The traditional systems of land ownership in Nigeria were considered to be grossly inadequate in solving the problem of agricultural development in the country. Such problems as infighting between individuals and communities on land matters, monopoly of lands by few advantaged individuals, excessive land fragmentation as a result of importance, difficulty in acquiring land either by individuals, groups or even governments, lack of security to land ownership. It was as a result of these problems and in order to give impetus to agricultural development in the country that the Federal Government on March 29, 1978 promulgated the Land Use Decree.
The Decree, which was aimed at encouraging a proper and efficient utilization of land for better agricultural productivity has the following objectives:
(I) To assert and preserve by law the rights of every Nigerian to land in the country.
(II) To create incentive for development by making land easily available to governments and individuals.
(III) To rationalize land use in order to facilitate rapid economic and social transformation in Nigeria.
In essence, the land use decree:
a. Says all land in the country are vested in the Federal Government of Nigeria to be held in trust for the people that is, the acquisition and use of land for whatever purpose are to be controlled by the Federal Government.
b. Empowers each state Government to act on behalf of the Federal Government in all matters related to land in the State.
c. Says that before anybody could be legally recognized as owning any piece of land in the country, he/she must have applied to the State Government, paid for the land and thereafter be issued with Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) on the acquired land.
d. Allows every Nigerian to Acquire land for use once he/she has attained the age 21 years.
Implication of the Land Use Decree
(I) With the Decree, individual ownership of land whether developed or undeveloped now ceases and the only relationship between an individual and the land is that of use.
(II) With the land use decree, there will be enough land for agriculture and industry.
(III) The land use decree does not disposes any Nigerian of his/her acquired property which is being lawfully and optimally used.
(IV) With the decree, the practice of some privileged individuals whereby they buy up large tracts of land with the intent of obtaining high prices in future is prevented.
(v) Any individual above the age of 21 years is allowed to apply for certificate of occupancy or land ownership.
The advantages of land use decree lies in the fact that the land use decree makes it easier to acquire larger parcel of land for agriculture thereby encouraging commercial agriculture. It makes it possible for anybody to acquire land and helps to curb the excesses of land speculators.
On other hand, some of the disadvantages of land use decree include the fact that the decree makes it further possible for privileged individuals in the society and government to have undue adavantage in land acquisition. It makes land held by inheritance insecure. Also, it is often very difficult to obtain land from government sources because of the frustrating bureaucratic/administrative bottle-necks.
Agricultural Laws and Reforms
(b) Traditional Land ownership and Tenure Systems in West Africa: Land tenure system can be defined as the system of land ownership or acquisition by individual, family, community or government agency either for temporary or permanent use.
There are different land systems in West Africa, these include;
i) Individual land tenure system
This is the system whereby the land belongs to an individual. The individual could derive his ownership right either by inheritance or outright purchase or as a gift. This system is also refers to as freehold ownership.
1. It gives the owner complete freedom on the land. He may sell it leave it, farm on it, lease/rent it out to another farmer.
2. The land can be used as collateral for agricultural loans.
3. Mechanized agriculture can be profitably practiced.
1. Leads to excessive land fragmentation which makes the land very difficult and uneconomical to work.
2. Land is not readily available to everybody.
3. Sharing of land among children of a deceased father is usually a delicate affair generating bitter enmity among family members.
4. It is very difficult to assess how far the individual has the right to use and control a piece of inherited land freely.
5. Land is not usually sold out because some feel that it will rob future generations of the opportunity go inherit it.
(II) Communal Land Tenure
This is a system of land ownership in which the land belongs to a given community. (a large family or village). The land is usually allocated to members by the head of the family or the community.
1. Every member of the community inopportune to farm each season and to grow annual/biennial crops.
2. It encourages co-operative farming.
Disadvantages of Land Tenure
1. The system relies on plenty of land for fallow.
2. It leads to fragmentation of land into small and scattered units.
3. It also discourages co-operative effort of individual farmers and therefore leading to the non adoption of modern techniques of farming.
4. Permanent crops like oil palm, cocoa, rubber etc cannot be established because the land would be reallocated later.
5. It discourage permanent land improvement such as building of farm structures and alley farming.
6. The land cannot be used as a collateral security in obtaining loan for agricultural production.
(III) Rent Tenancy/Lease Hold
In this system, an individual or a group can acquire land through rent or lease hold agreement. The owner of the land receives rents on the land each season either in cash or in kinds or if on leasehold, an agreed amount is paid for the period the lease would last.
This system of land ownership gives partial freedom on land. The land, however, cannot be used as security for obtaining agricultural loans. Only moderate land improvement can be effected on the land by the user.
Mechanization can only be introduced if the size of the farm is large enough, but permanent crops cannot be established. The land user could go on to put the land to use other than agricultural production.
Land can also be acquired through the state government in accordance with the Land Use Decree of 1978. Land acquired through the government usually becomes a property of the person or group that acquired it and as such the person or group is at liberty to use the land as is the case of freehold ownership.
Other systems are ownership by gift/donation, purchase, pledge etc. Where land is acquired by gift/donation, the owner pays nothing for it. The land may however not be secured when the donor is no more.