Land Use System in Nigeria: Definition and Types


Land Use System in Nigeria: Definition and Types

In this article, we are shall consider land tenure system and factors affecting land use in Nigeria. You should know that land is one of the factors of production, and its importance in agriculture, generally, cannot be over emphasized.

Hence, a better understanding of this post will be of immense advantage to you.


Definition of Land Tenure System

Land tenure system describes the various ways land is controlled by the community, family or individual- either for permanent or temporary use. It also refers to the economic, legal and political arrangements regarding the ownership and management of land and its resources.

This is very important because it affects the way land is used for both agricultural and industrial development.

Land tenure system is broadly defined to include not only the purchase of ownership rights but also the acquisition of user rights, for instance through leases or concessions, whether short or long term.

Land tenure system can be defined as the rights and institution that governs access to and use of land.

Tenure system of land involves a system of rights, duties and responsibilities concerning the use, transfer, alienation and ownership security of land and its resources. From the ongoing, it is clear that land acquisition and use cannot be discussed extensively without incorporating land tenure system. This chapter therefore presents a comprehensive review of literature on the land acquisition and use in Nigeria and the implications for sustainable food and livelihood security in the country.

Land is a veritable ingredient of development especially in the agricultural and tourism sector of any economy. Nigeria has a total land mass of 924,768 with a population of 198 million and annual population growth rate of 2.8%. Nigeria comprises over 250 ethnic groups located within the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Land is an asset and factor of production for households in Nigeria. However, the level of access and title ownership is determined by the state.

Therefore, the land system is characterized by several actors including government, community leaders, families, lawyers, middle men and estate agents among others. All activities of the different actors are regulated by the government through policies and programmes. Generally, land systems thrive on clearly stated property rights. Two types of proprietary rights have been defined in literature-absolute or no derivative interests and derivative interests.

The absolute or no derivative interest is a nonrestrictive access and use of land conferred on the holder. The absolute interest on land has also been explained as inclusive of highest scope of proprietary decisions on the use and management of land. 

Derivative interest derives from a larger estates or superior estates. The derivative rights cover leaseholds, life interests, mortgage, rents and pledges among others.

The two types of property rights (absolute or no derivative interest and derivative interest) exist in Nigeria.


Types of Land Tenure System

Land tenure system in Nigeria varies with tribe, clan, state or community.

Let us consider the following.

1. Communal land tenure system

2. Tenure based on individual inheritance of free-hold land ownership

3. Lease-hold tenure or landlord-tenant agreement

4. State or government ownership of land


1. Communal land tenure system: This is the traditional system of land ownership, whereby land is generally regarded as the property of the community. This makes individual ownership rare, particularly in rural areas. The community may be a family, a village, a clan- always headed by a family head, village or clan head.

In this system, every member of the community is entitled to a piece of land for farming, but individual ownership is not allowed.

Land cannot be sold to strangers since there is ancestral ownership. Allocation of the land among the community members is usually decided by the head of the community, acting on the authority of the entire community.

The community does not control whatever is grown on the land and has no claim on the products of the land. The member to whom the land is allocated decides what should be grown on the land which must not be permanent crops. 

He also has claims over the products, especially the arable crops he has planted such as maize, rice, yams, melons, cassava etc.; but perennial crops such as oil palm belong to the community and are harvested and shared among the members of the community.


Advantages of communal ownership of land

The advantages of this system are as follows.

a. Each member of the community has the opportunity to request for farmland to provide food and earn some money for his family.

b. It is possible to organize communal and cooperative farms on such lands, since the land is extensive. c. Modernized farming on economic scale is possible.

d. It is easier to transfer the land to a prospective farmer, since individual attachment is almost absent.

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Disadvantages of communal ownership of land

The major disadvantages of communal ownership of land are as follows.

a. Inadequate maintenance of soil fertility- if a farmer realizes that the portion of the land he is farming this year may not fall to him the next year; he may not be willing to invest enough into the soil to maintain its fertility. He will only be interested in how much he can get from the soil during the period he farms on it. This will eventually lead to rapid depletion of soil fertility.

b. Useful time is wasted in consulting large number of people whenever government wants a piece of land for developmental purposes. Often, customary tenure rules are transmitted orally through generations. This resulted in lack of documented records and has led to land disputes and court cases over land ownership and boundary demarcation.


2. Tenure based on individual inheritance of free-hold land ownership: This is the commonest method of acquiring land in some developing countries; here, the land owner has the freedom to do what he likes with his land. When the farmer dies, his holdings are transferred by inheritance to his sons.

The piece of land is continually fragmented from one generation to another and it is usually shared among the male children of the farmer. Each son, usually, prefers to invest in the land in order to improve its fertility for agricultural production. If the land is large enough, mechanized farming can also be practiced.

