Introduction/Historical Evolution of Land Law In Nigeria







  • Introduction
  • Introduction Evolution Of Land of Law
  • Land Legislation of Southern Nigeria
  • Land Legislation of Northern Nigeria
  • Reference







The Introduction and historical evolution of land law in Nigeria. Land Tenure could also be outlined loosely as the body of rules that governs access to land and therefore the relationship between the holder of land and therefore the community on the one land and or that between the holder and another party having a superior title. this is Introduction of Land Law in Nigeria.

The interests which will be had inland is so outlined, delaminated and explained within the framework of the Land Tenure System. Introduction and historical evolution of land law in Nigeria


As a result of it’s framed among the community involved, the land tenure is sort of community-specific and is often set by the socio-economic lives of the individual community that in flip is formed by the customs, economic, political and social realities of the community.
Therefore, generally, Land Tenure is invariably community-specific, and the Land Tenure System of one community might not be simply imported or adapted by another unless they need similar customs and socio-economic beliefs:

Before the appearance of the British Government in 1861, the sole recognizable system of land Tenure within the geographical region currently called Nigeria was the Customary land Tenure System. This was the solely familiar native system of land tenure. It is a system of accepted apply amongst the individuals, well recognized and enforced and regarded as “a mirror of accepted usage”

See Owoniyun v Omotosho (1961) 1 All NLR 304
Kindey and ors v Military Gov’ of Gongola State & Others (1988) 2 NWLR (pt 77) 445. This customary system of land tenure is all clench and it defines the rights, privileges, interests and title which will be enjoyed toward land under customary law.

The system although had to create means for contemporary influence particularly the introduction of a system of weights and measures of land tenure and legislative amendments in the main because of the failure of the customary land tenure to accommodate the growing economic and political developments in the country.

It is still for the most part recognized as the law governing land holdings amongst the folks that hold their land subject to the customary land tenure. In impact in spite of the two main great influences on the customary land tenure i.e. Received English laws and native legislation, the customary land tenure still governs the interests toward land control by the individuals that agree or hold land subject to Native Law and Custom.


As we tend to explain higher than, land tenure may be a legal development as a result of they furnish impact to and mirror the social and economic, typically political demands and perspective of the community involved. The land tenure system could within the long run determine or hinder the event of the state or nation as a result of it’s the solely regulation on land use and organic process activities on land.


However, in the Federal Republic of Nigeria apart from the legislation (which can be mentioned below), there’s no major all-encompassing law controlling land use in Nigeria till the Land Use Act 1978. Olawoye blames the poor performance of the economy, the lack of the country to feed itself, the lack of each the general public and the private or non-public sectors to offer sufficient shelter for the people, even inflationary trends within the economy in very major respect on the system of land tenure. (C.O. Olawoye, “Statutory shaping of land law and land administration up to the Land Use Act” Unilag 1978).

To own a much better understanding of this position of the law, it’ll be necessary to try to survey the assorted legislative interventions until the Land Use Act of 1978.


The Foreign Jurisdiction Acts, 1896 to 1913 the British Government assumed powers to pass on Nigeria. consistent to the present, British Government published the Interpretation Act, Cap 89, Laws of the Federation and Lagos By Section 45 of the Act, Th English Common Law, the doctrines of Equity and therefore the statutes of general application that were in force in England on the 1 January 1900 were in force in Lagos in so far because the limits of the native circumstances allowable and subject to Federal Law.


Statute of general application has been explained to mean, all laws that were in force in England as of 1900. Therefore, Section 45 of England Law of the property was applicable in Nigeria, subject to the exception contained within the section.

It follows that England common law rules regarding land tenures, disposition of property, estates inheritance, perpetuities and variety of others are applicable in Nigeria, this can additionally include doctrines of equity including construction of wills, establishment and settlement of land, legal and equitable estates and interests in land and therefore the doctrines of notice.

The subsequent statutes have been controlled to be a statute of general application in Nigeria, they include the statute of Frauds 1677, the wills Act, 1837, Limitation Acts of 1882; Real Property Act 1845, the Partition Act 1868, the Conveyancing Act 1881, the Settled Land Act 1882 and therefore the Land Transfer Act 1887.


See Young v Abina (1940) vi W.A.C.A. 180; Apatira v Akande (1944)17

NLR 149; Lawal v Younan (1961) 1 All NLR 245; inexperienced v Owo (1936) 13 NLR

43; Niki Tobi, Cases and Materials on Nigerian Land Law, Mabrochi Books,

1992, 2.

