By virtue of the Land Use Act of 1978, all lands comprised in the territory of each state in Nigeria are vested in the governor of that state and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians.1 Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to own real estate anywhere in Nigeria.2 However, there are certain restrictions placed on the acquisition and ownership of real estate by minors in Nigeria.
A minor may be described as a person below the age of full legal capacity.3 Under Section 29(4)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), full age was described as the age of eighteen years and above. Whereas, the Land Use Act only recognizes the right of a person who is 21 years and above to seek and obtain a grant of a statutory right of occupancy.4 Thus, a minor under Nigerian property law is anyone below the age of twenty-one (21) years.
The restriction on minors owning real estate in Nigeria is primarily based on legal and practical considerations. Minors have limited legal capacity and may not be able to fully understand the rights, responsibilities, and implications associated with property ownership. Minors lack the contractual capacity to enter into binding contracts and are unable to perform certain legal obligations associated with property ownership such as signing agreements, paying taxes, and entering into other property transactions.
Furthermore, minors may not have the financial resources to effectively manage the responsibilities that come with property ownership such as maintenance costs, property taxes, and other liabilities. The law seeks to protect minors from potential exploitation, undue influence, or mismanagement of their property.
Although minors themselves cannot acquire and own property under Nigerian law, the property can be acquired on behalf of minors through guardians or trustees. In addition, a minor can be a beneficiary of property or inherit property, but it will be managed and administered by a guardian or trustee until the minor becomes of age. The guardian or trustee is responsible for managing the property and making decisions in the minor's best interest.
This is because Section 7 of the Land Use Act provides that:
"It shall not be lawful for the Governor to grant a statutory right of occupancy or consent to the assignment or subletting of a statutory right of occupancy to a person under the age of twenty-one years; Provided that –
(a) Where a guardian or trustee for a person under the age of 21 has been duly appointed for such purpose the Governor may grant or consent to the assignment or subletting of a statutory right of occupancy to such guardian or trustee on behalf of such person under age;
(b) a person under the age of twenty-one years upon whom a statutory right of occupancy devolves on the death of the holder shall have the same liabilities and obligations under and in respect of his right of occupancy as if he were of full age notwithstanding the fact that no guardian or trustee has been appointed for him."
Thus, the only lawful means by which land can be acquired and owned by a minor is through his/her appointed guardian or trustee.
Every person is entitled to the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria. However, this is subject to some restrictions in the case of minors. A minor cannot ordinarily acquire a legal interest in land in Nigeria except through his guardian or trustee. It will be managed and administered by a guardian or trustee until the minor becomes of age. The rationale of the law in this regard is to protect the interests of minors by placing their property under the care of guardians or trustees for the time being pending the time they reach the age of majority.
1. Section1 of the Land Use Act 1978
2. Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended)
3. O. M. Atoyebi, Analysing the Rights of a Minor Owning Land in Nigeria https://omaplex.com.ng/analysing-the-rights-of-a-minor-owning-land-in-nigeria/#:~:text=Rights%20of%20a%20Minor%20Owning%20Land%20in%20Nigeria,-The%20Constitution%20has&text=According%20to%20the%20Act%2C%20a,Nigeria%2C%20is%20through%20a%20trustee. Accessed May 19, 2023
4. Section 7 of the Land Use Act 1978
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