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Understanding the Basics of Rights of Occupancy in Nigeria

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As a private individual in Nigeria, you have the right to claim ownership of land through a certificate of occupancy. It’s important to note that it is not possible to own land outright in the country. Instead, the law allows for a person to have an interest in land for a specific period of time.

All land within Nigeria’s borders is under the control of each state’s governor, so it’s essential to have a certificate of occupancy to prove that you are the owner of a particular piece of land.

In this article, we’ll delve into the concept of a right of occupancy, what it means, and how you can obtain one.

What is Right of Occupancy?

right of occupancy

In Nigeria, the most ownership interest you can have in a piece of land is called a right of occupancy. This is granted to you by the governor of your state and allows you to use and occupy the land as the owner.

It’s important to note that you cannot transfer your ownership of the land to another person without the governor’s consent. A right of occupancy is considered the “maximum interest” that can be held by a private individual in any land in the country.

When you hold a right of occupancy, you are referred to as a “holder.” This can be a single person, a group, a company, or an institution. A holder has all the rights over a specific piece of land that are associated with ownership.

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Types of Rights of Occupancy

In Nigeria, there are two types of grants that allow you to live on land: statutory and customary. These grants can be either actual, which is a clear agreement, or implied, 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 of occupancy is granted by the governor of your state and is governed by the Land Use Act. This right is typically for a definite term of 99 years. It can be granted to you directly by the governor or through an act that applies to the land in your area.

When you receive a statutory right of occupancy, you will typically enter into a contract with the governor outlining the terms of the agreement. It’s important to understand the extent of this right, which is outlined in the law as follows:

1. The Exclusive Right to Land

The grant gives you an exclusive right over land. You can enforce this against all persons except the governor of the state where the land is located.

2. Absolute Possession of all Improvements on the Land

The grant gives you the sole right to possess all the developments and improvements done on the land. This includes buildings and properties on the land. 

3. Right to Transfer of Property

You can transfer, assign, or mortgage any property on the land once you have been granted a statutory right of occupancy.

4.Right to Compensation where your Land is Acquired

As a holder, you have a right to be compensated if the government decides to acquire your land for public purposes. The land use act specifies the degree of compensation.

Customary Right of Occupancy

In non-urban areas of Nigeria, the local government typically grants a customary right of occupancy. Like a statutory grant, this can be either an express grant or an implied grant.

An express grant of a customary right of occupancy is when the local government directly grants a person or group the right to use land in rural areas for agricultural or related purposes. 

On the other hand, an implied grant of a customary right of occupancy is granted to a landholder who registers their interest in a piece of land to further protect it. 

According to the law, a customary title holder is deemed to have been granted a right of occupancy over such land, meaning that the local government cannot grant a right of occupancy to anyone else for that piece of land.

A right of occupancy can also be acquired through transactions such as assignment, mortgage, sale, gift, and lease from existing holders of a right of occupancy. It can also be obtained through the will or letter of administration of a person who previously held a certificate of occupancy but has since passed away.

Difference Between Actual Grant and Deemed Grant

An actual grant is when the governor directly and expressly grants you a right of occupancy for a specific period of time and purpose on land in an urban area. On the other hand, a deemed or implied grant is a legal right of occupancy given to a person who owned the land at the start of the Act, whether the land is developed or “bare,” meaning it has not been built on.

It’s essential to understand the distinction between these two types of grants, as they can have different implications for your ownership interest in the land.

Certificate of Occupancy

certificate of occupancy

A certificate of occupancy is a legal document that serves as proof that you have been granted the right to live on a particular piece of land in Nigeria. 

It’s important to note that a certificate of occupancy does not confer ownership of the land, but rather serves as evidence that you hold a right of occupancy for the land. 

According to the law, the governor of the state in which the land is located must issue a certificate of occupancy to anyone who has a legal right to live on the land and must sign it as evidence of the holder’s right of occupancy.

It’s a good idea to obtain a certificate of occupancy for your land or property if you own it. This document serves as proof of ownership and can help protect your rights as a landowner. Without a certificate of occupancy, the government may be able to seize your land without compensation.

Where to Obtain a Certificate of Occupancy

As a landowner or property owner in Nigeria, you can obtain your certificate of occupancy (C of O) through the appropriate state department responsible for land matters (usually the Ministry of Lands). However, if you are planning to buy or sell land in the country, it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer to ensure that all necessary steps are taken.

In some cases, the person you are buying the land from may determine how you will obtain your certificate of occupancy. It’s essential to confirm that the government does not already own the land you are interested in purchasing and that the seller legally owns the land and has a certificate of occupancy. 

If the seller already has a certificate of occupancy, you can typically change the title by going to the title registry of the state where the land is located. If you bought the land from the state government, the process for obtaining a certificate of occupancy will typically be initiated once the land sale is confirmed.

It’s important to note that obtaining a certificate of occupancy will come at a cost, which varies from state to state and is often connected to the market value of land or property in the area. For example, it may cost more to obtain a certificate of occupancy in Lagos or Abuja than in other states. 

Steps to Obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy

To obtain a certificate of occupancy, you must follow certain procedures that depend on the type of land you are interested in. There are separate procedures for obtaining a certificate of occupancy for state-owned land, non-state-owned land, and an electronic certificate of occupancy.

To apply in person for a certificate of occupancy for state-owned land, you will need to obtain a form from Nigeria’s Ministry of Land Use and Allocation Committee. You can also download the form from their website and submit it along with the following documents:

  • Complete the Application Form;
  • Letter to Executive Secretary;
  • Income Tax payment proof;
  • Recent Development Levy;
  • Plan of Survey;
  • Form of Allocation with Receipt;
  • Four Passport Photographs;
  • Receipt of payment; and other necessary documents.

For non-state-owned land, you will need to submit an application form and a Vital Information Form for a Certificate of Occupancy, along with a site inspection report.

An electronic certificate of occupancy is similar to a hard copy, but it allows you to obtain it electronically rather than going to the office in person. Once your electronic certificate of occupancy has been approved, you can obtain it automatically through the ministry’s website. 

Revocation of Right of Occupancy

revocation of right of occupancy

There are several situations in which your right of occupancy may be revoked by the Governor or local government. 

This can occur if the land is needed for a public purpose, such as mining or an oil pipeline, or if you fail to abide by the provisions under which the right of occupancy was granted. 

Additionally, refusal to accept and pay for a certificate of occupancy that has been issued and cancelled by the Governor can also result in revocation of your right of occupancy. 

To avoid any potential issues, review and follow the terms of your right of occupancy.

Procedure for Revocation

Before the Governor can revoke a certificate of occupancy, the individual holding it must be informed that their right to occupy the land or property has been terminated. Upon receiving such notice, the individual’s ownership of the land or property ends on the date specified in the notice. 

To avoid having your right of occupancy revoked, it’s important to fulfill your obligations as a holder of a right of occupancy. 

If your right of occupancy is terminated for a public reason, you are entitled to compensation, which is determined by the value of the unfinished improvements on the land at the time of revocation. 

It’s important to note that no one, including the Governor, can legally take away your right of occupancy unless the land is acquired through legal means and compensation is provided.


It’s important to note that a certificate of occupancy does not grant title or ownership of a property. To fully establish ownership of a developed property, such as one with buildings or structures, it’s important to review other documents like a deed of assignment, deed of lease, deed of gift, vesting orders, and assent. 

To ensure a smooth and legal transaction, it’s advisable to hire a property consultant and a  lawyer to conduct due diligence on the property and represent your interests. This can help avoid potential legal issues in the future. 

In essence, always confirm the ownership status of a property before proceeding with any transactions.

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