Home Articles Land Administration: A Catalyst to Economic Development

Land Administration: A Catalyst to Economic Development

Proper land administration has the capability to alleviate poverty. The article takes an in-depth look at how organized land administration system in Nigeria has been used to ensure overall economic development

The Federal Republic of Nigeria covers an area of 923,768 km² on the coast of West Africa. The country is divided administratively into thirty-six states, seven hundred and seventy-four (774) local government areas and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. An estimated 250 ethnic groups, speaking over four hundred languages, live here.

The land use pattern is comprised of arable land which is about 33% of the total land area, permanent pastures covering 44%, permanent crops covering 3%, forest and woodlands 12% and others 8%. Thus, land is still the main asset of rural Nigerians with over 80% being peasant farmers.  

The conventional economic thoughts consider land as a factor of production in much the same way as labor, capital and entrepreneur. Land should no longer be referred to as the seed bearing surface or the physical structure placed on it only but as a space that contains activities which are artificially defined and delineated by surveys and structured from the natural world.

Land administration is the process of determining, recording and disseminating information about ownership, value and use of land when implementing a land management policy. It is a process and an instrument for government to offer security of tenure, regulate land market, implement land reform, protect the environment, levy taxes etc as well as serve the peculiar development needs of her citizens. Land administration is the way in which the rules of land tenure are applied and made operational. A good land administration system aims at equitable distribution of wealth to encourage economic growth and development.

Land policies in Africa have recently attracted attention for three reasons; first, there is recognition that enhancing smallholder productivity is critical for sustainable and broad based growth as well as poverty reduction. Secondly, demand for land, and in many cases land prices, has greatly increased with population growth, urbanization and overall economic development. Higher land value makes land registration more rewarding. Thirdly, in a decentralized setting, land administration cannot only help provide public goods and improve government finances but it can also help rural areas to develop on the basis of more than just agriculture.

Nigeria became independent on 1st October, 1960 and ever since has been promulgating law in all aspects of national issues including land. The Land Tenure Law was put in place in 1962. Under the Act, the absolute ownership rights of the natives overland was subjugated and circumscribed to a mere right of occupancy, which is a limited right of use over land for a determinable period. The control and management of land was transferred from the emirs to the chief executive of the northern protectorate.

This management power was so expansive that even the limited right of the use of land is revocable by the chief executive without compensation in some cases. And where compensation was payable it was only for the improvement or development on the land and not the land itself. Thus, one may reasonably conclude that the British administration in the north pursued a policy of land nationalization based on the socialist concept of state ownership and control of major factors of production, particularly land. This policy was akin to the customary land tenure which sees land as one corporately owned and managed for the benefit and development of members of the group or family or community concerned. Through this policy, the colonial administration in the north was able to rationally, effectively and efficiently manage the land resources in the area. Irrespective of any drawback in the Act, it succeeded to a large extent at reducing land speculation and grabbing, land disputes and uncertainty of the title of land in the area. This paternalistic policy continued until the eve of the promulgation of the Land Use Act in 1978.

The introduction of the Land Use Act and its provision is a justification for the success of the application of the Land Tenure Law to the then Northern Nigeria. The post independent land policy in Nigeria exhibited dual features and characteristics. In southern Nigeria, the policy was dualism with customary land tenure system, operating side by side and at times overlapping with the English land tenure system. The northern policy was characterized by a paternalistic system which essentially nationalized all lands turning former owners into tenants.

This fragmented land policy situation was fostered and encouraged by the fact that there was no national land policy for the whole country irrespective of the importance of land to production and development of the nation. Furthering this haphazard posture was the fact that constitutionally, land matters and management was regarded as a residual matter within the legislative competency of the various states that constitute the country; a position which encouraged the development of multifarious land legislations and policies in the country.

This state of flux with respect to land policy and management in the country continued till the promulgation of the Land Use Act 1978, which subsequently introduced uniform land tenure legislation throughout the country, but without a uniform administrative and implementation policy.

The Land Use Act of 1978

Given the prevailing situation in the country with respect to the land tenure and management system, the government of the day promulgated the Land Use Act in 1978 to address extant contrasting land tenure system in the country; the hassles in getting land for public purposes, particularly in the Southern Nigeria, the need to curb the activities of land speculators and justly redistribute land resources. The Land Use Act is a product of the recommendation of the Land Use Panel set up by the government in 1977. The need to set up the Land Use Panel was a fallout of the recommendation to the rent panel set up by the government to address the concerns of the urban wage earners in the aftermath of the cessation of the civil war and the oil boom in the country. The Rent Panel identified land tenure to be a major constraint to the successful implementation of many developmental programmes in the country.

