Land Ownership in Nigeria is regulated by the Lands Use Act Cap 202 Volume 11 Laws of the Federation, 1990. The law vests ownership of all land within a state (except those vested in the Federal Government or its agent) in the Governor of the state who holds land in trust for the people and allocate same as far as the urban area is concerned, to individuals and corporate entities for residential, commercial, agricultural and other purposes allowed by law. Land located in rural areas is under the control of local government authorities.
Documentary evidence of ownership is called title deeds or title documents. Ownership of land before the Land Use Act was either by settlement, conquest, sale, gift or larches and acquiescence.
With the promulgation of the Land Use Act, ownership acquired by the above methods became extinguished and became vested in the Governor of the state. Freehold interest acquired prior to the Act became convened to leasehold, the Governor becoming the lessor. A lease granted by the Governor is usually for 99 years, subject to review upon expiration. The terms of the lease are, under the Land Use Act, contained in a Certificate of Occupancy (C of 0) granted by the Governor. The C of 0, which is the document of title provided for under the Act, grants a right of occupancy for the leasehold term stipulated therein.
Documents of title obtained and registered at the lands registry prior to the advent of the C of O do not by that fact lose their validity. They remain valid subject to the general condition that freehold interests purportedly conveyed in them have now been convened to leasehold held at the governor’s mercy. Holders of such title documents, usually called a Deed of Conveyance, Deed of Gift etc., are deemed by law to have a statutory right of occupancy over the land.
Even where title to land, prior to the operation of the Land Use Act, is not evidenced by a registered document, or held under customary law, the holders of such title are also deemed to have a statutory right of occupancy. Such title-holders are however at liberty (and advisable) to apply to the Governor for a C of 0 as written / registered evidence of their title to the same.
The Land Use Act does not abolish any prior interest in, or the right of the holder of a title to, land to freely transfer or deal with the same. The only condition imposed on such right is that it is exercisable subject to the consent of the Governor, in line with his ownership thereof. Therefore, in order to validate a transfer of title, the transferor by law (but usually the transferee in practice) must apply for the Governor’s consent to the Deed of Assignment duly executed by the parties. This is followed by stamping at the Stamp Duties office and registration at the Lands Registry.
After endorsement of the Governor’s consent, stamp duty is paid on the document and the same registered at the lands registry. It is worthy of note that the requirements differ from state to state and are subject to review from time to time.