Nature of land ownership and the types of land ownership.

Land is more than the physical surface of the earth and so when it comes to land ownership, it becomes a problem because of its homogenous characteristics. Thus, we can only own rights and interest in land which when well defined, prevents other people from coming to the land. Land rights are the powers and freedoms that one has over a parcel of land. This means that when one says she/he has land, what is of interest is ownership of particular types of rights to possess, to occupy and use the land in accordance with one’s desires. 

Generally, the rights that constitute ownership are;

  • The right to possess and use
  • To sell
  • To devise
  • To lease
  • To mortgage
  • To subdivide
  • To grant easements

The totality of these rights make one an absolute owner of land. These bundles of rights can be separated and be held by different people at the same time.The nature of the interest in land determines the kind of rights in property. One can therefore acquire an interest in a piece of land with all the rights or only some of them. 

Types of Land Ownership:

  • Original ownership (Allodial ownership)- This is the supreme and highest form of land ownership under customary law. Most often a corporate body such as stool/skin or clan/family will own this interest. It is the interest from which all other rights are derived.

    Mode of Acquisition:

    • This interest is acquired through Conquest and subsequent settlement and cultivation by the subjects of the stool/family.
    • The land is discovered by pioneers of the stool of an unoccupied land and subsequent settlement.
    • Acqiured through a gift or purchase by a stool.


  • Derived interest (Customary freehold also known as sub-paramount title, determinable estate otherwise called possessory or usufructuary title)- An interest in land held by sub-groups and individuals in land which is acknowledged to be owned allodially by a larger community of which the sub-group are members.

    Mode of Acquisition:

    • It is held as of right by the members who acquire it either by first cultivation or by succession from first cultivator, ancestors or by allotment from the owning group of which the sub- group is a member.
    • This is the type of ownership which a stool or family member acquires after settling on vacant land held by the group. This is also commonly called the ``usufruct.'' It may be acquired by an individual or family. This type of ownership is transferable. To acquire this title, the occupation of the subject should be more permanent in nature. May or may not require express grant.
    • Acquisition by the family could be by inheritance from a member of the stool or by an individual with assistance from the family.


  • Lesser interests (tenancies or interests in land which can be owned by a person who is or is not the paramount owner)- The law does not spell out the difference between these two, but customary tenancies such as share cropping (abusa and abunu) are placed in the latter category. Signed, written leases as between a residential landlord and tenant, or customary agricultural tenancies, are subordinate to allodial and customary freehold interests.

    These tenancies may be terminated by;

    • denial of the landlord’s title
    • abandonment
    • destruction or neglect
    • death without successor