In Nigeria, every citizen possesses the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria. However, the right to own immovable property, like every other right enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), is not total but subject to certain qualifications. Upon the enactment 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. The law of compulsory acquisition of land in Nigeria is rooted in the Nigerian Constitution that every Nigerian has the right to own private property and that such property shall not be acquired compulsorily, except in the manner and for the purposes prescribed by a law that requires both the payment of prompt compensation and compliance with the rule of law on access to the court. It is however pertinent to state that the Governor may revoke a right of occupancy over any land in the state on account of overriding public interest. This writeup aims to highlight the compulsory acquisition of land in Nigeria by the Government.
Compulsory acquisition of land by the government for public purposes or overriding public interest can be in several phases as stressed by the Land Use Act 1978 such as infrastructure development, urban planning, or economic projects. Talking about overriding public interest, it means the acquisition of private individual land, by the government, for the use of the state. It must however be noted that where it is discovered that such acquisition made by the government was not for public purpose, then such acquisition may be marred.
REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO LAND OWNERS
When land is compulsorily acquired, landowners may feel aggrieved and seek remedies. Here are some remedies available to landowners in Nigeria:
- Compensation: Landowners are entitled to fair and adequate compensation for the land acquired. The Land Use Act of 1978 governs land acquisition in Nigeria and provides for the payment of compensation. The compensation should reflect the market value of the land at the time of acquisition, as well as any improvements on the land. Landowners can negotiate with the government or seek legal recourse if they feel the compensation offered is inadequate.
- Challenge the acquisition: Landowners have the right to challenge the legality or necessity of the acquisition. They can file a lawsuit to challenge the acquisition if they believe that due process was not followed or that the acquisition is not for a genuine public purpose. In exploring this remedy, legal representation is advisable in such cases.
- Negotiation and alternative arrangements: Landowners can negotiate with the government for alternative land or suitable compensation packages. This could involve exchanging the acquired land for an equivalent parcel in a different location or receiving compensation in the form of alternative land or other benefits. Negotiation is often a preferred approach to resolve disputes amicably.
- Judicial review: Landowners can seek judicial review of the acquisition process to determine whether the government followed the proper legal procedures. Judicial review can scrutinize the decision-making process, including assessing whether the acquisition was in the public interest and whether the compensation offered is reasonable.
- Mediation and arbitration: Landowners can explore alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation or arbitration to resolve disputes with the government. These processes can provide a forum for open dialogue and negotiation to reach a mutually acceptable resolution.
- Consultation and participation: Landowners have the right to be consulted and participate in the decision-making process concerning the acquisition of their land. The government is expected to engage with affected landowners and provide information about the project. Landowners can assert their rights to be involved in the process and raise concerns or propose alternatives.
In summary, ownership of land is the right of every citizen in Nigeria. The right to own land has made it possible to both acquire and dispose of the land. However, this right to acquire and hold land is subject to the power given to the governor of each state by the Land Use Act as well as the right given under the constitution, therefore. The government can only acquire individuals' land compulsorily upon the payment of compensations and when such acquisition is for public purpose. Where any individual finds the acquisition of his/her land to be unlawful, such an individual can successfully challenge the acquisition in a court of law.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.