Demolition or Compensation? What Landowners in Nigeria Need to Know and Do

Demolition or Compensation? What Landowners in Nigeria Need to Know and Do
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Owning land in Nigeria offers a sense of security and stability. However, there can be situations where the government steps in and issues a demolition order. This can be a confusing and stressful time for any landowner. The question that inevitably arises is: Demolition or Compensation? Will I Lose My Land?

This article will guide you through the legalities surrounding government demolition in Nigeria. We’ll walk you through the reasons why the government might demolish a structure, what determines whether you lose your land or not, and the steps you can take to protect yourself. Whether you’re facing a potential demolition or simply want to be prepared for the future, this article will equip you with the knowledge and resources you need.

Understanding land ownership in Nigeria requires examining the relationship between individuals and the government. Here, two key aspects play a major role:

1. The Land Use Act (1978): Transfer of Ownership to State Governors

This act, a significant piece of legislation, fundamentally changed land ownership in Nigeria. Prior to 1978, customary land tenure systems dominated, with communities managing land rights. The Land Use Act vested all land within a state in the Governor. This means individuals cannot claim absolute ownership but rather hold a “right of occupancy.” This right is granted by the Governor and documented through a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O).


See>>> 17 Things to Know Before Buying Land in Nigeria

2. Right of Government to Acquire Land (Constitution, Section 44)

Nigeria’s constitution, under Section 44, empowers the government to acquire land for public purposes. This can include development projects, infrastructure needs, or even situations deemed necessary for public good. However, the constitution also mandates “prompt payment of compensation” at fair market value. This ensures some level of protection for individuals whose land is acquired by the government.

It’s important to note that the Land Use Act and the government’s acquisition rights create a system where the state holds significant control over land use and development. This can be seen as a way to ensure equitable access to land and manage resources effectively. However, it also raises concerns about bureaucratic hurdles and potential limitations on individual land ownership rights.

Reasons for Government Demolition and Potential Outcomes for Landowners

Demolition or compensation


While the government holds significant authority over land, demolitions are not taken lightly. However, there are specific situations where the government may order demolition of structures:

Reasons for Government Demolition

Potential Outcomes for Landowner

The consequences of government demolition vary depending on the reason behind it:

  • Compensation for acquired land (fair market value): If the government acquires land for public projects under Section 44 of the constitution, the landowner is entitled to fair compensation based on the market value of the land.
  • Retention of land ownership (if demolition due to building violation): In cases where demolition is due to a building code violation, the landowner may retain ownership of the land itself. However, they will be responsible for bringing the structure into compliance with regulations before rebuilding.

It’s important to note that the demolition process should follow due process, including proper notification to the landowner. Additionally, the fairness of compensation and adherence to legal procedures can sometimes be contested.

Legal Considerations and Protections


Understanding the legal terrain is important when dealing with land ownership and potential government intervention. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Due process and notification requirements for demolition: The government cannot demolish a structure arbitrarily. Legal procedures must be followed, including issuing a demolition notice well in advance to allow the landowner to challenge the order or address any violations.
  • Importance of land title documents (Certificate of Occupancy): A Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is a necessary document proving your right of occupancy for a piece of land. Having a C of O strengthens your position in negotiations with the government regarding compensation or contesting a demolition order.
  • Right to seek legal recourse for wrongful demolition: If you believe a demolition was wrongful or carried out without due process, you have the right to seek legal redress through the court system. A lawyer can help you through the legal procedures and fight for your rights.


While the Land Use Act grants significant control to the government over land, it doesn’t eliminate individual rights entirely.

  • Land ownership not guaranteed in case of demolition: It’s important to understand that owning land in Nigeria doesn’t guarantee it will be immune from demolition, especially for public purposes or due to safety concerns.
  • Importance of following proper procedures to protect your rights: However, legal protections exist. By ensuring you have a C of O, understanding due process requirements, and being aware of your right to legal recourse, you can take steps to safeguard your interests.

Following these guidelines can help you go through land ownership and potential government intervention in Nigeria. Remember, consulting with a legal professional familiar with land law is always recommended for specific situations.

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