In its recommendation, the Rent Panel endorsed the governments” rejection of the nationalization of all lands in the country, though it associated itself with the view of not been able to build a modern society on a policy of non-interference with an outdated customary tenure system. It thus, recommended the establishment of a Land Reform Commission with powers to study very closely the various aspects of the country’s land tenure systems and to recommend steps to be taken to streamline them; take stock of the land situation in the country and establish order of  priorities; control future uses and open new land for the needs of Nigeria’s growing population, especially in urban areas.

These recommendations formed the fulcrum of the Terms of Reference of the Land Use Panel subsequently set up by the government to “examine the land tenure systems in the country and recommend steps to streamline them and facilitate the acquisition of land for the construction of housing, especially by owner occupiers”. The recommendations of the Land Use Panel gave birth to the promulgation of the Land Use Decree Act on March 29th, 1978.

Land Admin

Image: Typical Analogue Registry

Salient Features of the Land Use Act

The thrust of the Decree was largely to extend the Northern system of Land management to the whole country, as a means of ensuring easier access to land for government, and ostensibly, for individuals. Like most other land policy enactments and land reform legislations, the Land Use Act is intended to achieve a number of political, economic and social objectives. It made a modest attempt at land redistribution so as to achieve a wider measure of social justice and tackle the economic ills associated with extreme fragmentation of farm land.

In over 30years of operation, the Land Use Act has succeeded substantially at making it easier for government to acquire land for public purposes; drastically minimized the burden of land compensation and considerably reduced land litigation. It has however created a new genre of problems for land management in the country particularly in the Housing sector of the economy.

Land AdminImage: An Organized Analogue Registry

Problems of the Land Use Act And its Threat to Economic Development

The administration of the Act has led to the development of speculative compulsory acquisition of land by the various state governors. This is a policy whereby the governor would declare an area as acquired land for the state and or its agency. Since such land is usually undeveloped, no compensation is paid. Subsequently, after so many years and particularly when individuals in need of land had developed such land, the state government will then start selling the land to such developers. This does not mean ratification or outright sale. Such policy adds no positive value to land management but only aggravates the problems of land scarcity, speculation and cost with adverse effects on the development of the economy.

Challenges of Land Administration in Nigeria

In addition to policy and legislative issues, there are other challenges facing Land Administration in the country such as:

(i) State autonomy creates problems of control, especially in the selection of a system for Land Administration
(ii) There is a dearth of suitable indigenous technical expertise in the country, low level of training and capacity building programmes
(iii) The capital outlay and financial requirement are high and technical support for the implementation of modernization programs is low
(iv) The level of property development is low because of absence of “possessory right” to land
(v) Inadequate large scale cadastral maps required for the preparation of title documents (Certificate of Occupancy)
(vi) Ineffective infrastructure for land management

Land AdminFig: Challenges of Land Administration in Nigeria

New Initiatives in Land Administration for Economic Development

Towards the beginning of the millennium and the current democratic dispensation in the country, Nigeria commenced a regime of reforms, particularly in land and economy. This was in a bid to correct some mistakes of the past that have hampered economic development and national growth. Motivated by the desire to put Nigeria among the twenty largest economies in the World by the year 2020, Late President Umaru Yar” Adua anchored his programmes on a seven point agenda, which included a Land Reform Programme. In a bid to actualize Land Reform, the Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reform was inaugurated by Mr. President on April 2, 2009.

The Land Reform

The main thrust of the Land Reform is to create a system of land administration that will ensure that all Nigerians whether living in rural or urban areas of the country have a document or title indicating their right to any parcel of land for any standard period of lease or ownership that the nation may decide. This would enable them to draw capital from their land and assist the society to develop a healthy attitude to property right.

Infrastructure for Effective Land Administration

Since the beginning of the fourth Republic, efforts have been made to put in place appropriate infrastructure that will support effective land administration in the country. In order to ensure efficiency in the national land administration, the Federal Government has established a computerized programme for all lands held and allocated by the Federal Government under the Federal Land Information System (FELIS), and collaborated with her Majesty”s Land Registry for professional and technical support to improve the land administration system.  Also to facilitate the harmonization of land administration nationwide, the National Technical Development Forum (NTDF) on Land Administration was inaugurated.

