As a result of the problems and inadequacies of the land tenure system, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in 1978, during the reign of General Olusegun Obasanjo, promulgated a decree on land use in Nigeria. The decree was known as Land Use Decree of 1978 or Land Use Act of 1978.


Features of the Land Use Act (Decree)

  1. The Land Use Act (Decree) was promulgated by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria on March 29,1978.
  2. It takes care of the inadequacies inherent in land ownership in Nigeria.
  3. The decree states that all land in the country is vested in the federal government to be held in trust for the people. That is, acquisition of land and its uses for whatever purpose are to be controlled by the federal government.
  4. The decree empowers each state to act on behalf of the federal government in all matters related to land use in the state.
  5. It also states that before anyone could be legally recognised as owning any piece of land, he must have applied to the government, paid for the land, and, thereafter, be issued with a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) on the acquired land.
  6. All Nigerians are qualified to acquire land for use once they have attained the age of 21 years.
  7. It is a reform essentially aimed at encouraging proper, productive and efficient use of land.
  8. The decree stipulates that individuals can only use a piece of land for 99 years after which the land reverts to the government.
  9. It also provides that farmers should not be allocated more than 500 hectares of land for crop production or 5,000 hectares for grazing purposes.


Aims of the Land Use Decree

  1. It encourages proper, productive and efficient use of land.
  2. It allocates land and creates opportunities for enterprising farmers to acquire more land for large scale farming.
  3. It facilitates planning or formation of programmes for a particular land use.
  4. It streamlines and simplifies the management and ownership of land in the country.
  5. It removes the unpleasant controversies which land had hitherto generated in Nigeria.


Implications of the Land Use Act

The Land Use Act of 1978 has some implications among which are:

  1. With the decree, individual ownership of land, whether developed or undeveloped, now ceases, and the only relationship between an individual and the land is that of use.
  2. It also ensures that whoever requires land for any purpose and has the ability to make optimum use of it will always obtain it. This ensures enough land for agriculture and industries.
  3. The decree does not dispossess any Nigerian of his acquired property which is being lawfully and optimally used.
  4. The decree is out to prevent the practice whereby land speculators buy up large plots of land, especially in developed urban locations with absolutely no intention of immediate or future use, but merely to tie it down in order to obtain high prices for it in the event of its acquisition by government or other persons.
  5. It allows any individual above the age of 21 years to apply for certificate of occupancy and land ownership.


Advantages of Land Use Decree

  1. It has made land acquisition relatively easier for new entrants into agriculture.
  2. It has reduced the number and frequency of court cases over land ownership.
  3. It has facilitated borrowing of capital for further investment in agriculture.
  4. Availability of and provision for large land holdings which encourages large scale agriculture.
  5. It prevents fragmentation of land since land acquired under the decree cannot be shared into bits.
  6. There is reduction in boundary disputes since survey of acquired land is mandatory for occupancy right to be granted.


Disadvantages of Land Use Decree

  1. It leads to escalation in the cost of land survey.
  2. Land acquisition process has become bureaucratic and often meets with bottlenecks.
  3. It has impoverished communities whose main assets were their lands.
  4. It has encouraged dishonesty through illegal sale and backdating of ownership or title deeds after 1978.
  5. Land is not necessarily allocated to every potential agricultural developer.
  6. Land may be acquired by influential people for non-agricultural purpose. Before the land use decree, customary laws governed the right of individuals on land, regulating alienation of land, inheritance and succession, freehold and leasehold, and co-ownership of land.



  1. Security of Tenure: It is to safeguard farmers against unreasonable eviction.
  2. Ensuring Proper Land Use: This is ensure that agricultural land is not unnecessarily diverted to non-agricultural purposes.
  3. Government Projects: This is to make large tracts of land available for government-sponsored development of large scale farms or resettlement schemes.
  4. Land Improvement: It is to carry out large scale improvement such as irrigation, drainage and soil water conservation in order to ensure a reasonable standard of efficient production for a long time. Such requirement should be obligatory, irrespective of land tenure system.
  5. Influence on Size of Holdings: It is to prevent land fragmentation and encourage the consolidation of small holdings into large units.
  6. Freedom of Enterprise: This is to encourage freedom of farming in cases where there are regulations or traditional views that militate against such freedom.
  7. Control of Production: It is to encourage the production of certain produce and curtail the production of others through the control of land use.
  8. Land Litigation: This is to reduce the number of land litigation among the citizens.

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