Following the colonization of Lagos by the British Government and therefore the King Docemo of Lagos entered into a Treaty transferring all land in Lagos to the British Government. Article 1 of the Treaty provides as follows;

I Docemo, do with the consent and advice of my council, give, transfer, and by these presents grant and ensure into the Queen of Great Britain, her heirs, and successors forever, the port and Island of Lagos, with all the rights, territories and appurtenances whatsoever thereto belonging.

After this Treaty, a series of Legislations were enacted by the colonial government to confirm total management of all lands in Lagos and surround between the years 1863 and

Commissioners were appointed to work out verity and rightful owners of the land among the framework of the Lagos settlement. The commissioners suggest the difficulty of Crown Grants. With the increase in population particularly thanks to the flow of non-indigenes and foreigners several came to settle down in Lagos, and also the increasing quest for land for developmental process functions, the colonial government passed the Ikoyi Land Ordinance of 1908 that declared certain lands as crown lands.


In 1939, in spite of the sooner attempts to settle the issues arising toward land at that point, the government-appointed Sir Merryn Tew as Commissioner to hold out a comprehensive investigation on the matter. He later suggested the government and suggests the passing of the following laws, Grown Grants (Township of Lagos) ordinance, No. 18 of 1947, and the Arotas (Grown Lands) ordinance, No19, 1947, the Epetedo Lands Ordinance, No. 20, 1947 and also the Glover Settlement Ordinance, No.21 of 1947. These ordinances affected Land Use and Customary land tenure in terribly vital ways in which.

See Ajibola v Ajibola (1947)18 NLR 125; Glover & Anor v Officer
Administering the Government of Nigeria (1949)19 NLR 45 Niki Tobi op.cit

What is Public Ownership of Land in Nigeria?

Public Ownership of Land

One of the earliest legislation introduced by the Colonial Administration is addressing the acquisition of land for public functions. The primary of such legislation was the general Public Lands Ordinance of 1876 later re-enacted as Public Lands Acquisition
1917. The Act authorized the government. to amass land obligatorily for public functions subject to the payment of compensation to the landowner. The land non-inheritable becomes state (formerly crown) land, and thus becomes the property of the state.


This strategy helps the government to free the land from the prevailing customary land tenure that restricts the land ownership and holding strictly to the family and communal and hardly individual. In a result that land required for developmental process functions should be obligatorily noninheritable by the government for this purpose. The state Lands Acts or Laws authorized the government to grant leases of state Land to private people. The title of such grants is thus free from any communal claims. (see Olawoye op.cit).

Some Ordinances were passed to acquire land to be used of state and personal developments, these embody Native Lands Acquisition Proclamation 1900, the Native Lands Acquisition Proclamation 1903, the Grown Lands Management Proclamation, 1906, as amended, the Native Acquisition Ordinance 1917, the Niger Lands Transfer Ordinance 1916 and the Crown Ordinance 1918. In 1935, the Registration of Title Act of that year was enacted. This act provided for the registration of land instruments recognized below the Act, Land Registration Act Cap 99 additionally the Registered Land Act 1965 was also enacted for the aim of registration of titles to land. Introduction of Land Law in Nigeria

In 1958 the State Lands Act Cap 45 was enacted that unconditional the owner of all public lands within the state. within the Western Region, the Region enacted the Property and conveying law, Cap 100, alternative laws square measure Land Instruments Preparation Law cap. 55, Land Instruments Registration Law, cap 56, Administration of Estates Law, Cap. 2, Public Lands Acquisition Law, Cap 105, Registration of Titles Law Cap. 57, Native Lands Acquisition Law Cap. 80, Recovery of Premises Law, Cap 110.

Within the Eastern Region, the Land Tenancy Law 1935 was enacted. Others embody Acquisition of land by Aliens Law, 1957, Land Instrument Registration Law 1963, Land Instrument Preparation Law, 1963 and Recovery of Premises Law, 1963.


Before 1900, space later considered the Northern Federal Republic of Nigeria was administered by the Royal Niger Company by the charter of the British Government.


The company had throughout this amount noninheritable all the land on either side of the Rivers Niger and Benue. On the declaration of the protectorate, the government took it over and it was regenerate to Grown Lands.


