Since 1978, the major legislation regulating land acquisition within the country has been the Land Use Act of 1978 which states that all land in a State is to be held in trust by the State Governor for the benefit of all Nigerians. By law, foreigners may also acquire land wherever it is located in the country from either the State governments or from other holders.
Since the Land Use Act confers all land to the respective State government, a prospective buyer can apply to the Governor of the State for a Certificate of Occupancy which is for a period of 99 years. However, The Federal Government of Nigeria also has power to grant Certificate of Occupancy in respect of lands comprised in the Federal Capital Territory (i.e., Abuja and its designated environs), or vested in the Federal Government but located in States’ territories.
Local Governments may also grant ‘customary Certificate of Occupancy’ where the land in question is not in an urban area. All you have to do is apply formally to the particular Government, or any appropriate agency, for the issuance of a right of occupancy which is called the Certificate of Occupancy
LAND HOLDING INTERESTS UNDER THE LAND USE ACT
Two classes of people are recognized by law as rightful owners of land. The first class are people who have been granted rights of occupancy by the State, Local or Federal Government. The second class consists of those who held interests in land in Nigeria before the Act came into force. According to the Act, a person in this category continues to hold those interests in the land as if a right of occupancy had actually been granted to him by the Government. Hence, a prospective investor can acquire land from any of these classes of holders, but each case presents its own peculiarities. If you are acquiring land from someone who was granted a Certificate of Occupancy, an investigation of the previous holder’s title to the land would usually be conducted for verification.
If however the owner of the land falls into the second category of people who had their land before the Land Use Act was enforced, the interest of that holder will be based on one or more of the different systems of land tenure which existed and operated in Nigeria prior to the Land Use Act. Where the land was held under customary law, for instance, proof of title would not normally be by the production of a document. Even where the received English tenure system applied, the production of documents alone would not suffice as the relevant land registries would require to be searched, amongst other things hence the need to get assistance from a legal source
If you as the one who wants to acquire the land is satisfied with the current holder’s title, the next step would be the preparation of an appropriate legal document transferring the title to you or granting you a lease over the property. However, it is important to note that you need the consent of the State Government before the transaction can be valid. Finally, the document would be stamped and registered and the transfer of interest has effect from the date of registration. Having said this, worthy of note is the fact that by virtue of the Public acquisition of land Law, the State government may acquire land compulsorily for public purpose from individual land owners subject to the payment of compensation to such landowners.
Hence, the notice of land acquisition by the government must be served to the land owner as the courts have consistently held that non service of the “Notice of Acquisition”would render the acquisition invalid. It must also be noted that the acquisition of private individuals’ interest in land can only be done by the government for public purpose as any acquisition not done for public purpose will be declared invalid by the courts on being challenged. Furthermore, as the Notice of acquisition of land represents a constructive notice to the whole world, there is need for members of the public desirous of purchasing land to confirm through a solicitor, whether the land/property they are purchasing is under government acquisition.