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Nigeria's Land Use Act: An Anti-Thesis to Environmental Justice

  • Rhuks T Ako


Nigeria's Land Use Act, promulgated in 1978, is perhaps the most controversial legislation in the country. The Act, originally promulgated as a decree and annexed to the country's constitution, was ostensibly made to nationalize landholding in the country. However, the peculiar impact of the Act on the inhabitants of the Niger Delta region that hosts upstream activities of the oil industry has led to assertions that the Act was made specifically to deprive those inhabitants of the right to participate actively in the oil industry. This article examines the impact of the Act on the right of inhabitants to access justice. It argues that the Act obstructs their rights to environmental justice and is a fundamental cause of the violent conflicts that pervade the region.



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1 Definition available at: <> (last accessed 16 April 2007).

3 See generally, Clayton, SModels of justice in the environmental debate” (2000) 56 Journal of Social Issues 3 at 459–74.

4 Refer to Bullard, R and Johnson, GEnvironmental justice: Grassroots activism and its impact on policy decision making” (2000) 56/3Journal of Social Issues 555 at 555–78.

5 Land Use Act, chap L5, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

6 The Ijaws form the largest ethnic group in the region and are the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria.

7 The Environment and Conflicts Project is an organisation which engages in research that focuses particularly on environmental crisis as a source and trigger of conflict and war.

8 G Baechler “Transformation of resource conflicts: Approach and instruments” (Discussion Forum North-South, basic document no 3), available at: <> (last accessed 22 October 2007).

9 R Ako and O Oyelade “Human rights, the environment and conflict: The case of Nigeria's Delta region” (paper presented at the Indian Society of International Law Fifth International Conference on International Environmental Law, New Delhi, India, 8–9 December 2007), conference proceedings vol 2, 900 at 904.

10 See note 1 above for the EPA definition.

11 See, for example, Lee, CDeveloping the vision of environmental justice: A paradigm for achieving healthy and sustainable communities” (1995) 14 Virginia Environmental Law Journal 573 at 573–75; Bullard, RSolid wastes sites and the black Houston community” (1983) 53/2–3Sociological Inquiry 273 at 273–88; United Church of Christ (UCC) Toxic Wastes And Race in the United States: A National Report on The Racial and Socio-Economic Characteristics with Hazardous Waste Sites (1987, UCC, Commission for Racial Justice); and US General Accounting Office Siting of Hazardous Waste Landfills and their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities (1983, US General Accounting Office).

12 Lee, ibid.

13 Sustainable Development Research Network (SDRN) SDRN Briefing Two: Environment and Social Justice (2004, SDRN) at 1.

14 National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) Meaningful Involvement and Fair Treatment by Tribal Environmental Regulatory Programs (2004, NEJAC) at 5.

15 See note 1.

16 Beinart, W and McGregor, J (eds) Social History and African Environments (2003, James Currey) at 2.

17 Obiora, ASymbolic episodes in the quest for environmental justice” (1991) 21/2Human Rights Quarterly 466 at 477.

18 Note particularly in this regard sec 47(2) of the Act, that purportedly ousts the jurisdiction of courts to determine the adequacy of compensation paid under the Act.

19 G Mbamalu, C Mbamalu and D Durett “Environmental justice issues in developing countries and in the Niger Delta” (paper delivered at the International Conference on Infrastructure Development and the Environment, Abuja, Nigeria, 10–15 September 2006) at 5.

20 Ibid. Also, see generally Bullard, RDumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality (1994, Westview Press).

21 R Bullard “Solid wastes sites”, above at note 11; Gbadegesin, S “Multinational corporations, developed nations and environmental racism: Toxic waste, exploration and eco-catastrophe” in Westra, L and Lawson, B (eds) Faces of Environmental Racism: Confronting Issues of Global Justice (2nd ed, 2001, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers) 187 at 195. See also Simon, DCorporate environmental crimes and social inequality” (2000) 43/4American Behavioural Scientist 633 at 633–45.

