The control of foreign ownership of landed property in Nigeria is regulated by the Acquisition of Lands by Alien Laws of respective States, while the ownership of land generally is regulated by the Land Use Act of 1978. By virtue of Section 1 of the Land Use Act 1978, all lands in Nigeria are vested in the Governor of each state. Section 1 of the Land Use Act provides that;
Subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation is hereby 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 in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
It therefore follows that a non-Nigerian is precluded from benefiting from the provisions of the Land Use Act of 1978.
RESTRICTIONS ON OWNERSHIP OF LAND BY FOREIGNERS
The Acquisition of Lands by Alien Law (ALAL) of Lagos by Section 8, defines an “alien” as
“(a)any person other than a native of Nigeria; and
(b) any company or association or body of persons corporate or unincorporated other than:
(i) a corporate body (in which the majority of the shares are held by natives of Nigeria) established specifically by or under any Act or Law which empowers that body of acquire and hold land;
(ii) a corporate body incorporated under the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matter Act- Part C- Incorporated Trustees or any other Act or Law containing general provisions for incorporation where the corporate body is composed solely of natives of Nigeria;
(iii) a corporate body established under any Law of the State relating to local government or education and empowered by that Law to acquire and hold land;
(iv) a co-operative society the majority of the members of which are natives of Nigeria and which is registered under the provisions of any Law of the State relating to co-operative society;
(v) a company or association or body of persons corporate or unincorporated which the Governor may by order made under section 6(2) declare to be exempt from the provisions of this law”.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Gerhard Huebner V. Aeronautical Industrial Engineering and Project Management Company Limited (2017) LPELR-42078(SC) held that Section 1 of the Land Use Act specifically limits the ownership of land in Nigeria to Nigerians. Therefore, a non-Nigerian cannot apply for a statutory or customary right of occupancy. This further reaffirmed the position of Section 1 of the Land Use Act to the effect that it was promulgated for the benefits of Nigerians. The Supreme Court in the above further held that the Land Use Act did not repeal any laws which limit the right of foreigners to own land.
HOW CAN A FOREIGNER ACQUIRE PROPERTY IN NIGERIA?
Considering the above limitations, foreigners may still be able to acquire lands or landed properties in Nigeria.
In Lagos State, the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Law by Section 1, 2 and 3, limits the acquisition of land or interest in land by foreigners except the acquisition of land by an alien is approved in writing by the Governor, save where the interest in land sought is for less than three years which includes any option to renew.
Summarily, a foreigner can acquire land or interest in land from a Nigerian, provided the written approval of the Governor is first sought and obtained before the relevant instruments are executed.
HOW TO APPLY FOR APPROVAL
- An application for the written approval of the State Governor will be made in the prescribed form set out in first schedule of the Acquisition of Lands by Alien Law
- The said application shall be submitted to the Commissioner for Land for the state for approval.
- The application shall be accompanied by a Treasury Receipt showing the payment of the prescribed fee.
It is important to note that it is within the discretionary power of the Governor to grant the written approval.
Finally, it is pertinent to note that a foreigner can by an application to the Governor of Lagos State, be exempted from the provisions of the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Law. The Governor of other states can also grant similar approval to aliens towards the acquisition of land in their respective states.
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.