By Amaka Ezeno, MCLArb,

There are different types of Land Tenure System which exist in Nigeria, varying from villages, towns, or cities. According to Damilola Ajayi, these are the varieties of Land Tenure Systems in Nigeria:

  1. Communal Land Tenure System
  2. Inheritance Tenure System
  3. Leasehold Tenure System
  4. Gift Tenure System
  5. Rent Tenure System
  6. Freehold Tenure System


Under this system, land  is owned and managed by a community or group of people. The head of the community decides the basis for land sharing or ownership. The Land Use Act of 1978 vests all land in a state in the governor of that state. The case of Gbadebo v Ogunleye establishes that communal ownership of land is recognized under Nigerian law. In this case, the court held that the land in question belonged to the entire community and not just the two family involved in the dispute.

Customary law recognizes communal ownership of land, meaning that the land belongs to the community as a whole, villages or families, rather than to any individual or group, with the chief, village, or family heads as the trustee holding the land on behalf of the communities. This is the rule held in the case of Amodu Tijani v. Secretary Southern Nigeria.

This implies that no individual within the unit can lay absolute claim to the land as the ultimate owner; ownership is held by the community and an individual cannot transfer title to another without the consent of the representatives of the communal or family unit. Thus, it became evident that under customary land law, there are two basic systems of land holding, viz: family and communal land holding.


Under the Inheritance Tenure System, property, including land is passed down at the death of the main owner to the next of kin through inheritance. The inheritance laws in Nigeria vary depending on the ethnic group and religion of the parties involved.

Inheritance Tenure System provides for unborn children, however in most instances, land allocation may result in conflict among beneficiaries and other family members.

The Administration of Estates Law governs the distribution of estates in Nigeria. The case of Okoye v. Okoye established that under Igbo Customary Law, daughters are entitled to inherit their father’s property. In this case, it was argued that the plaintiff was not entitled to inherit from her father’s property because she was married. The court held otherwise and ordered that it be distributed accordingly.


Under the leasehold Tenure System, ownership of a temporary right to hold land is vested in a tenant who holds the right to the land by some form of title from a landlord for a specified period of time usually for commercial or residential purposes.

It is important to note that such land cannot serve as security for loans. The leasehold system is governed by the Land Use Act of 1978, which vests ownership of all land in Nigeria in the hands of the government. The Act provides for the grant of leases and permits for the use of land, subject to certain restrictions.


Under the gift tenure system, rights to a piece of land is voluntarily given out by the owner to another person without any payment or consideration. It can serve as security for loans from financial institutions by the new land owner; however, land ownership can also be revoked by a court order.

The gift tenure system is governed by the Land Use Act of 1978, which requires that the gift must also be made in writing and registered with the appropriate land registry. In the case of Ibe v. Okoli it was held that in order for a gift of land to be valid, it must be made voluntarily, without any coercion or duress, and must be accepted by the recipient.


In rent tenure system, a tenant pays some amount for the period of using the land to a stated landlord. The period of rent is relatively very short compared to leasehold systems. This system is governed by the general principles of contract law and tenancy laws of each state.

In order for a tenancy agreement to be valid, there must be a clear offer made by the landlord, which is then accepted by the tenant. There must also be some form of consideration, such as payment of rent or a promise to perform a service. The parties must also have the capacity to enter into a contract, and the purpose of tenancy must be legal. The terms of the tenancy agreement must be clear and unambiguous, and the parties must have intended to create legal relations.


Under this system, a person pays a sum of money for the right of ownership of a piece of land. Here, the land can be used as collateral. This system is governed by the general principles of property law and the Land Use Act of 1978. In order for a freehold title to be valid, it must be registered with the appropriate land registry.