What is Land Use Act: 12 Things Nigerians Should Know

What is Land Use Act 1978 in Nigeria (1)

Understanding the Land Use Act and How it Affects You

Acquiring land in Nigeria is tough and one of the biggest challenges stems from the activities of land grabbers, scam agents and the sheer number of professionals needed to legitimately and successfully acquire one. This brings us to the question, what is Land Use Act? According to Chapter 202 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, the Land Use Act is:

“An Act to Vest all Land compromised in the territory of each State (except land vested in the Federal government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State , who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on Local Governments.(27th March 1978) Commencement.”

What is Land Use Act 1978 in Nigeria (2)

However, we will take a closer look at this act and tell you 12 important things every Nigerian should know about it.

1. The government can seize your land

In Nigeria, the government can seize your land or property without any form of compensation if you do not have a Certificate of Occupancy, C of O. The power to do this rests within the Land Use Act, which reads: “All the rights formerly vested in the holder in respect of the excess of the land shall in the commencement of this Act be extinguished and the excess of the land shall be taken over by the Governor and administered as provided in this Act.”

Olusegun Obasanjo - Land Use Act 1978

2. Which president put the Act into the constitution?

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, takes credit for being the man who made the Land Use Act an integral part of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during the military regime, before he eventually handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari-led Federal Government


3. One problem with the Act

One of the biggest problems around the Land Use Act is the process of acquiring the Certificate of Occupancy from the state governor or the President in the case of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja, who exercises this power through the Minister of the FCT.

As a result of the sensitivity of the document, it has given birth to high-level corruption in the ministry that processes the C of O. In other words, the process has suffered political and social abuse over the years.

In 2016, the Delta State Government reduced the cost of procuring the Certificates of Occupancy from N425,000 to N200,000 per plot of land.

However, the corruption in the process persists and has seen the cost of obtaining this document inflated by self-serving government officials.


4. It is supremely controversial

The Land Use Act remains one of the most contentious legislations in Nigeria today. Although the Act has its merits, quite a number of environment stakeholders have described it as the greatest clog in the wheel of housing development in the country. According to experts, the Act is overdue for a comprehensive review/amendment, which cannot be carried out because of the constitutional requirements for such an amendment.

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5. Moves to amend the Land Use Act have failed

Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of Nigeria was proactive in his attempt to amend/reform the Land Use Act but his efforts proved futile. The frustrations from his attempt to amend the Act was that the Act is part of Nigeria’s statute books (a nation’s laws regarded collectively). Similarly, President Goodluck Jonathan, during his administration, inaugurated another Land Reform Committee but all his effort did not yield the expected results as a direct result of the inherent bottlenecks involved in amending the Constitution.


6. Why experts want the Act pulled out of the constitution

Experts in Nigeria have repeatedly called for the Land Use Act to be expunged from the Constitution to make its amendment more realistic and less cumbersome. They have argued that argued there will be no meaningful growth in the real sector if land continues to be under the firm grips of state governors.

What is Land Use Act 1978 in Nigeria (4)

7. How it makes land expensive

Experts have asserted that Land has become so expensive because unlike in the past, you could buy a piece of land from either the community, an individual or from even a company and you go and register that title at the Land Registry. Once it is registered, it becomes a bankable document.

Today, however, the process has changed. Now, you go and pay the usual fee and you take the document that they give to you and the survey plan to the government who will then issue you a Certificate of Occupancy also known as the C of O.


8. When it all began

The Land Use Act (formerly known as the Land Use Decree) was promulgated on 29th of March 1978.


9. Ironies of the Act

One of the objectives of the Land Use Act was to make land available easily and cheaply, to both the government and private individual developers. However, experts have argued that rather than make land cheaper, the contrary has happened.


10. State governors are responsible for land allocation

Under the Land Use Act, the governor is responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the state or to organisations for residential, agricultural, commercial and other purposes while similar powers with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on the Local Government.

In essence, the act altered the existing land laws in the Southern part of the country by removing corporate groups, families and chiefs from the trusteeship of land and replaced them with the state governors.

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11. How many sections does the Act have?

The Land Use Act is made up of eight parts of fifty-one sections.


12. Four issues addressed in the Act

  • The Land Use Act addresses four major issues, which include
  • The problem of lack of uniformity in the laws governing ownership and land-use
  • The issue of uncontrolled speculation in urban land
  • The question of access to land rights by Nigerians on equal legal basis
  • The issue of fragmentation of rural lands arising from either the application of traditional principles of inheritance or population growth and the consequent pressure on land.


Final thoughts

A better understanding of the Land Use Act gives you a better view of how land ownership works in Nigeria as well as some of the existing challenges in acquiring land in Nigeria.

Do you think the Land Use Act should remain as it is or do you have certain aspects you are uncomfortable with?

Samod Biobaku
A Nigeria-based writer and blogger who has written and edited for top brands including The SUN, Punch, Newswatch, Pulse.ng, Bigsam Media, Nigerian Bulletin, Swish Interativ, Hello Nigeria, National LIFE, iCampus, Jobberman and Cheki.


  1. I believe both the federal and state government, should make the process easy for everyone, so that a lot of people can get the documents on time, all the rigorous procedures be looked into as quickly as possible. Thanks.

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