Differences Between Possession and Ownership in Nigerian Land Law

Ownership means a relationship which exists between a person and a thing (res) owned. By virtue of such relationship the person has absolute powers over the object. These powers include: power to receive income from the thing, power to alienate it (transfer or assign it). 


Unlike the English system, land in Nigeria could be owned both by communities and individuals. Thus in E.O. Chukwueke v. O. Nwankwo (supra) the supreme court commented on the decision of the Court of Appeal in the same as follows: "The court appears to over-look the decision of this Court in Otogbolu v. Okeluwe (1981) 6-7 S.C. 99 at p. 137 to the effect that the general principle of communal ownership as pronounced in Amodu Tijani v. Secretary Southern Nigeria (1921) 2. A. C. 404 would not apply where it is established by evidence that the native law and custom in any particular area differs from the general principle."


Possession:- The law attributes a right to a person in actual physical possession of land. The person in possession may be there by virtue of his right to possession as one of the incidents of ownership. Such a right may arise by virtue of a grant by the owner in the exercise of his paramount powers. 


The right which the law accords to the person in actual possession of land is called possessory right or possession.


In conclusion, ownership involves the absolute rights and legitimate claim to an object. It means to own the object by the owner. Whereas, possession is more than physical control of an object. In Ladipo v. Ajani (1997) 7 S.C.N.J. 468, the court held that possession in law means exclusive possession.

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