Recently, I had a conversion with a lady who’s into real estate sales and I found myself trying to explain to her that in Nigeria, by law, all land belongs to the government. She was surprised and said, “that may be true in Lagos but it’s not so in Portharcout. I have done deals in Portharcourt that had nothing to do with the government”. The truth is, the law recognizes indigenous ownership of land but all land belongs to the government.
It is for this reason that the government gives you a Certificate of Occupancy and not a Certificate of Ownership. You are given exclusive rights to the land and allowed to occupy it for a period of time. So, what you have is a right of occupancy and nothing more. This right can be revoked if you do not abide by its terms and conditions and if the land is needed by the government for the benefit of the public. And, even when you decide to sell the land, you can’t sell it legally without the consent of the government. That’s why the government issues every subsequent owner of the property a Governor’s Consent title.
This law is not unique to Nigeria. It is the same in most countries. And I think its origin is ancient because in the Old Testament book of Leviticus God said, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me”.