Navigating Land Ownership Laws in Nigeria: Guide for Investors


In the ever-evolving landscape of real estate investment, Nigeria stands as a land of immense potential and opportunity. However, the path to prosperity in the real estate sector is filled with complexities, particularly when it comes to navigating the complicated system of land ownership laws.

As investors seek to capitalize on the nation’s lucrative property market, it becomes important to comprehend the legal considerations and potential challenges that accompany land ownership in Nigeria. It is worthy of note that this sector hinges not only on recognizing the lucrative potential but also on navigating the legal concepts that define the path to sustainable growth and profitability in this sector




It is an undisputable fact that Nigeria a country with different ethnicities and cultures, boasts of a legal system influenced by a combination of customary, statutory, and case laws. At the heart of Nigeria’s land ownership laws lies the Land Use Act of 1978.

This landmark legislation aimed to centralize land ownership by vesting all lands in a state’s governor, thereby enabling controlled allocation and distribution.


The Act divides land into two categories: urban and rural. Urban land is under the control of the state governor, while rural land belongs to local governments. This distinction influences land ownership rights, transfer procedures, and compensation mechanisms.

When delving into the space of land ownership, it is crucial to recognize the duality of land tenure systems in the country – the customary land tenure system and the statutory land tenure system. There are several laws that guide/regulate real estate dealings in Nigeria. Real Estate in Nigeria is regulated by federal statutes which include the land Use Act of 1978 and land use laws of various states of the federation.

The land use Act of 1978 is the principal law that was enacted for the main purpose of regulating real estate ownership in Nigeria. By the provision of this act, the power to control and administer all lands situated within the geographical area of the state is vested in the Governor of that state for the benefit of citizens.

The Governor has the responsibility of granting a right of ownership of the land to individuals or corporate entities to hold and use the land for a limited-term, and such grant is evidenced by the issuance of a certificate of occupancy or Governor’s consent. By the provision of the land Use Act, it has become unlawful to transfer any interest in land without obtaining the consent of the Governor of the state where the particular land is located.

2.1 The Customary Land Tenure System.

The tradition of customary land tenure is fully entrenched in the Nigerian culture, exerting considerable influence over the space of land ownership. Within this framework, the customary tenure system empowers communities to govern the utilization, ownership, and distribution of land. While its application may not be consistent nationwide, customary laws play a pivotal and important role in shaping land rights.

For any landowner aiming to navigate these intricate systems successfully, a fundamental understanding of local customs and traditions is imperative.

The customary land tenure system, deeply rooted in tradition, governs land ownership in many Nigerian communities. Under this system, land is often owned communally, with families or communities having the right to use the land for farming, residential purposes, or other communal activities.

It is paramount for investors to comprehend the intricacies of each community’s customary laws, as they vary significantly across regions.


2.2 The Statutory Land Tenure System.

In contrast, the statutory land tenure system is grounded in formal laws and regulations. The Land Use Act of 1978 is an important piece of legislation that vests all land in a state in the governor, who holds it in trust for the benefit of all Nigerians. Investors must navigate this statutory framework to secure proper documentation and approvals for land transactions.



There are several laws that guide/regulate real estate dealings in Nigeria. Real Estate in Nigeria is regulated by federal statutes which include the land Use Act of 1978 and land use laws of various states of the federation. For real estate investors, a comprehensive understanding of the legal considerations surrounding land ownership in Nigeria is non-negotiable. Here are key points to consider:


3.1 Title Verification

The need to thoroughly verify the title of the land through the appropriate government agencies to ensure that it is free from encumbrances or disputes cannot be over-emphasized. Engage legal professionals to conduct due diligence on the land title, scrutinizing the authenticity and completeness of the documentation.

3.2 Community Engagement

Investors must recognize the importance of community engagement, especially in areas governed by customary land tenure systems. They must further obtain the consent of the community heads and relevant stakeholders to avoid disputes that may arise due to cultural nuances, rifts and unhealthy rivalry.

3.3 Government Approvals

The need to obtain the necessary approvals and permits from government agencies to ensure compliance with statutory regulations is highly important. The strict compliance and adherence to zoning laws and land use regulations specific to the location of the investment must be carried out by investors.



Despite the immense opportunities in Nigeria’s real estate sector, investors face several challenges related to land ownership. Land disputes are common in Nigeria and can stem from conflicting land rights, boundary disagreements, or competing customary claims.

Resolving these disputes requires a multi-faceted approach that combines legal mechanisms, alternative dispute resolution methods, and community engagement. Proper documentation, including surveys and mapping, can provide valuable evidence in settling disputes and protecting one’s land rights.

4.1 Land Grabbing

Land grabbing remains a prevalent issue, with unscrupulous individuals or groups attempting to forcefully take possession of land. Investors must be vigilant and proactive in securing their investments through legal channels.

4.2 Title Disputes

Title disputes are often arising from ambiguities in documentation or competing claims from multiple parties occur in virtually all land transactions in Nigeria. Engaging legal experts to resolve potential disputes is essential to safeguard investors and their investments.

4.3 Inconsistent Application of Laws

The interpretation and application of land ownership laws may vary from one jurisdiction to another, leading to inconsistency and potential confusion for investors. There is need to Stay informed about local legal practices and seeking professional advice.



Investing in real estate in Nigeria is notorious for the difficulty associated with the entire process. From finding vendors, to verifying the legitimacy of said vendors, etc., prospective investors must ensure that they do due diligence, otherwise, investors risk losing their money to fraudulent individuals, ending up with a bad title to property or even lifelong litigation.

For an evergreen industry, it is not surprising that its traction continues to grow monumentally, especially in mega cities like Abuja, Lagos, port-harcourt, etc. in the past few years, where there has been a bullish growth in the number of real estate investors, both domestic and foreign individual as well as corporate bodies, as population growth continues to heighten, among other economic factors.

As Nigeria’s real estate sector continues to attract local and international investors, a nuanced understanding of the country’s land ownership laws is indispensable.

Navigating the complex landscape requires diligence, legal acumen, and a deep appreciation for the cultural and statutory nuances that govern land transactions. Real estate investors willing to invest the time and resources to master these intricacies stand to reap the rewards of a burgeoning market while mitigating potential legal pitfalls.


About the Author

Israel Adebiyi is an undergraduate student of law at Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti with a penchant for Commercial Law Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property, Human Rights Law and Energy Law. Israel has been able to demonstrate interest in these areas of law through membership in related societies, internships, volunteering and participating in several seminars.

He can be reached via the following mediums: [email protected], 09064005464, biyi_maro@instagram, Adebiyi Israel@Twitter and Israel Adebiyi @LinkedIn

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