Land Law

The Nigerian Land Use Act 1978 Viz Property Acquisition and Revocation


Nigerian society has undergone several changes regarding ownership of land and property. Over several decades in the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial eras several laws were enacted to suit different periods. Land and property acquisition are fundamental human rights enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. Every Nigerian citizen is empowered by the supreme law of the country to own and acquire property.

However, this right is not absolute but subject to certain qualifications as the Land Use Act 1978 has vested control and management of all lands in the hands of the Governor of each State and the Minister in the case of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). A state governor or the FCT minister has the power to allocate land as well as revoke land within their jurisdictions.

The Land Use Act (LUA) 1978 and the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) are instruments governing land law and land acquisition in Nigeria. Prior to the enactment of the LUA, a person’s claim of title to land was absolute, however, with the enactment of the LUA, all lands became vested in the hands of the Governor of each State.

According to Section 1 of the LUA 1978, it provides that, “All lands comprised in the territory of each state in the federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that state and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of this Act.” This implies that the Act has limited the rights of ownership of land in Nigeria.

The Act has removed the radical title and created a proprietary interest in land which is known as the right of occupancy, which is currently, the absolute interest to land a person can be granted. This right of occupancy is limited in duration and defeasible under certain conditions.

Furthermore, the LUA vested the Governor with the power to control and manage all lands in both urban and non-urban areas of the State. The Act went ahead to provide that the Governor has the power to grant a statutory right of occupancy to any person in those areas. However, it will be for a definite term, which is 99 years and it may be granted subject to the terms of any contract entered into by the holder and the Governor.

It is worth noting that areas classified as non-urban areas fall under the management and control of the Local Government, even though the Governor has the overall powers of control and management. The LUA also empowered the Governor to enforce rent on any land and also impose a penal rent for breach of any covenant in a certificate of occupancy requiring the holder to develop or make any improvements of land. The Governor is also empowered by the Act to penalize the holder of a land for any breach of a condition that was agreed upon by the holder at the time of being granted the right of occupancy.

Nevertheless, upon the grant of a statutory right of occupancy to a person, the Governor extinguishes all rights to use and occupy that land for it has now been allocated and the holder enjoys full access and freedom upon that land.

Consequently, even where a landowner is given full access to a land, his rights in relation to his property can still be subject to compulsory acquisition by the governor or the government by revoking any interest in land for overriding public interest. However, to ensure the rights of citizens are not trampled upon, both the Nigerian Constitution and the LUA have provided that no land can be revoked compulsorily unless in a manner prescribed by law, according to section 44 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) and section 29 of the LUA.

This means that there must be payment of compensation and compliance with rule of law on access to the court. According to section 28 of the LUA, the Governor has the power to revoke land for overriding public interest. Overriding public interest simply means the acquisition of land for the use of government to carry out public projects for the benefit of the State. The LUA went ahead to specifically highlight what projects constitute a public purpose.

Therefore, when an occupier’s land or community land is revoked for overriding public interests, projects such as the building of schools, construction of roads, laying of water pipes, such land can be said to have been acquired for public purposes.

Furthermore, the LUA expressly laid down the procedure for a valid revocation. It stated that in the revocation process of a community or individual land by the government, for any overriding public purpose, the revocation must first be signed by an officer authorized for the purpose by the governor. The revocation notice must state clearly the purpose, which can be for a public purpose or breach of condition of grant and such a land cannot be for individual benefit use.

This point was re-emphasized in a Court of Appeal case, Olatunji v Military Governor of Oyo State, where the Court held that the notice to the holder must clearly state the public purpose or combination of purposes for which the land is intended to be used for. The notice will help to enable the occupier of the land to challenge such revocation if need be. The Court went further to stress that it is not enough that the occupier speculates that his land is being revoked for public use, but he must be notified as to why that land is being acquired by the government.

Notwithstanding, for a valid revocation, the notice must be personally served to the person by delivery and it must be shown that he has received the notice or must have been aware of it, i.e. there must be proof of receipt of such notice.

The Court in Olatunji v Military Governor of Oyo State has stated that nothing can waive the requirement of personal notice, therefore publicizing a notice in a newspaper only constitutes notice to the public and cannot be deemed as a substitute for the notice given to the individual owner of the land. And it is only after the receipt of notice does the holder’s title becomes extinguished and, in any case, where it is proven the acquired land is not to be used for an overriding public purpose but for a private purpose, such revocation will be vitiated by that reason.

The final step for a valid revocation is ensuring that the holder is compensated where the revocation is for a public purpose. Therefore, an integral part of the process of revocation is the granting of compensation. Its importance cannot be overemphasized. The two go hand in hand that failure to compensate a holder of a certificate of occupancy can render a revocation null and void.

The Land Use Act 1978 (LUA) in section 29 has provided that the holder and the occupier are entitled to be compensated for the value of their land at the date of revocation of their unexhausted improvements. Likewise, Section 44 of the Nigerian Constitution also provides that no individual land should be acquired without compensation. The LUA like the Nigerian Constitution emphasizes the need for payment of compensation for any acquired land should be made promptly. It is also worth mentioning that compensation can come in the form of resettlement, where a holder agrees to be resettled, it shall be deemed that he has been duly compensated and no further compensation is payable to him. 

In Kaduna State, for example, there have been issues of State versus Community with regards to land and the rights of occupancy in areas around Malali Low-cost Housing Estate. Several landowners around those areas became homeless because of the urban renewal constructions carried out by the Kaduna State Government. Hundreds of families found themselves dislocated because of the government’s action.

However, these dislocated communities claimed they have been living in those areas for many years and felt their rights had been trampled upon. As a result, the State asked for evidence of state allocation, which grants them the right of occupancy, however, they failed to provide such, laying a claim that the land was allocated to them by the local traditional rulers, hence had no evidence to produce. This inability of the communities to provide the certificate of occupancy demonstrated to the State government that they might be illegal occupants which among other things allowed the revocation of their properties and paved way in public interest.

Accordingly, we have reviewed the laws that govern land acquisition in Nigeria. We have identified and analysed the powers of the State on land with regards to acquisition or revocation of property. It can be said that the Governor was within his rights to revoke for the overriding public interest.

However, there are instances where revocation does not attract compensation, that is where revocation is penalized. For example, where a holder or occupier alienates land without the Governor’s consent. Meaning the statutory right of occupancy was not rightfully or lawfully granted to the occupier of the land, or where there is a breach of terms or conditions of contracts or agreement entered with the Governor, or failure to pay rent amongst others. Thus, the communities around the Malali Low-cost Housing Estate have the right to be compensated as their land was revoked for overriding public interest but only if they can provide a valid certificate of occupancy. In this instance, there is no evidence to prove their claim thus, it is within the Governor’s right to revoke without compensation.


In summary, ownership of land is a right enshrined in the constitution. Every person has the right to acquire and dispose of land. However, the promulgation of the Land Use Act 1978 brought about changes that aimed which provide laws on ownership use and development of land. Before the Act, ownership of land was communal, now all lands are vested in the hands of the Governor under his management and control and the power to acquire is subject to the terms given by him, in accordance with the Land Use Act 1978.

The right to acquire land is subject to the powers given to the Governor by the Nigerian Constitution and the LUA. Nevertheless, the Governor can only revoke any interest in land upon the payment of compensation to the holder, where land acquisition is deemed to be unlawful, it shall be within the rights of the holder to successfully challenge the revocation in a court of law.


  1. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)
  2. The Land Use Act 1978
  3. Olatunji v Military Governor of Oyo State (1994) LPELR-14116