The right ownership to the land can be transferred from one man to another by outright sale or purchase.

This is sometimes rare for two reasons:

a. there is the religious, sentimental attachment to land in many communities.

b. there is also the rigorous and unnecessarily long negotiation associated with such transfer or purchases.

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Advantages of free-hold land ownership

The main advantages are:

a. The individual owner often prefers to invest in the land in order to improve its fertility for agricultural production since the land belongs to him

b. He can also use the land as security to obtain loans from commercial banks

c. This system gives the land owner security of tenure; it makes for proper future planning and efficient investment on the land.

d. Mechanized farming can be practiced if the land is large enough.


Disadvantages of free-hold land ownership

This system of land ownership has the following disadvantages:

a. Lack of government control over land which is an important asset

b. Over-independence and abuse of land by land owners, resulting in excessive and uneconomical fragmentation of the land

c. Land may belong to some people who have no interest in land development or in making optimal use of it.

d. Those who have no land, or those who have very limited areas for their needs may be unable to buy or rent land from individual owners.


3. Lease-hold tenure or landlord-tenant agreement: This is a situation whereby a farmer is permitted by the land owner to work on a piece of land for a fixed length of time and under stipulated condition. The real land owner may be an individual, government or a government agency or a community.

A good example is the Taungya system- whereby the Forestry department releases a portion of its fertile land to farmers for a specific period of time for the cultivation of food crops, while at the same time nursing some tree seedlings. This system permits effective control of land by the land owner or the community. At the expiration of the period of tenancy, the land reverts to the land owner.


4. State or government ownership of land: Some land belonging to the government may be leased out to an individual; payment can then be made into government treasury. The disadvantage of this system is that the government can recover its land at a very short notice. It should be mentioned here that the disadvantages of the various systems described above are obstacles to agricultural development; and co-operative societies are expected to be used to circumvent these obstacles. 

This is because farmer’s access to communal land has been found to be faster on the platform of these cooperative societies rather than as individual.

Government Laws on Land Poor

Land tenure systems have been identified as one of the major bottlenecks preventing agricultural development in the developing world; hence, a suitable and functional land tenure system is the pivot for rapid agricultural production in any nation.

It was in the recognition of this fact that the Nigerian government in 1978 promulgated the land use decree which later became the Land Use Act.

The declared objectives of this Act are as follows:

a. To remove bitter controversies which land has generated in Nigeria.

b. Streamlining and simplifying the management and ownership of land in the country.

c. Assisting the citizenry, irrespective of their social status, to own a piece of land both for shelter and farming.

d. Bringing under government control the use to which land can be put in all parts or the country; and thus, facilitate planning or formation of programmes for particular land uses.

As it is today, as regards land transaction- to consider whether this 1978/1979 Land Use Act has fulfilled these objectives is a vexed question; as it can be safely said that the land tenure systems prevailing in all rural areas of this country before this Act have survived till date.


Principles of Land Use

The principles of land use aim at optimal use of land and the avoidance of wastage. Land can be used for three main purposes, namely agriculture, forestry and wildlife conservation or game reserve.

Let us take a cursory look at these.

1. Agriculture and forestry

These aims at the production of food vegetables, timber and fuel. The use of land for any of these purposes is often decided by the zone to which the land belongs- i.e. weather it is in the forest zone or savannah zone.

In the forest zone, land is used mainly for timber, perennial and special tree crops and animal, protein production; whereas in the savannah region, land is best used for pasture, subsistence crops, and production of animal protein.

The use of land in the savannah zone is best decided by vegetation. However, a good use of the land can make it possible to have both forests and agricultural products from the piece of land. If the forest trees are well specified, the leaves from the trees will serve as manure for food crops or even for pasture in the derived savannah zones.

In very strong wind belts, forest trees can be used as wind breakers for agricultural crops, thus using forestry to the advantage of agriculture.


2. Wildlife conservation

This started in United States when people felt that certain animals they needed for sports were decreasing and at the risk of becoming extinct.

These provided games reserves for tourism and holidays. 

In Nigeria, you will recollect that we have such reserves as the Yankari in Bauchi State (which is about the best reserve in West Africa), the Borgu in Niger State and the Upper Ogun in Oyo State.

Conclusion on Land Use System in Nigeria: Definition and Types

From the explanation in this article, you will agree that the Land Use Decree was one of the most progressive attempts to develop modern agriculture. This was aimed making land available to those who have the knowledge, resources and zeal to farm. It is unfortunate that the noble objectives of this programme could not be achieved due to strong attachment of people to their land and other considerations bordering on politics and ethnicity.

Land for agricultural activities, especially in the rural areas, is acquired mainly through inheritance; where a piece of land owned by a great ancestor is transferred within the family from generation to generation. The land tenure system has only succeeded in removing just few bottlenecks in urban areas.

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