Proprietary Land Structure in Nigeria



By Innocent Franklin Makata

Ozoro, Delta State, Nigeria


Dr. Nnamdi Alex Udobi

Awka, Nigeria


In Nigeria, how land is owned and used is complicated. There are different types of rules, both official and traditional, that decide who can use land. This study looks at how people owning land in Nigeria affects how it’s used. By studying laws, history, and current problems, the study wants to find out what issues landowners and investors face. It gives ideas to fix these problems, like changing laws, using computers to keep records of land, making it easier to register land, making sure people can keep their land for a long time, helping people solve problems over land, teaching people about land, and building up communities. Doing these things can help Nigeria get more money invested, make the economy better, have fewer fights over land, give people more chances to borrow money, help the country grow in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment, make things fairer for everyone, and make sure everyone knows what’s happening with land.

Key words: land, proprietary land structure, customary, statutory, freehold, leasehold.


In Nigeria, the way people own land is complicated. There are formal rules, like laws, and informal ones, like traditions, that decide who can control and decide what happens on a piece of land. There are four main types of land ownership: statutory, which follows official laws, customary, which follows traditional ways, freehold, where the owner has total control forever, and leasehold, where the owner or renter has control for a set time. How these systems interact affects how land is used, who can use it, and how the country grows economically and socially. This study looks at how land ownership in Nigeria affects how land is used and how it can help the country grow in a way that’s good for the environment and fair for everyone.

Proprietary land structure refers to a system of land ownership in which private individuals or entities have exclusive rights over a particular plot of land, subject to the laws and regulations of the government. This type of land structure is common in capitalist societies where a high value is placed on private property rights.

According to Hamilton and Madison (1787), the concept of ownership is essential in ensuring stability and security in society. The proprietary land structure provides people with a legal foundation for acquiring, holding and disposing of land as they see fit. Furthermore, ownership allows individuals to benefit from the land either through occupation or by renting or selling it.

The proprietary land structure contrasts with the communal land structure where land is owned and managed by a group or community. In communal ownership, the decision-making process regarding the use and management of land is based on social norms and values. While communal ownership provides a safeguard against land grabbing, it may be less efficient in its use of land resources.

Critics of the proprietary land structure argue that it can lead to inequality in land ownership and use (Piketty, 2014). This can arise because land is a limited resource whose value often increases with time, and a small percentage of individuals or entities can amass large tracts of land, leaving many without access to it.

Historically, land tenure systems in Nigeria were primarily agricultural and based on customary law, which varies according to ethnic groups and regions (Ogunbodede & Osabuohien, 2017). The British colonial government introduced a formal legal framework to regulate land tenure and ownership in Nigeria during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Babalola, 2017). However, this legal framework was influenced by customary law, which continued to coexist with statutory law after Nigeria gained independence in 1960 (Oluseyi & Bolarinwa, 2012).

During the colonial period, the British government introduced the concept of individual land ownership, which had not existed previously in many parts of Nigeria (Akintoye, 2016). This concept was in direct contrast to the customary practices of communal land ownership, where land was owned and used collectively by families or clans (Adegoke & Ojo, 2015). The British colonial government also established a land registration system in Nigeria, but this system was not comprehensive and did not cover all parts of the country (Olaoye, 2018).

After Nigeria gained independence, the government enacted various laws to regulate land ownership, including the Land Use Act of 1978, which is still in force today (Ogunbodede & Osabuohien, 2017). The Land Use Act vests all lands in each state in the government, and individuals can only acquire land through a certificate of occupancy issued by the state governor (Olaoye, 2018). The Act was intended to simplify land transactions and reduce disputes over land ownership, but it has been controversial, and critics argue that it has hindered private investment in land and caused land speculation (Babalola, 2017).

Today, land ownership in Nigeria is still subject to multiple legal systems, including customary law, statutory law, and national law, which can create complex disputes over land ownership and complicate real estate transactions (Oluseyi & Bolarinwa, 2012). While efforts have been made to reform land tenure systems in Nigeria, such as the National Land Policy of 1999, there are ongoing challenges to implementing these reforms and improving land governance in the country (Ogunbodede & Osabuohien, 2017).

The purpose of studying the proprietary land structure in Nigeria is to identify the challenges and issues that investors and property owners face when it comes to acquiring, owning, and using land in Nigeria. The problem is that the ownership of land in Nigeria is complex, with various legal systems, institutions, and regulations governing land transactions. This makes it difficult for individuals and businesses to acquire and develop property, resulting in a lack of investment and economic development in the country. Additionally, there are issues of corruption and fraud in the land sector, making it even harder for legitimate investors to operate successfully. Therefore, the purpose of studying the proprietary land structure in Nigeria is to understand these challenges and identify possible solutions to improve the investment climate for property owners and investors.


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How to cite this paper: Makata, I. F. and Udobi, N. A. (2024). Proprietary Land Structure in Nigeria; PM World Journal, Vol. XIII, Issue VI, June. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/pmwj142-Jun2024-Makata-Udobi-proprietary-land-structure-in-Nigeria.pdf

About the Authors

Innocent Franklin Makata

Ozoro, Delta State, Nigeria


Mr Innocent Franklin Makata holds BS.c, MS.c in Estate Management from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. He is currently a lecturer at Delta State University of Science and Technology, Ozoro, Delta Stat,e Nigeria. He has been published in some reputable journals. Mr. Makata can be contacted at makataif@dsust.edu.ng.


Dr. Nnamdi Alex Udobi

Awka, Nigeria


Dr. Nnamdi Alex Udobi is a Former Head, Department of Estate Management, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka. An Associate Member of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (ANIVS) and a Registered Estate Surveyors and Valuers (RSV). He has published national and international journals. A reader in Estate Management, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka. He is Principal Consultant at Alex Udobi and Company, a firm of Estate Surveyors and Valuers in Nigeria.