In order to address the problem of geospatial data production, storage, retrieval, manipulation, visualization, data sharing and inadequate cadastral maps, the Cadastral Geographic Information System (CADGIS) laboratory was established in the Cadastral Survey Unit of Federal Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development and a National Cadastral Township Mapping program was also articulated.

Land Admin

Fig: Infrastructure for Land Administration

The Federal Land Information System (FELIS)

The Federal Land Information System (FELIS) is one of the key infrastructures of land administration in Nigeria. It is the computerization program that captures records of land held and allocated by the Federal Government of Nigeria nationwide with reference to their particular spatial location within the country. However, these constitute only properties with appropriate survey information and title documents. It holds details about ownership of land, location, use and subsequent transactions on it and dexterity to use available information for some analysis.
It offers a relational central database management system for the control and management of such land records; it has improved the preparation and production of title documents (Certificates of Occupancy) to beneficiaries. The rate of preparation of title documents has jumped from about 100 titles per annum to about 1,500 titles over the same period.

It also helps to introduce transparency in the management of Federal Government land across the country. It is intended to be the hub of the expected network of land records across the 36 States of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Abuja in the National Land Depository. When fully operational, the system is going to provide access to stakeholders and investors through the web.

National Technical Development Forum (NTDF) on Land Administration

The National Council on Housing and Urban Development (comprising State Commissioners responsible for land matters presided over by the Federal Minister of Land, Housing and Urban Development) approved the establishment of National Technical Development Forum (NTDF) on Land Administration in 2005. This is to ensure consistent operation in land administration in Nigeria as well as system harmonization.

The structure of the forum is such that it consists of three (3) categories of officers namely, Land Officers, Cadastral Surveyors and Deed Registrars from the thirty-six (36) states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as members; while the Lands and Housing Department at the Federal Level provides the leadership and the policy thrust. Due to the importance of the Forum, the Heads of Lands Departments, States Surveyor Generals and Chief Registrars of Deeds of different states participate in the activities individually.

The Cadastral Geographic Information System (CADGIS) Laboratory

The Cadastral Survey Unit that supports Land Administration through the production of Cadastral and Legal Survey plans or Title Deed Plans (TDP) operates in the analogue mode which does not support quick geospatial data production, storage, retrieval, manipulation, visualization, sharing etc. To address this problem, the Cadastral Geographic Information System (CADGIS) laboratory was established to interface with the Federal Land Information System (FELIS). In addition, a program to convert all the old analogue Cadastral Survey plans to their digital equivalents and to upload them to FELIS was put in place.

One of the critical challenges of land administration in Nigeria is insufficiency of large scale cadastral maps for the processing of title documents. This is the large scale geospatial models of all the features, topography, hydrography of the Nigerian land space including lands held and allocated by the Federal Government of Nigeria nationwide. In an attempt to address this, a National Cadastral Township Mapping programme was articulated and approved by a Ministerial committee. The implementation of the mapping programme was started by the provision of a second order control network nationwide but was stopped due to paucity of funds. However, the Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation in an effort to produce geospatial data set for all sectors has procured high resolution imagery (2.5m resolution) covering the whole country and has also commenced Township mapping of some state capitals through the cadastral survey Unit.

Land AdminFig: Cadastral Concept

The Deed Registries and Survey Offices Nationwide

Due to the joint efforts of the National Technical Development Forum and the Office of the Surveyor General, some of the various state Deed Registries and Survey Offices have been upgraded and modernized. Many of them have transformed from analogue to digital mode, established Geographic Information Systems and trained some of their staff who will run the Land Administration process.


Nigeria is mainly an agrarian society and until oil was discovered some 50 years ago, agriculture was the principal foreign exchange earner for the country. Even with the economy currently dominated by the oil and gas sector, 60% of the workforce is employed in the agricultural sector largely dominated by non- commercial farming. Land administration in Nigeria has been in the forefront of the National Economic Plan as over 80% of information acquired in the process of all economic activity in the country is location based. This explains why Land Reform had always been on the National Agenda for economic development.

In Nigeria, the current trend in land administration is cooperation, and collaboration among the major key players in the sector. This is because Land Administration is multi-sectoral, again there is an ongoing sanitization on the benefits therein in a titled land, the citizens are more aware of the potential in titled property having the capability to alleviate poverty.

In an attempt to economically empower the vast majority of Nigerians who are rural dwellers and sensitize them that land holdings are exchanged for economic capital, the current Federal Government of Nigeria initiated the Land Reform Agenda, making all possible efforts to ensure that infrastructure for land administration is established. This is to unlock the capital in land and promote economic development for National growth.