Picture the guy who sells handkerchiefs and face towels in traffic? Ever wondered why he is still sweating profusely with so much amount of handkerchiefs and face towels he has in his hands?
That’s exactly what a certificate of occupancy looks like to an its holder. Just like the handkerchief guy, he can hold on to it as long as no one else comes with something superior to render the certificate worthless.
A lot of misinformation about a certificate of occupancy being the most authentic document that signifies the legitimacy of land transactions have been in circulation but the truth is, a certificate of occupancy is not necessarily the most authentic documentation in land transactions. In fact, a certificate of occupancy is at best the secondary proof of title. The most authentic and primary document largely depends on the type of land transaction being conducted. At best, a certificate of occupancy only gives a rebuttable proof of possession of the land. It is very possible for someone who doesn’t own a land to possess the certificate of occupancy on that land while the ownership vests on someone else. But ultimately, every legitimate occupier of a land is entitled a certificate of occupancy.
The following are ways primary titles can be established and they are superior to a certificate of occupancy.
- By the provisions of the Land Use Act of 1978, the ownership of every land situated within a state within the territory of Nigeria is vested in the Governor of that state. So basically, all lands in Nigeria belongs to the Governor of that state who holds it in trust on behalf of all members of that state. The governor thus is empowered to allocate this land as he deems fit in the general interest of the public. Please take note that this only applies to lands situated in urban arrears. Lands situated in rural areas are controlled by the Local Government. So when the Governor assigns a piece of land to you, you will be given a certificate of occupancy which will be processed automatically upon such assignment. So in this instance, a certificate of occupancy will only serve as authentic proof of title to subsequent purchasers.
- In the event that you’re purchasing land from a family, your surest bet is to have a written authorization or proof to sell by the head of that family with the concurrence of the principal members of that family. Its from this proof coupled with your physical inspection and other investigations about the history of the family and the land that you will derive your primary authenticity to purchase the property.
- The above options refer to virgin land or undeveloped land. For developed property with improvements on it with fixtures and fittings, your best bet will be to see the deeds of transfer from the previous owners. If the property has changed hands a couple of times, you would be safer where there is a schedule of transfer from inception to the current owner. These deeds of transfer and schedule of previous transactions will also need to be duly registered at the Lands Registry to give it it’s authenticity. This includes properties that are being sold by the order of court and properties subject to probate and administration.
So while you are about to get involved in a land transaction, do not be carried away by the authenticity of the certificate of occupancy but rather be very interested in the ownership of the property and how the vendor came by the property.
When conducting a land transaction, you should check out for the following Documentations as they are the only valid means to transfer title in land. Look out for them, they are very important.
- Vesting Orders: This is a court order that declares that a person is the owner of a certain property mentioned in the order. The property will be properly described in the court order and it is usually signed. Matters relating to land are usually handled by High Courts of the individual states and within the territorial jurisdiction where the land is situated. So generally, a vesting order for a property in Ikorodu will be given by the High Court of Lagos sitting in Ikorodu.
- Assents: Where an individual dies and leaves his property to his relatives, the personal representatives of the deceased who are usually authorized by law to distribute his property may opt to sell such properties where it was the intention of the deceased to do so. They can only transfer such landed property by what is called an Assent. If there are more than one personal representative of the deceased, they must all jointly sign the assent.
- Deed of Assignment: This is the most common documentation when involved in a land transaction where the land has been passed from a lot of owners. This is by far the most important and most effective document in land transaction. It is prescribed by law for transfer of title to land and must be signed by the vendor and the purchaser in the presence of atleast two witnesses. It is subject to stamp duties and registrable at the lands registry. The most important thing to look out for is where the vendor states his intention to transfer the title in the land to the purchaser for a price.
- Deed of Gift: This is the document you will find when land is bestowed by someone who is still alive on an individual without any fee and free from all taxes. So in essence, as the word connotes, it is a gift from Mr A to Mr B without charging any fee and it must be signed by the giver.
- Certificate of Occupancy: This is a certificate given by the Governor of a state signifying the legal occupation of an individual on a land. It usually bears the name of the occupier and a term of years that the governor grants such occupation. It is issued and signed by the governor through the appropriate authority in the state which is usually the Bureau of Lands.