any person a license to enter unencumbered land (not exceeding 400 hectares and subject to other conditions) and remove or retract construction materials such as stones, gravel, or clay for a specific period of time.

12. Alienation of a Statutory Right of Occupancy in any form is only permissible with the Governor's assent.

For emphasis, Any alienation without the Governor's consent is considered an offence and may result in the revocation of the Right of Occupancy.

13. For reasons of great public interest, the Governor may withdraw a Right of Occupancy (Statutory or Customary) with due notice.

14. The holder or occupier of a revoked property is entitled to compensation equal to the worth of their unexhausted improvement, crops, or economic trees at the time of revocation.

15. Apart from farmlands under fallow from the date of the Decree, all unused or vacant land belongs to the State Government and not to any individual or group.

16. It allows the government to acquire all land that was in use before and after the Land Use Decree for the overriding public interest through revocation of the Right of Occupancy.

Problems Of Land Use Act

While it was hoped that the Land Act of 1978 would bring dramatic and revolutionary changes to Nigeria's old land tenure arrangements, it is unfortunate that more than three decades later, it has yet to accomplish its goals

Some of the problems associated with the land use act are:

1. Even though the act provided for the payment of compensation to owners of revoked land, Compensation paid by state governors are unreasonably inadequate.

The general rule is to pay the landowner an amount equal to the fair market value. However, the government has continue to paid less than that.

2. The requirement that the state governor consent before any transfer of Statutory right of occupancy can be effected is cumbersome and stressful especially when you consider the bureaucratic procedures one has to go through to obtain such consent

3. It has not eliminated land speculation as the cost of land has continued to rise even more astronomically.

4. It vested too much power on the governors that they often misuse the powers. For example, we see governors revoking the certificates of occupancy of political adversaries or refuse to grant them to those who do not share their political vision.

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5. It appears to be slowing down the economic development of the Nigerian economy as businesses and individuals who required credit facilities from financial institutions may not be able to obtain it.

This is due to the fact that the use of land covered by Certificate of Occupancy as collateral security required ''the governor consent'', which means that you passed through all kinds of administrative bottlenecks.

6. Also problematic is its ambiguity on improvement as there is no concise definition of what constitutes an improvement.

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