Area: Real Estate Law
Nigeria’s laws limit the right of foreigners to buy land in Nigeria. Consequently, there are restrictions and procedures to be complied with for any foreigner to buy property in Nigeria. The restrictions are put in place to control foreign land ownership in Nigeria.
The laws guiding foreign ownership of lands are enacted by various state governments in Nigeria, and there are 36 states in Nigeria together with the Federal Capital Territory.
The law that regulates the control of foreign ownership of land in Nigeria is the Acquisition of Lands by Alien Laws, of the States of the Federation except for Abuja, which is regulated by the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Act.
The Land Use Act 1978 Cap L5, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 regulates ownership of land in Nigeria and it vests all lands in Nigeria on the State Governor, as Section 1 of the Act provides that “all lands comprised in the territory of each state in the Federation are vested in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerian in accordance with the provisions of the Act”.
However, for this article, the examined law will be the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Law of Lagos State (ALAL) 1971. It is important to note that the law refers to foreigners as aliens.
Who is an Alien/Foreigner?
For the purpose of definition, Section 8 of the ALAL defines a foreigner/alien as the following;
any person other than a citizen of Nigeria;
any company or association or body of persons corporate or unincorporated other than;
a body corporate (in which the majority of the shares are held by natives of Nigeria) established specifically by or under any Act or Law which empowers that body of to acquire and hold land;
a corporate body incorporated under the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act- Part C-Incorporated Trustees or any other Act or Law containing general provisions for incorporation where the corporate body is composed solely of natives of Nigeria;
a corporate body established under any Law of the State relating to local government or education and empowered by that Law to acquire and hold land;
a co-operative society, the majority of the members of which are natives of Nigeria and which is registered under the provisions of any Law of the State relating to cooperative society;
a company or association or body of persons corporate or unincorporated which the Governor may by an order made under section 6(2) declare to be exempt from the provisions of this law”.
Flowing from the above definition, a foreigner/ alien can be in form of an individual or a corporate entity.
Restriction to buy land in Nigeria
Foreigners in Nigeria are restricted from buying land from Nigerian citizens and these restrictions are contained in Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the ALAL.
One of the restrictions to the right of a foreigner to buy land in Nigeria is provided in Section 1 of the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Law of Lagos State which provides that aliens are not to acquire land except with the approval of the State Governor as it states that “an alien may not acquire any interest or right in or over a land from a citizen of Nigeria unless the transaction under which the interest or right is acquired has been previously approved in writing by the Governor”.
In furtherance to this provision of the law above, any sale agreement or instrument in writing or under seal which a foreigner intends to use to acquire an interest or right in land, that has not been duly approved following the provision of the law will be void and will have no effect.
It goes further to state that where the rights to buy land has been lawfully acquired, the interest or right will not be transferred, alienated, demised, sold, or disposed of to any other foreigner under any process of law without the prior approval in writing by the Governor of such transaction or sale.
Another restriction of a foreigner to buy land in Nigeria is provided in Section 2(3) of the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Law of Lagos State which provides that “where a foreigner/alien has lawfully acquired an interest or right of ownership in or over a land from a citizen of Nigeria and such interest or right has become liable to be sold under any process of law, then such sale will be ordered to be made to the State Government in the first instance and if the Government declines, then to a citizen of Nigeria”.
The law also considers it unlawful for a foreigner to occupy any land belonging to a citizen of Nigeria unless the right of the alien to occupy was acquired in a transaction, which had received the prior approval of the Governor in writing as provided by Section 3 of the Law.
Procedure to Buy Land in Nigeria as a Foreigner
As earlier stated, there are restrictions designed to limit and control a foreigner from acquiring land from a Nigerian citizen in Nigeria. As a result of these restrictions, there is a set down procedure provided by the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Regulations 1971 for a foreigner to comply with to be able to buy land in Nigeria.
Section 6 of the ALAL provides that the Governor has the power to prescribe the procedure for the application for approval to acquire any interest or right in or over land by a foreigner.
In light of the above, the procedure to be complied with for a foreigner to buy land in Lagos Nigeria includes the followings:
The foreigner wishing to obtain the State Governors approval to buy land in Nigeria, following the law is required to submit to the State Commissioner an application in the prescribed form set out in the First Schedule of the Regulations.
The foreigner is required to pay into the sub-treasury, the appropriate prescribed fees and deliver the treasury receipt for the sum paid together with the application.
The applicant must furnish the State Commissioner with any information that may be required in respect of the application.
The State Governors’ approval is not required for a foreigner to acquire interest or rights in a land where the interest does not exceed five (5) years or where it concerns an interest or right in land subject to the State land Laws.
The grant of approval for a foreigner to buy land in Nigeria is at the discretion of the State Governor.
Upon the approval of the transaction by the Governor, the foreigner may go on to evidence the transaction by executing a duly registrable instrument.
The interest or right to be acquired by the foreigner will not be acquired for more than a term of twenty-five (25) years lease, including the option to renew and it shall not commence more than one month after the approval of the transaction as provided by Section 4 of the Regulations.
The governor’s written approval will be conveyed to the foreigner applicant in the prescribed form set out in the Regulations.
Finally, the Governor reserves the power to waive compliance with any of the requirements of the Regulations in any particular case or modify the conditions as provided by Section 6 of the Regulations.
Ordinarily, only Nigerian citizens have the right to buy land in Nigeria since all the lands in the country are vested in the State Governors for the benefits of the Nigerian citizens only. However, a foreigner can be allowed to buy land in Nigeria, but such acquisition will be subject to certain restrictions imposed by the Acquisition of Lands by Aliens Laws of various states and the principal restriction amongst others is that for a foreigner to buy land, the consent of the State Governor must be first had and obtained in writing.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.