Gender and Land Rights Database


Prevailing systems of land tenure


Land ownership can be categorized into two broad classes: Customary land and Public lands. Customary lands are lands owned by stools, skins, families or clan usually held in trust by the chief, head of family, clan, or land priests for the benefit of members of that group.
Private ownership of land can be acquired by way of a grant, sale, gift or marriage.
Public lands are lands that are vested in the president for public use (24).

Customary tenure is the main form of land tenure. It is estimated that 80 percent of the land is governed by traditional rulers (22).

The country maintains a plural land tenure system. Rights to land can take the following forms, under the 1986 Land Title Registration Law:
  i.    allodial title
  ii.    freehold title;
  iii.    leasehold title; and
  iv.    lesser interests in land.

Allodial title is held or vested in traditional stools or skins, in some traditional areas. In other traditional areas, this held by subgroups such as substools, clans and families as well as individuals. Allodial owners hold their interest under customary law and are not subject to any restrictions on their use rights or any obligations except for those imposed by the law (statutory law). The stool/skin in which the allodial title is vested has complete and absolute freedom in dealing with the land; however, it is subject to the rights of the subjects of the stool/skin who may be in possession.

Freehold title is divided into customary law freehold and common law freehold.

Customary law freehold is an interest held by subgroups and individuals in land owned by the community. Customary law freehold continues as long as the owning group or subject acknowledges the superior title of the stool. The interest is inheritable and devolves to the holder’s family upon the death of an individual holder. The holders have the right to sale, lease, mortgage or pledge their title, or grant agricultural tenancies or shareholder agreements; however, the recipient is obliged to recognize the superior authority of the stool. Holders are required to perform certain services to the stool that owns the allodial title. If holders deny the title of the allodial owner or refuse to perform customary services to the stool, they might have to give up the land. The interest may also be lost by abandonment, sale, gift, compulsory acquisition by the state, or failure of successors to inherit the land. The right of the subject of the stool to occupy any vacant stool land has increasingly faded mainly as a consequence of population pressures and land scarcity. The stool has controls grants of stool lands in order to guarantee fair distribution to all members.

Common law freehold is an interest acquired through a grant made by the allodial owner, either by sale or gift. This grant requires the parties to agree that their obligations and rights will be regulated by common law and that common law will govern any dispute that may arise over the land.

Leaseholds are rights granted a person to occupy specified land for a specified term. A lease may be granted either by the stool or clan or family who hold the allodial title or an individual customary freeholder. The lessee pays for the right to occupy the land, usually with an annual rent and is subject to conditions on the use of the land. The lessee may also create a sublease or assign the unexpired term of the lease, subject to the consent of the lessor. This practice, mainly under sharecropping agreements, is gaining importance as a way of gaining access to scarce land (11).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography