Use the Lexology Navigator tool to compare the answers in this article with those from other jurisdictions. 

Rights and registration

Rights

What types of holding right over real estate are acknowledged by law in your jurisdiction?

The Land Use Act (LFN Cap L5 2004) governs all existing land tenure systems subject to its limitations regarding land holding and the exercise of land rights. By making all land tenured, the act aims to enhance the leasehold principle, under which the land in each state is vested in the state governor to hold in trust for the benefit of citizens in that state.

Granting a citizen the right to hold, occupy and use land for a certain period is known as a right of occupancy and is the highest available legal interest. Section 5(1) of the act provides for, among other things, the issuance of certificates of occupancy or a customary right of occupancy as evidence of land ownership.

Are rights to land and buildings on the land legally separable?

No. Under the Land Use Act, the owner of a piece of land owns everything on that land, including any buildings. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule with regard to minerals beneath the land and ‘economic trees’ (ie, commercially productive trees), among other things, which are subject to the prevailing customs of where the land is situated.

Which parties may hold and exercise rights over real estate? Are there restrictions on foreign ownership of property?

All Nigerian citizens have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria. However, under Section 7 of the Land Use Act, a state governor cannot grant a statutory right of occupancy or consent to the assignment or sub-letting of a statutory right of occupancy to anyone under the age of 21.

There are restrictions on foreign land ownership in Nigeria. A foreign individual or corporation cannot acquire an absolute interest in land. Under the various state laws, the highest interest that a foreign party can hold in land is a leasehold interest (Native Land Acquisition Laws, Cap 80, Laws of Western Nigeria 1959; Acquisition of Land by Aliens Law, Cap 2, Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963; Land Tenure Law, Cap 59, Laws of Northern Nigeria 1963).

Further, foreign parties cannot acquire land for more than 90 years in the northern states or 99 years in the eastern states. In Lagos state, no foreign party can acquire a right of absolute ownership over land from a Nigerian party. However, foreign parties can hold a lease for up to 25 years (Section 2 of the Acquisition of Land by Aliens Law, Cap A2, Laws of Lagos State 2003).

How are rights, encumbrances and other interests over real estate prioritised?

Statutory rights of occupancy are prioritised on a first-come, first-served basis.

Registration

Must real estate rights, interests and transactions be registered in your jurisdiction? What are the legal effects of registration?

Yes, the Land Registration Act (36/1924 Cap 515 LFN 2004), which each state has adopted and enacted, regulates the registration of instruments concerning land transactions, rights and interests in Nigeria.  

Effects of registration

 A registrable instrument concerning state land will be void where it is not registered within six months (Section 15 of Cap 56 (western and northern states); Section 14 of Cap L58 Lagos 2003; and the corresponding provision in the laws of the other states).

An unregistered registrable instrument is inadmissible as evidence of an interest, although it may be admitted as an acknowledgement of payment.

What are the procedural and documentary requirements for entry into the national real estate register(s)? Can registration be completed electronically?

Parties must complete the relevant application or registration forms. At present, registration cannot be completed electronically.

What information is recorded in the national real estate register(s) and to what extent is such information publicly available?

The National Real Estate Register records:

  • the file number of the land;
  • the plot number;
  • the district in which the land is located;
  • the purpose of the land’s use;
  • the date on which the right of occupancy was granted;
  • the plot size;
  • the annual rent;
  • the plot owner’s name; and
  • any encumbrances or charges.

This information is publicly available by way of a legal search on the payment of a fee.

Is there a state guarantee of title?

There is no state guarantee of title, especially if the title is unregistered.

Click here to view the full article.