Effect Of Non-Payment Of Ground Rent In Nigeria

Daily Law Tips (Tip 782) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)

Introduction: 
Nigeria is a country where there are no land owners but land holders, because all lands belong to government. Contrary to public opinion, it must be emphasized, that all lands in Nigeria belong to government, including lands in villages, communities and inherited/ancestral lands. All lands in Nigeria are vested on the governors of states in Nigeria and the Governors hold the lands in trust for the benefit of all Nigerians. Nigeria has 36 States with 36 Governors. However, Federal Government lands are vested on Federal Government of Nigeria. Hence, no human being, individual, group, community or company in the world owns any land in Nigeria.

State Governors rent out lands to people in Nigeria and issue certificates of occupancy (popularly known as C of O) as proof of such grants. In turn people in Nigeria hold and use their lands in accordance with the terms and conditions stipulated by government. Also, the land holders pay rent (Ground Rent) to government every year, for the lands granted/rented to them by government. It is correct to say that Nigerians and foreigners in Nigeria, are mere tenants/lessees on the lands they occupy, while State Governors and the President of Nigeria are the true Landlords. Most times, a Certificate of Occupancy is for a period of 99 years, after which the land returns back to government. So, it is wrong to legally say that any person apart from government, owns a land in Nigeria or is a land owner in Nigeria.

This is the simple justification for the powers of government to collect back any land from any person (human being, individual, group, community or company) and pay compensation for any improvement made on the land and then use the land for any public use. Yes, government can compulsory acquire any land from any person in any part of Nigeria, after all, all lands belong to government. Also, government does not pay compensation for any land that it takes over, after all, all lands belong to government. Rather, government pays compensation for any development/improvement made on a land; like buildings, cash crops and any immovable structure. Such compensations are often paid by government, where the occupier of the land is lawfully occupying the land and not a mere trespasser with no good title documents. Links to my earlier works on the compulsory acquisition of lands and payment of compensation by government are in the below, footnote. https://learnnigerianlaws.com/how-to-receive-free-daily-law-tips/

Ground Rent and Powers of Government:
GROUND RENT is a tax charged and collected by a State Government on a land (both developed or undeveloped) that was granted by the state government. It is to be paid by a land holder within a given period. Ground Rent calculations by a state government is not affected by improvements, developments and structures built on land.

In any tenancy/lease agreement, the tenant/ lessee must hold and use the rented land in accordance with the terms and conditions of the tenancy/lease. Likewise, in holding any land in Nigeria, any land holder must occupy and use the land in accordance with the terms and conditions stipulated by government. Most certificates of occupancy contain some terms and conditions for the land. Among the common conditions that government stipulates for lands in Nigeria, include; timely payment of ground rent, timely payment of penal rent (if any) and the duty to obtain the Governor’s consent before any sale, mortgage, transfer of possession, sub-lease or gift of the land.

Since rules without punishment is waste, breaching the terms and conditions of a land in Nigeria, comes with serious punishments. Simply by section 28 of the Land Use Act (the federal land law), a State Governor can revoke a Certificate of Occupancy where the holder of land refuses to pay Ground Rent or any other rent ordered by government in respect of land. The revocation is to be communicated to the defaulting holder of land, following the communication, the interest of the defaulting holder of land terminates. So, failure to pay ground rent or any other rent demanded by government may cause government to revoke and terminate the land titles of the defaulting person. https://learnnigerianlaws.com/how-to-receive-free-daily-law-tips/

The powers of State Governors over lands in their state are enormous. Under section 5 of the Land Use Act, a State Governor has powers to waive all or part of the terms and conditions of any land in his state. A State Governor can waive any condition, (including the payment of ground rent or any rent), where he believes there are special circumstances, that have made compliance to the conditions to be impossible or to cause great hardship. A State Governor also has the powers to extend the time for any land holder to perform any condition attached to a land and in a manner as the Governor may wish.

Conclusion:
State Governors have a lot of powers (or all the powers on earth) over lands in their respective states, except for lands occupied or desired by the Federal Government. Failure to pay ground rent or to comply with any of the conditions for a land, can cause government to revoke the title over the land. Where a land holder has violated any of the terms and conditions of his land, it is advisable to seek for waivers or extension of time from the concerned state government. A State Governor (or his designated appointee, like the Commissioner for Land) have powers to grant and to revoke lands in their state.

Where there are cogent and compelling reasons that forced a land holder to violate the terms and condition of his land, such a person aside seeking for waiver or extension from government, can also approach a court of law. It is a High Court in a state that can entertain and handle cases of land dispute and land related matters. This is important especially in cases where state governments are illogical and set to witch-hunt.

Source: The Nigeria Lawyer