22 Mbamalu, Mbamalu and Durett “Environmental justice issues”, above at note 19 at 7.

23 “Capital” is applied broadly to include any stock which is capable of being stored, accumulated, exchanged or depleted and which can be put to work to generate a flow of income or other benefits. Thus, political capital refers to stocks or reserves of power or private assets, describing the position of individuals or groups of social actors in relation to political institutions. See Lemons, J, Westra, L and Goodland, R (eds) Ecological Sustainability and Integrity: Concepts and Approaches (1998, Kluwer Academic) at 73.

24 Agbola, T and Alabi, M “Political economy of petroleum resources development, environmental injustice and selective victimization: A case study of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria” in Agyeman, J, Bullard, R and Evans, B (eds) Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World (2003, MIT Press) 269 at 277.

25 Id at 269–88.

26 For a full discussion on the role of the dominant ethnic groups in controlling the national economy, see Ikejiafor, UThe God that failed: A critique of public housing in Nigeria, 1975–1995” (1999) 23/2Habitat International 177 at 177–88.

27 Nigeria: Report of Rent Panel 1976 at 67, quoted in “Land use policies since 1960”, available at: <> (last accessed 17 April 2007).

31 Report of the Land Use Panel: Main Report MayNov 1977 (1977, Federal Government) at 1.

32 Francis, PFor the use and common benefit of all Nigerians: Consequences of the 1978 land nationalization” (1984) 54/3Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 5 at 7.

33 For example, claims to ownership and agitation to participate more actively, especially in the benefits from the oil industry, were contributory causes of the revolution led by Adaka Boro and the civil war.

34 (1991) 5 NWLR (pt 190) 130 at 223, paras (d)–(g) per Obaseki JSC.

35 These include the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Petroleum Act (P10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004), which both assert the federal government's absolute ownership of oil, as well as the Offshore Oil Revenue Decree no 9 of 1971 which abrogated rights of states to claim royalties for “offshore” oil.

36 A Akaakar “Appraising the oil and gas laws: A search for enduring legislation for the Niger Delta region”, available at: <> (last accessed 09 March 2006).

37 See generally the decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Attorney General of the Federation v Attorney General of Abia State and 35 Others 10 NSCQR 163.

38 Francis “For the use and common benefit”, above at note 32 at 5–28.

39 Even the Act recognizes the importance of the traditional ruler. For instance, sec 29(3)(b) provides that, if the holder or the occupier entitled to compensation under the section is a community, the governor may direct that any compensation payable to it shall be paid to the chief or leader of the community to be disposed of by him for the benefit of the community, in accordance with applicable customary law.

40 Adedeji, A and Ako, RHindrances to effective legal response to the problem of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta” (2005) 5/1UNIZIK Law Journal 415 at 415–39.

41 See generally Ukeje, CYouths, violence and the collapse of public order in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria” (2001) 26/2Africa Development 337 at 342.

43 See generally sec 29(3) of the Act.

44 K Ebeku “Oil and the Niger Delta people: The injustice of the Land Use Act” (2001) 9/14 CEPMLP Internet Journal, available at: <> (last accessed 22 May 2002).

45 Constitutional Rights Project (CRP) Land, Oil and Human Rights in Nigeria's Delta Region (1999, CRP) at 15–16.

47 Ebeku “Oil and the Niger Delta people”, above at note 44.

48 Hon Justice O Inko-Tariah, Chief JA Ahaiakwo, BA Alamina, Chief G Amadi “Commission of inquiry to the causes and circumstances of the disturbances that occurred at Umuechem in the Etche local government area of Rivers State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria” (1990), quoted in C Obi “Oil, environmental conflict and national security in Nigeria: Ramifications of the ecology-security nexus for sub-regional peace” (Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security occasional paper 1997) at 15.

49 P Torulagha “It is time to repeal the land and resources use decrees” Nigeria World, available at: <> (last accessed 18 June 2009).

