Land Ownership rights: When The Government Can Not take Your Land

land ownership rights



Land ownership rights: When can The Government Not take your Land The right to property ownership, such as land, is a fundamental human right. Every adult has the right to own and possess land. While this right is fundamental, the title and possession of land are exclusive, as all land belongs to the governor of the state, who holds it in trust for the benefit of the citizens. Although the powers given to the state by the Land Use Act are not absolute, the constitution specifies a modus operandi and certain conditions that must be present before a person’s ownership of land can be revoked. This article will examine the concept of land ownership rights in Nigeria and its limitations. It will also attempt to answer the question: When can the government not take your land under Nigerian law? This article will use a doctrinal method with reliance on statutes and Nigerian legislation to properly dissect this topic.

Ownership Rights

Land Ownership rights: Individuals above the age of 21 have the right to ownership and possession of land, and no individual has the right to deprive anyone of such ownership. This right to land ownership is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Land Use Act, and other extant laws and legal instruments.


A person enjoys usufructuary rights over land; this is the right to use and enjoy the land without interference by anyone and can bring an action for trespass of land when anyone without authority steps onto your land. A person also has the right to sell or alienate his land, but this is subject to approval by the State Governor.

Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution provides: Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria. This section of the Land Use Act pertains to the right to acquisition of land by every individual of full adult age.

How to Own a Land

Land Ownership rights: Individuals above the age of 21 who intend to own land must first acquire the right of ownership, either through the purchase of the land or by inheritance. In either case, individuals must obtain a right of customary right of occupancy or a statutory right of occupancy. To obtain full legal rights over land, individuals must obtain a certificate of occupancy from the state.

Right of The Government over Lands

Land Ownership rights: All land belongs to the Government of the state. Section 1 of the Land Use Act provides: ‘Subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprised in the territory of each state in the Federation is at this moment 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 per the provisions of this Act.

The Government of the state has been vested with the right to hold land in trust for the benefit of its citizens. However, there have been arguments as to whether this right confers complete ownership of the state governor or the Minister of FCT. In my opinion, this section only supplements the constitution and does not grant absolute ownership rights to the state. The government cannot arbitrarily take over a person’s land, subject to certain conditions which will be discussed as we progress.

When Government Can Take Your Land (Revocation of Licence)

Land ownership rights:  Section 1 of the Land Use Act vests all land under the control of the state governor, and the government has the right to revoke every license issued to landowners under the following circumstances:

Restrictive covenant: The government of the state can revoke the license given to an individual when a restrictive covenant has been breached. A restrictive covenant is a law attached or set regarding a particular piece of land in an area, dictating the purpose of lands in that particular area for better town planning. For example, land meant for residential areas should only allow residential structures and not industries. A person who builds industries in such residential areas may have their license revoked without compensation. Also, a person who decides to build a house in a green area may have their license revoked without compensation.

Minerals and Crude: When minerals and crude are found beneath the land, it is the right of the government to revoke the license given to a person with compensation. This is because the minerals would be tapped for the common good of the people.

Overriding Public Interest: The government of a state has the right to revoke any license given to anyone toward any land where there is an overriding public interest. In cases where the use of the land in question would be for the benefit of the public, the government can take over the land with compensation. For example, if the land is intended for markets, schools, hospitals, roads, etc., the government has the right to take ownership of the land with compensation.

When the Government Cannot Take Your Land

Land Ownership rights: It is established that all land is vested in the government of a state to hold every piece of land in trust for the benefit of the state. However, the government cannot take over your land under certain circumstances. If a person does not build in a restricted area and no minerals or crude have been found under the land in question, the government cannot take over the land or revoke the license of anyone when there is no overriding public interest for which the government intends to take over the land.

For instance, if the government takes over the land and uses it for the same purpose an individual would have acquired it for, the owner of the land can challenge such revocation by the government as invalid. When the government acquires land to build residences for specific members or constructs houses for rent, such purposes do not constitute an overriding public interest, and the revocation and acquisition of the land by the government would fail See Ojukwu v. Lagos State Government.


In conclusion, the right to property ownership, including land, is recognized as a fundamental human right, with individuals above the age of 21 enjoying the right to own and possess land in Nigeria. While the Land Use Act vests all land in the government of a state for the common benefit of its citizens, this authority is not absolute, and specific conditions must be met for the government to revoke land ownership. The examination of land ownership rights in Nigeria reveals that individuals must adhere to legal processes, obtain appropriate rights of occupancy, and secure approval from the State Governor for land transactions. The government’s right to revoke licenses is circumscribed by conditions such as breaches of restrictive covenants, the presence of minerals or crude, and considerations of overriding public interest. Importantly, the government cannot arbitrarily take over land when certain conditions, such as building in non-restricted areas and the absence of minerals or crude, are not met. Therefore, the delicate balance between individual land ownership rights and the government’s authority underscores the complexity of land tenure in Nigeria.



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