Secondly, having conquered the Fulani who were the ruling tribe within the North, all lands that were being administered by them were confiscated by the British Government. The land, therefore, confiscates from the Fulani Emirs was classified as Native Lands.

The excellence between Grown Lands and Native Lands was that whereas acres were unconditional within the Governor in trust for Her majesty. Public Land was unconditional within the Governor in trust for the people. Series of legislations were enacted to result from this basic charges.


Crown Lands Proclamation 1902 was Associate in a Nursing agreement between Sir Federick Lugard and representatives of the Royal Niger Company below that all lands, rights and easements were unconditional within the High Commissioner for the present in trust for His majesty.

This was followed by the Niger Lands Ordinance of 1916 to the dominion. A committee was later got wind of in 1908 to assist contour and suggest the suitable sort of land tenure to be adopted within the Northern Federal Republic of Nigeria. The committee concluded that the total of the land within the Northern protectorate ought to be unconditional within the Government in trust for the natives which no title to the utilization and occupation of land was valid while not the consent of the government.


This crystal rectifier to the land and Native Rights Proclamation 1908 being re-enacted with amendments by the land and Native Rights Ordinance of 1916.

The aim of the Ordinance was explicit to be to guard and preserve the proper of the natives to the utilization and delight of the land of the dominion and also the natural fruits hence in enough amount for the sustenance of themselves and their families, however, the aim was to facilitate the straightforward dispossession of the natives from their land if and once the land was required for alternative functions. (see Olawoye op.cit).


Therefore, this was the position till the Land Tenure Law 1962 was enacted by the Northern House of Assembly. This Law primarily re-enacted the1916 Law with some amendments.

The availability that no occupation while not the consent of the Governor was valid was amended to visit occupation by non-natives, and also the power of the Governor became unconditional within the minister (later commissioner) accountable for land matters.

The interest that a private individual might have inland is a right of occupancy. The right of occupancy might be statutory or customary. The statutory right of occupancy was one granted by the Governor whereas the customary right of occupancy is one derived by force of customary law.


It was outlined because the right of a native or a native community lawfully occupying land beneath native law and custom. The law forbids alienation of a statutory right of occupancy while not the consent of the Governor. The law makes a distinction between natives and non-natives wherever the alienation was to a native, the alienation is unlawful, however not void, however wherever a non-native cares then the alienation is void.

A native was outlined within the law as someone wherever father belonged to a tribe in Northern Nigeria. different Nigerians and aliens are classified as non-natives and are so subject to an equivalent degree of discrimination.


Various Decrees and edicts we tend republished throughout the military government moving land in Nigeria we shall mention a few of these legislations. The Federal Military Government in response to public outcry published the Rent management Decree No. 15 of 1966; this Decree was repealed by the Rent management (Repeal) Decree No. 50 of 1971.


The impact of this Decree on the soaring rents within the country was uncertain. The Requisition and different Powers Decree, No. 39 of 1967 was published to empower Army and Police to requisition land and different property throughout the amount of the emergency.


The Decree was amended in 1975 to form the central and state compensation committee to deal with matters of compensation. This was followed by the state lands (compensation) Decree No. 38, 1968, that deals with problems with compensation in respect of land noninheritable by the state. it had been repealed in 1976 by the general Public Lands Acquisition (Miscellaneous Provisions) Decree No.33 of that year.
In 1977, to any contour the varied enactments and land tenure systems existing in Nigeria, the Military Government discovered the Land Use Panel with the subsequent terms of reference: –

(a)          To undertake an associate in-depth study of the varied Land Tenure, Land Use, and land conservation practices within the country, and advocate steps to be taken to contour them,
(b)          To check and analyse all the implications of uniform land policy for the entire country.
(c)            To look at the feasibleness of identical land policy for the complete country and create necessary recommendations and propose tips for implementation;
(d             To look at steps necessary for dominant future Land Use and conjointly gap and developing new land for the wants of Government and Nigeria’s population in each urban and rural areas and to create an acceptable recommendation.

So, panel’s report led to the promulgation of the Land Use Act of 1978, that was later provided for within the constitution of Nigeria 1989. Section 326(5) thereof.

For More…



  1. C.O. Olawoye, 1981 Statutory Shaping of Land Law and Land Administration up to the Land Use Act, National Workshop on the Land Use Act, 1978 held on May

25, 1981 at the University of Lagos.


  1. Niki Tobi, 1992, Cases and Materials on Land Law, Mabrochi,

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