50 Okafor, SIdeal and reality in British administrative policy in Eastern Nigeria” (1974) 73/293African Affairs 459 at 459–71.

51 See generally, Human Rights Watch The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria's Oil Producing Communities (1999, Human Rights Watch/Africa) at 92.

52 Report of the Commission Appointed to Enquire Into Fears of Minorities and the Means of Allaying Them (CO957/4, July 1958, Colonial Office) at 94.

53 Id at 87.

55 Id at 94.

56 I Okonta “The lingering crisis in Nigeria's Niger Delta and suggestions for a peaceful resolution”, available at: <> (last accessed 22 June 2004). See also Alagoa, E and Tamuno, T (eds) Lands and Peoples of Nigeria: Rivers State (1989, Riverside Communications) and G Ejuwa “Niger-Delta: Panacea to perennial crisis” Vanguard Newspapers (Lagos), available at: <> (last accessed 20 February 2006).

57 Crisis Group The Swamps of Insurgency: Nigeria's Delta Unrest (Africa report no 115, 2006, Crisis Group) at 4.

58 See generally Soremekun, K and Obi, CThe changing pattern of foreign investment in the Nigerian oil industry” (1993) 18/3Africa Development 5 at 14. See also M Ross “Nigeria's oil sector and the poor” (paper prepared for the UK Department for International Development “Nigeria: Drivers of Change” programme, May 2003) at 12; and “The Biafran War” (Inventory of Conflict and Environment case study), available at: <> (last accessed 1 October 2006).

59 Originally decree no 51 of 1969.

60 Originally decree no 34 of 1968.

61 Originally decree no 31 of 1966.

62 Originally decree no 9 of 1971.

63 Omeje, KHigh Stakes and Stakeholders: Oil Conflict and Security in Nigeria (2006, Ashgate) at 47.

64 (1972) ANLR 543.

65 Statement credited to Chief Philip Asiodu in 1984 who, since his retirement, has served in almost every government in one capacity or another. He was permanent secretary under the regime of General Gowon, served as special adviser on petroleum affairs to President Shagari during the second republic and was chairman of a presidential advisory committee in the 1999 civilian government of President Obasanjo.

66 V Isumonah “Oil and minority ethnic nationalism in Nigeria: The case of the Ogoni” (doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Ibadan, 1997) at 10.

67 Okonmah, PRight to a clean environment: The case for the peoples of oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta” (1997) 41/1Journal of African Law 43 at 52.

68 R Singer “The state of Nigerian democracy”, published on 13 January 2006, available at: <> (last accessed 18 June 2009).

69 “Obasanjo, Tobi, declare confab a success”, published on 25 July 2005, available at: <> (last accessed 20 February 2006).

70 Report of a ministerial fact-finding team on the problems of the Niger Delta set up under the despotic regime of General Sani Abacha cited in (January – March 1999) ERAction (Newsletter of Environmental Rights Action) at 8.

71 CRP Land, Oil and Human Rights, above at note 45 at 16.

72 Ojo, JThe Niger Delta: Managing Resources And Conflicts (research report no 49) (2002, Development Policy Centre) at 8.

73 See generally Omorogbe, Y “The legal framework for public participation in decision-making on mining and energy development in Nigeria: Giving voices to the voiceless” in Zillman, D, Lucas, A and Pring, G (eds) Human Rights in Natural Resource Development: Public Participation in the Sustainable Development of Mining and Energy Resources (2002, Oxford University Press Inc) 549 at 549–87.

74 Nwabueze, GContextualizing the Niger Delta crisis” (1999) 6/2Centre for Advanced Social Science Newsletter 2 at 2.

* LLB, LLM, MPhil (Ife), PhD (Kent); Lecturer, Department of Law, University of Hull, HU6 7RX. Email: .

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Nigeria's Land Use Act: An Anti-Thesis to Environmental Justice

  • Rhuks T Ako


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