The Legality of The Revocation Of Federal Government Owned Lands By State Governments in Nigeria


Authors: Mosopefoluwa Amao and Oluboba Oluwaseyi,

Students (LL.B), Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.

The issue of the revocation of Federal government owned lands by State government is a topic of constant discussion in the public domain with the legality of this revocation still questioned by a number of people.

Land acquisition refers to the process where a government acquires land from land owners for any purpose. Generally the purpose is related to development projects conducted either by Public Sector units (PSUs) or the Private Sector and compensation are usually awarded for the acquisition of such property. Land revocation refers to the nullification or withdrawal of land by the government for public purposes and advancement of public interest. Since 1978, the major legislation regulating land acquisition and revocation within Nigeria has been the Land Use Act 1978 (hereinafter referred to as LUA) which states in Section 1 that “all land in a State is to be held in trust by the State Governor for the benefit of all Nigerians”. The LUA was introduced in order to ensure that all Nigerians have easy access to land and to ensure that the rights of all Nigerians to the land in Nigeria be asserted and preserved by law.

It is in this light that this article seeks to discuss the legality of the revocation with respect to the Land Use Act of 1978 and The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). 

Before the establishment of the LUA, at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a multiplicity of land tenure systems practiced in Nigeria. Apart  from  the  system  in  the Lagos  colony  where  an  English  freehold  system  had  been  established  following  its  annexation in  1861,  these  diverse  systems  can  be  grouped  broadly  into two.   The  first obtained  in Northern  Nigeria  where  the  colonial  administration  had  placed  all  lands  under  the control and  subject  to  the  disposition  of  the  Governor and in the Southern Nigeria the second recognized that land was owned by lineages and extended families. It was not surprising, therefore, that faced with these contrasting land tenure systems and the considerable hassle in getting land for public purposes especially in southern Nigeria, the military government sought to unify the two systems through the Land Use Decree of 1978.

In 1999, the Federal Government took a decision to investigate the state of its landed properties and that of its Agencies, Parastatal and Companies in realization of the years of wanton neglect of them by setting up a Commission of Inquiry with the following agenda:

  • To identify and collate all landed properties of the Federal Government or its agencies and companies such as the Nigerian Airways, Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Railway Corporation amongst others, wherever located between the 1st day of January 1984 and the 28th day of May 1999 and to determine the state of the title of the Federal Government to such properties.
  • To identify all such landed properties of the Federal Government, its agencies, parastatals or companies as have been or are in danger of being alienated by way of sale, lease, grants, gift or by any other means whatsoever and to determine the propriety of such transactions.
  • To ascertain the persons, authority or organizations responsible for such alienation and the persons or body for whom or to which the properties were alienated as aforesaid, the motive behind the alienation, the consideration if any, for alienation, the person or body to whom such consideration was paid and the use to which it was put.
  • To determine whether such alienation of landed property of the Federal Government, it’s agencies, parastatals or companies as aforesaid were in the public interest, and if not, to recommend appropriate actions against public officers implicated in the transaction, ways and means of recovering public property so falsely or fraudulently alienated.
  • To make any other recommendations which it may deem necessary in the circumstance.

It is based on the recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry that the Federal Government took its decision to dispose of its non-core landed assets and the Federal Executive Council set up the Presidential Implementation Committee of the White Paper on the Commission of Inquiry into Alienation of Federal Government Properties.

Section 5 (1) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution provides that the executive powers of the federation shall be vested in the President and may, according to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Vice-President and Ministers of the Government of the Federation or officers in the public service of the federation. It is therefore in pursuance of the above constitutional authority that the Federal Government set up the presidential implementation committee above mentioned.

Actions of the committee are thus deemed to be that of the Federal Government and are binding on all persons except on the grounds of fraud or wrongful inclusion of private lands in the federal property list.

The LUA in its preamble, vests all land compromised in the territory of each State (except land vested in the Federal government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State, who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and to organizations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are  conferred on Local Governments. By virtue of the provisions of the LUA, the Federal Government of Nigeria also has the power to grant Rights 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.

A Governor equally has powers to revoke grants of rights of occupancy made by him. Failure to observe terms and condition of a grant, failure to pay rent, or the use of land against its specified purposes or the need of land by government for overriding public interest are all possible grounds for revocation of grant (Sec 28 & 38 of LUA). As sovereign as the State government appears however, Section 49 of the LUA states that nothing in the Act shall affect any title to land whether developed or undeveloped, held by the Federal Government or any agency of the Federal Government at the commencement of the Act and, accordingly, any such land shall continue to vest in the Federal Government or the agency concerned. This means that the state can only revoke lands acquired from the onset of the Act and not before.

A recent case on the ownership of Federal government owned lands by State government is AG Lagos v AG Federation and 35 Ors (2003) 12 NWLR (Pt.833) decided by the Supreme Court. The issues for deliberation were as follows:

Whether Urban and Regional Planning (Town Planning) as well as the regulation of physical development in relation to any land in Lagos State were within the legislative and executive jurisdiction of the Federal Government; Whether the Urban and Regional Planning Decree No.8 of 1992 is inconsistent with the provisions of Sections 4 of the 1999 Constitution, therefore unlawful, null and void; Whether the ownership rights of the Federal Government over land in State territories include the power to control and regulate town planning and physical development in relation to such lands; Whether all approvals, permits, and licenses granted by the Federal Government or any of its Agencies for any construction, building or physical development or use of lands in Lagos state without the consent of the State Government are illegal, null and void.

In its verdict, the Supreme Court held that the State Governments had control over the physical planning and developmental control within their territory. The apex court further ruled that all development permits issued by the Federal Government to the buyers of its properties in Lagos from 1999 to that date subsisted, but henceforth, owners of such properties must obtain relevant permits from the State Government. This ruling further gave the Lagos State Government the authority to impose all compartments of levies on the Federal Government Lessees. It is worthy of note that these levies, cover the usual cost of obtaining the Governor’s Consent on a transfer of title in Lagos State. Unfortunately, these charges have not been challenged by any person or authority, and until successfully challenged, stand as law.

Recently, in a case between Federal Government & ors v Governor of Anambra State which has been ongoing, concerning the revocation of land in Anambra; the land originally belonged to the federal government but because of certain reasons it was revoked by Anambra state. The issue was taken to the Supreme Court and the decision is still pending.

In conclusion, lands comprised within the territory have been vested in state government by virtue of Section 1 of the LUA thus making all landed properties located in different geographical areas of the country under the control of the state government. Therefore drawing inference from the decision of the court in A.G LAGOS STATE V A.G FEDERATION (supra), it can be concluded that the revocation of Federal government owned lands, acquired after the Act, by state government is legal and binding on all States within the Federation.

Mosopefoluwa Adewunmi Amao and Oluboba Oluwatobi Oluwaseyi are 300 level students of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. They are both members of the Mooting Society, University of Lagos and have interests in Human Rights, Intellectual Property, Constitutional law; and Family law, Intellectual Property and Constitutional law respectively. 

One thought on “The Legality of The Revocation Of Federal Government Owned Lands By State Governments in Nigeria

  1. By virtue of section 1 of the LUA, the Governor of a state has control over land in the state. Section 28 and 29 allows the state Governor to revoke an existing right of occupancy for overriding public interest. Where the governor revokes a right and grants same to the Federal government for public purpose, the Federal government does not have the right to grant same to a third party. All unexhausted interests in that land revert back to the Governor.

    Liked by 1 person

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