Understanding Right of Occupancy in Nigeria

The governor of a state is in charge of allocating land in all urban areas to people who live in the state or to organizations for residential, agricultural, commercial, and other purposes. Historically, all lands belonged to the indigenous families who lived on them, but the Land Use Act, passed in 1978, vests all urban land in a state in the state governor to hold on behalf of the people.A title to the use and use of land is known as a right of occupancy.

The right to occupy or use land legitimately in accordance with the provisions of the Land Use Act is known as the right of occupancy (R of O). The R of O title grants an individual, group of people, or business entity ownership rights over land parcels that are laid out with the approval of the government. This is not a declaration of ownership rights, it is simply a title to use and occupy the land.

It’s highly important to know that you require the Governor’s consent in order to transfer your land ownership to another individual, as it is the “maximum interest” that can be held by a private person in any piece of land in the nation. A R of O holder is referred to as a “holder.” This could be a single individual, a group, a business, or an institution. Every ownership-related right to a specific piece of land belongs to the holder.

Types of right of occupancy

The two types of grants that permit you to use and occupy land in Nigeria are statutory and customary rights. These rights can be either actual, which is a clear agreement, or deemed, which is a right recognized by the law. It’s important to understand the difference between these two types of grants and how they may apply to your situation.

Statutory Right of Occupancy

The statutory right is granted by the governor of a state regarding land in urban areas and is governed by the Land Use Act. It can be granted  directly by the governor or through an act that applies to the land in your locality. When you get a statutory right of occupancy, you usually sign a “contract” with the governor describing the conditions of the agreement.

Customary right of occupancy

Customary right of occupancy is granted by the Local Government over land that is not in an urban area.This grant may be express or implied. When the local government directly grants a person or group with the right to use land in rural areas for agricultural or similar activities, this is known as an express grant of a customary right of occupancy. A landholder who registers their interest in a piece of land, on the other hand, receives an implied grant.

Aleniation of right of occupancy

The process of transferring or using land rights, called alienation of right of occupancy.Subject to the consent requirement, the holder of a statutory or customary right may transfer, mortgage, or otherwise dispose off the right of occupancy. According to Section 22 of the acts,  it is unlawful for holders of a statutory right of occupancy  granted by the Governor to alienate his right or any part thereof by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sublease or otherwise however without the consent of the Governor 

There’s debate about whether this applies to all land types. Some argue it’s only for rights granted directly, not those deemed granted. This was seen in a court case where there was disagreement about the need for Governor’s approval.

Revocation of right of occupancy

Only the Governor or a public officer authorized by the Governor has the legal authority to revoke the owner’s right of occupancy. The following grounds may be used to revocate the right of occupancy:

Overiding public interest : This could mean acquisition by state, local or federal government for public purpose. E.g requirement of land for mining purposes  or where there is unlawful alienation

Others include:  sanitary improvement, construction of public infrastructures, Mining , Telecummunication or provision of electricity , planned rural or urban settlement, education and other social services

Procedure for revocation of statutory right of occupancy

A right of occupancy is revoked by issuing a notice of revocation to the holder.

The notice must be signed by a public authority duly authorized by the Governor, and the holder of the right of occupancy’s title will expire when the notice is received by him or on any other date specified in the notice.  Section 28(7) of the Act


According to the land use act, when the right of occupancy is revoked for a public purpose by the federal, state, or local government, the holder and occupier are entitled to compensation for the worth of their unexhausted improvements at the time of the revocation.

No one, including the government, can deprive a holder or occupier of his land, unless the land is acquired compulsorily in accordance with the provisions of the Land Use Act.  .


Professor I.O Smith law of real property in Nigeria

O Nwabueze, 1972, Nigerian Land Law , Nwamife publishers Limited Enugu


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