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To start with, Black Law Dictionary defines ‘Property’ ‘as the ownership of a thing, is the right of one or more persons to possess and use it to the exclusion of others.’ Subject to the provision of Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution ‘Every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria’.
This brought the suggestion that only citizens of Nigeria have the chance to own land anywhere in Nigeria. An example of an immovable property is ‘LAND’, ‘Land by the provision of Section 3 of the INTERPRETATION ACT, Land refers to messuages, tentments, hereditaments corporeal or incorporeal of any land tenure whatever may be the estate or interest thereon’.
Nigeria laws limits the right of foreigners to buy land in Nigeria. However, there are limitations that a foreigner must comply with to be able to own a property in Nigeria because NIGERIA IS NOT THEIR FATHER’S LAND.
The main aim of these limitations is to prevent a total control over foreign land ownership in Nigeria. The Laws regulating foreign ownership of lands are enacted by various states Government in Nigeria and which are been recommended together with the Federal Capital Territory.
The Laws which regulates the control of foreign ownership are; THE LAND USE ACT OF 1978; The Act was first decreed in 1978 by the then Military Government, and was intended to make lands available for the benefits of Nigerian’s.
The Land Use Act is not constitutional enactment which means it is not in the constitution. The Land Use Act is a legislation that enjoys some special treatment, because the provision of its amendment is very ponderous.
By making all lands with a state tenured, the Act seeks to enhance the principles of leasehold by which the Land in each state is vested in the Governor of a state has Trustees and Caretaker of all land in Nigeria and become beneficial owners of the land subject to other provisions of the Act.
The tenor of the Act was to ‘Nationalize’ all lands in the country by vesting its ownership in the and the maximum interest preserved in the hands of private individuals in a right of occupancy.
In pursuance of the trust, the Governor may grant to a Nigeria citizen a term of years in land usually 99 years, to use and occupy, subject to payments of rents to the state and observance of the condition’s and covenants of the grants.
The grants of term of years to citizens to hold, occupy, and use, the Land is a right of occupancy which is the highest and greatest legal interest a holder can have.
However, the examined Laws will be the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Law of Lagos [ALAL] 1971, the foreigner are referred as Aliens. In section 1 of ALAL, contain the restriction. SECTION 1;
‘Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Law of Lagos state which provides that aliens are not allowed to acquire land except with the approval of the state Governor’. Also in case of any sale agreement or instrument writing which a foreigner decides to acquire interest in Land, and is not duly approved will be Void.
The Law also consider it unlawful for a foreigner to occupy any Land belonging to the citizen of Nigeria except the right of the foreigner to occupy was acquired in transaction which has received a full approval by the Governor[Trustee]. Also, the supreme court held that Aliens or foreigners cannot legally and validly own land in Nigeria.
Another restriction of a foreigner to buy land in Nigeria is provided in section 2 of ALAL. Which provides that ‘where a foreigner has lawfully acquired an interest or right of ownership in or over a land from a citizen of Nigeria, such interest has become liable to be sold under any process of law, which will be ordered to the state Government in the first instance and if the Government declines, then to a citizen of Nigeria.
The Law also prohibits the acquisition of a right of absolute ownership by an Alien in or over any land. Section 43 CFRN suggest that only citizens of Nigeria are entitled to own immovable property in Nigeria.
Also, Section 5 of the Land Use Act restrict the foreigners to own land is very wide practice. With the provision of Section 22 of the Land Use Act 1978, certificate of occupancy holder cannot alienate transfer of possession, assignment, sub-lease, or mortgage without the Governor. Although, foreigners have the right of ownership to Land in Nigeria but there are restrictions to it.
The Land Use Act did not expressly state the restrictions of the right of foreigners to own land in Nigeria.
Section 22 of the Act ‘which prohibits the alienation of a statutory right of occupancy without the consent of the state Governor’. Which means before a foreigner can acquire land, such foreigner must seek the consent of the Governor.
Section46; provides that ‘the national council of states may make regulations for the purpose of carrying this Act into effectiveness and particularly with regards to transfer by assignments or otherwise, howsoever of any right of occupancy whether statutory or customary, including the conditions applicable to the transfer of such right to persons who are not Nigeria.
Section 28 also gives Federal Government wider power to take over any land for public use to notify the state Government to revoke a right of occupancy, in event of issue of a notice by or on behalf of the head of Federal Government which such land is for public purpose, upon receipt, of the notice, the title of the holder becomes extinguished immediately.
There is a limit of 25 years upon renewal is imposed on any approved interest in land to be acquired by a non- Nigerian. Also, subject to the limited exception, the Land Use Act prohibits the granting of a statutory right of occupancy or consent to the assignment of statutory right of occupancy to a person under the age of 21 years.
To end with, only citizens of Nigeria has the right to buy and own land in Nigeria since the land is vested in the hand of the Governor to be held in trust for the citizens. However, before a foreigner can own a land it must be with the consent or authorization of the state Government.