The Land Use Act of 1978 has long been the cornerstone of Nigeria’s land tenure system, providing the legal framework for land ownership, use, and management across the country. However, as Nigeria’s population continues to grow, urbanization accelerates, and economic demands increase, it has become evident that the Land Use Act is in urgent need of review and reform.

In this story, we explore the key reasons why the Act requires a thorough reexamination to address the challenges posed by contemporary socio-economic and environmental realities.

Rigidity and Inefficiency in Land Allocation

One of the primary criticisms of the Land Use Act is its rigid and centralized approach to land allocation. Under the Act, state governors hold absolute power over land, which often results in a lack of transparency, favoritism, and corruption in the allocation process. This stifles economic development, discourages investments, and inhibits entrepreneurship, as potential investors face bureaucratic hurdles and uncertainty over land rights. A review of the Act should consider decentralizing land administration and creating a more efficient and transparent system for land allocation, promoting equitable access for both individuals and businesses.

Conflicts and Insecurity of Land Tenure

The current Land Use Act has contributed to land tenure conflicts and disputes due to its ambiguous provisions and overlapping land rights. The concept of “statutory right of occupancy” has led to widespread misunderstandings, with many Nigerians unsure about their land rights and legal protections. This ambiguity has exacerbated land-related conflicts, leading to communal tensions and, in some cases, violence. A comprehensive review should aim to clarify land tenure arrangements, strengthen property rights, and provide mechanisms for resolving disputes, ultimately fostering peace and stability within communities.

Inadequate Compensation for Displaced Communities

With the expansion of urban areas and infrastructure development, communities are often displaced from their ancestral lands without receiving adequate compensation. The current Land Use Act allows the government to acquire land for public purposes without fully considering the rights and well-being of affected communities. A revised Act should prioritize the interests of displaced communities, ensuring just compensation, provision of alternative livelihoods, and participation in decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Encouraging Sustainable Land Use and Environmental Protection

As climate change and environmental degradation become pressing global issues, Nigeria must prioritize sustainable land use and environmental protection. The current Land Use Act lacks clear provisions for promoting sustainable practices, conservation of biodiversity, and protection of fragile ecosystems. A review should incorporate measures that encourage environmentally friendly land use practices, such as afforestation initiatives, land conservation programs, and the integration of climate change considerations into land use planning.

Unlocking Agricultural Potential

Nigeria’s agricultural sector remains the backbone of its economy, providing livelihoods for millions. However, the Land Use Act has hindered the agricultural potential by making it challenging for farmers to access land for cultivation. Outdated policies on land use, which prioritize urban development over agricultural activities, have contributed to a decline in food production and increased food insecurity. A revised Act should prioritize agricultural development, provide incentives for agricultural investments, and protect farmland from conversion to non-agricultural uses.

The Land Use Act of 1978, though groundbreaking at the time, has shown its limitations in the face of Nigeria’s evolving socio-economic and environmental challenges. A comprehensive review and reform of the Act are essential to address issues of inefficiency, land tenure conflicts, inadequate compensation, environmental protection, and unlocking the agricultural potential. By creating a more transparent, equitable, and sustainable land tenure system, Nigeria can pave the way for inclusive economic growth, community empowerment, and environmental resilience. The time for action is now, and policymakers must embrace this opportunity to ensure a more prosperous and harmonious future for the nation.