The Myth Of The Certificate Of Occupancy

title deedsThe Myth of the Certificate of Occupancy

Before the 29th March 1978, the root of legal  title we had to land was known as the Conveyance( or sometimes Indenture). The Conveyance was usually a document of about 2 maybe 3 pages of the agreement between a seller and a buyer, containing all covenants and conditions of the purchase, which was registrable at the Lands Registry offices in each state of the federation.

Generally, the Conveyance created what is known as freehold title, and was viewed as the best kind of title anyone could have. As the name implied, it was free to hold or own, from any adverse claim from the government or indeed from anyone else.

From the freehold, other forms of legal title emerged; the leasehold, the mortgage and the assignment to mention the most common. Ease of transactions in land encouraged and fuelled commercial transactions and the cost of registering these land transactions was not exorbitant. Parents as well as lovers gave gifts of land to their loved ones without any great difficulties, just as Charging Deeds were smoothly created. (A charging deed is the deed that executors pass to the beneficiary of an estate, to signify that the property is now registered in the beneficiary’s name.)

Conversely land transactions in Northern Nigeria did not devolve from freeholds. The government allocated land, by application, and gave leaseholds to the proprietors. It was modelled on what is known as the feudal system.

Both freehold and feudal systems derived from the United Kingdom and were imported into Nigeria by our colonial masters, freehold to the south and feudal system to the north. In the north, the law was known as Land Tenure Law. There doesn’t seem to have been a corresponding law in the South other than what was known as Conveyancing Act 1881. Land governance was managed by the 1881 Act and other regional laws.

On 29th March 1978, General Olusegun Obasanjo, by military decree converted all land holding in Nigeria into feudal holding by promulgating the Land Use Act 1978 (LUA). Every land in urban areas is now held by the governor of the state in trust for the people of that state and is subject to revocation. The conditions for revocation are not sated in the decree (now Act). Under LUA every title document is now deemed to be a Certificate of Occupancy. Simply put, every conveyance, assignment, deed of gift, etc of land in urban areas is now deemed to be a lease from the governor of the state where it is situate. Rural land is deemed to be held in trust by the local government where the land is situated. Governors have not created the enabling space for the local governments to hold land and so hold all land in their respective states.

Furthermore henceforth, any transaction to land is subject to the governor’s consent to the transaction. Once the applicant asks for the consent unless there is compelling reason not to, the consent is granted once the necessary fees are paid. This no doubt has been a veritable source of revenue generation for all states.

It follows therefore that land that had good or undisputed title by the 29th March 1978, does not need Certificate of Occupancy.  A lot of people have applied when it is not necessary and have subjected their selves to expenditure that has no basis in law.

This is an area where you need lawyers to advice you, clearly not touts. Even the states governments have stopped issuing Certificate of Occupancy to those who have registered title dated before 29th March 1978. If your title document is dated 30th March 1978, or after, you do not have any good title. If you have bought from someone whose conveyance is dated after 29th March 1978, his title is null and void and you have not acquired any legal or equitable interest in the land. You need to act fast, before your vendor dies or is no longer available. Your lawyer needs to trace the title to determine if you need a Certificate of Occupancy.

So learn the facts and see whether you have simply bought a piece of paper. There is a Latin maxim, which translated means ‘whatever is on the land belongs to him who owns the land’.  Don’t allow others to inherit your property, due to tardiness on your part to perfect your title.


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