The Land Use Act of 1978 is made up of eight parts of fifty-one sections. It addresses four important issues arising from the former land tenure systems in Nigeria: the problem of lack of uniformity in the laws governing land-use and ownership; the issue of uncontrolled speculation in urban land; the question of access to land rights by Nigerians on equal legal basis; and the issue of fragmentation of rural lands arising from either the application of traditional principles of inheritance and/or population growth and the consequent pressure on land. It approaches these issues via three related strategies: the vesting of proprietary rights in land in the State; the granting of usufructuary rights in land to individuals; and the use of an administrative system rather than market forces in the allocation of rights inland(Uchendu 1979:71; Francis 1978:12).
In the discussion that follows, the structure of the Act will be followed. The General principles of the Act state that: subject to the provisions of this Decree, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Military Governor of the State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians. (Nigeria Land Use Act 1978: Part 1: A. 49).
By this provision, the Act altered the existing land laws (particularly in the Southern part of the country) in three fundamental ways: it removed corporate .groups, families and chiefs from the trusteeship of land and replaced them with the State governor; individual interests in land which have expanded with economic development arising from the ‘oil boom’ are now one of occupancy and therefore fall short of the plenary. Consequently, the community’s alloidal interests in land are denied or frozen: and the Act broke up local sovereignties and merged them into a single sovereign (Uchendu 1979). In part I titled ‘General,’ apart from the vesting of all land in the State, the Act also distinguishes between two types of land – urban and other lands (presumably rural lands).
While urban lands were placed under the control and management of the Governor of the State with a ‘Land Use and Allocation Committee’ as an advisory body, on the other hand, ‘other lands’ were placed under the control and management of the Local Government in which the land is situated with ‘the Land Allocation Advisory Committee’ (Land Use Act 1978: Sections 2(1 )a and b). Two radical changes flow from Part 1 of the Act. The legal statusof the Nigerian land user becomes that of statutory occu- pancy, not one of ownership’; and the economic interests and benefits of ‘statutory rights of occupancy are severely limited by law since proprietary interests in land are lost and claims are restricted to improvements made on the land.
For the interim management of land, the Act provides that the land tenure law of Northern Nigeria or the State law of Southern Nigeria shall have effect with modifica- tions as will bring these laws in conformity with the Act under review. Furthermore, in Part II of the Act, which introduces the new land tenure law, distinctions are made between statutory and customary rights of occupancy leading to the changing of the traditional system or rules of inheritance to land.
Finally, the new tenure system introduced is not only contrac- tual but also a dependent type of tenure. While the Governor is empowered to grant statutory rights of occupancy within his State, the Local Governments may grant customary rights of occupancy essential- ly for agricultural purposes. The grant, however, may not exceed 500 hectares if used for agricultural purposes or 5,000 hectares if used for grazing. Part III of the Act deals with rents, its provisions being dictated by two important policy issues: the political necessity to remove land from market speculation and the economic imperative of ensuring that available land is ‘not banked but used productively’ (Uchendu 1979:79).
However, in Part IV (A.55), the Act prohibits the alienation by either ‘assignment, mortgage, transfer or possession, sub-lease or otherwise, of custom- ary right of occupancy’ without the consent of either the Governor or the Local Government as the case may be. It also prohibits the alienation of statutory right of occupancy without the due consent of the Governor (Land Use Act, 1978: section 21 subsections a and b).
Section 26 of the Act states that any transaction in land which purports to confer on, or vest in any persons, any right or interest over land other than as stated in the Act, shall be ‘null and void.’ The Act (in Part V) empowers the Governor to revoke rights of occupancy for reasons of overriding public interest: such as alienation of the land by the occupier without due approval, requirement of the land by Federal, State or Local Government for public purposes. In such cases, compensation may be paid but only for ‘unexhausted improvements’ on land and not for the land itself since with the Act, land no longer has an economic value.
Furthermore, a breach of any of the provisions of the Act or a refusal or neglect to accept and pay for a certificate issued as evidence of a right of occu- pancy could lead to one’s land being expropriated (Land Use Act 1978: section 28, sub sections 1, 2 (a) and (b), 3 (d) and 5 (a, b and c). It is important to note that the provisions of the Land Use Act of 1978 have been enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This implies that the provisions of the Act cannot be amended or expunged, altered or repealed except as provided by the stringent conditions stated in the constitution for the alteration of its provisions.
It is clear from the foregoing analysis that land management under the Land Use Act has provided an appropriate enabling environment for prospective investors, private individuals and other corporate bodies. The various criticisms of the Land Use Act have provided elements that can move the nation forward. They clarify options to deal with the issues of the complexity of rights now streamlined in the Act. This can lead to efficient system of land management. The legal, institutional and technical frameworks for land management should be linked. It must be noted however that such legal, institutional and technical frameworks alone do not deter- mine the policy choices. Rather, the choices define the framework with which to design an appropriate system of land management. We end this paper with three recommendations.
First, there is the urgent need for the recruit- ment and training of land surveyors, town planners and other technical staff, all of whom are in short supply both at the Federal, State and Local Government levels to enforce the existing building, urban and regional planning regulations as provid- ed for by the Urban and Regional Planning Act of 1992. Second, there is the need for a survey of property boundaries as well as the provision of cadastral maps. Finally, the Federal Government should commission, without further delay, the registration of title to land with a view to keeping a land register which should be available at Federal, State and Local Government levels. With recent advancements in the use of satellite imagery, Geographical Information System (GIS), as well as Geographical Positioning System (GPS), the issue of land registration should not be that difficult except, of course, the cost. Given the centrality of land for the devel- opment process, the Federal Government should put, money where its mouth is.