Before the advent of the British Government in 1861, Nigerians operated customary land tenure system which was indigenous to the people. Like all other customs, the customary land tenure system varied from place to place and was accepted as ‘a mirror of accepted usage’, see Owoniyi v. Omotosho (1961) 1 All NLR 304 and Kimdey and Others v. Millitary Governor of Gongola State and Others (1988) 2 NWLR (Pt. 77) 445.
The Nigeria Land Law system continued after the arrival of the British Government. Although there were statutory erosions into customary law here and there, the system was allowed to maintain its essential character
A number of Ordinances were passed with the aim of acquiring land for use of government and private developments, these include Native Lands Acquisition Proclamation 1900, the Native Lands Acquisition Proclamation 1903, the Crown Lands Management Proclamation, 1906, as amended, the Native Acquisition Ordinance 1917, the Niger Lands Transfer Ordinance 1916 and the Crown Ordinance 1918. In 1935, the Registration of Title Act of that year was enacted.
This Act provided for the registration of land instruments recognized under the Act, Land Registration Act Cap 99 and the Registered Land Act 1965 was also enacted for the purpose of registration of titles to land.
In 1958 the State Lands Act Cap 45 was enacted which vested the ownership of all public lands in the state. In the Western Region, the Region enacted the Property and Conveyancing law, Cap 100 Laws of Western Nigeria 1959. Other laws are Land Instruments Preparation Law Cap.
55; Land Instruments Registration Law, Cap 56; Administration of Estates Law, Cap. 2; Public Lands Acquisition Law, Cap 105; Registration of Titles Law Cap. 57; Native Lands Acquisition Law Cap. 80; and Recovery of Premises Law, Cap 110.
In the Eastern Region, the Land Tenancy Law 1935 was enacted. Others include; Acquisition of Land by Aliens Law, 1957; Land Instrument Registration Law 1963; Land Instrument Preparation Law, 1963 and Recovery of Premises Law, 1963.
In the Northern Region, series of legislations were enacted by the British Crown. The first is the Crown Lands Proclamation 1902, which was an agreement between Sir Frederick Laggard and representatives of the Royal Niger Company under which all lands, rights and easements were vested in the High Commissioner for the time being in trust for His Majesty.
This was followed by the Niger Lands Ordinance of 1916. The next was the Land and Native Rights Proclamation 1908 which was re-enacted with amendments by the Land and Native Rights Ordinance of 1916.
This was the position until the Land Tenure Law 1962 was enacted by the Northern House of Assembly. This Law basically re-enacted the 1916 Law with some amendments.