By Amaka Ezeno, MCLArb
The law is that every land in Nigeria belongs to the Government. This is in accordance with the Land Use Act of 1978. As such, the government leases any land purchased for a period of 99 years after which such title can be renewed by the owner.
In the first place, it is very important that anyone seeking to purchase any real estate should search the title of the land in the appropriate land registry. This is to ascertain the actual owner of such land. Each state maintains a land registry where a title to property is entered and can be searched. A diligent search for land title can also be made at a Court Registry, if the title to land involves court judgement or Probate Registry in case of property of a deceased person.
There are two types of land acquisition, namely committed acquisition and non-committed Acquisition. The committed Acquisition is a situation where the land has registered interest by the government for slated purposes such as roads, hospitals, schools, airports, etc.
Any person who purchases such land will find it difficult to perfect the land and where development is carried out on the land, the buyer could lose everything without compensation. On the other hand, Non-committed or Global Acquisition involves lands that have been acquired long ago by the government but has not been slated for any particular purpose.
The first type of land title in Nigeria is Excision. Excision is the release by the government, of land which has been under non-committed acquisition. Any person or group who has an interest in such land can process a government-approved excision and obtain the proper documentation.
The second type of title is Gazette. It is an official record book which spells out the details of the expanse of land which has been excised and given back to the community. The Excision Document is taken to the office of the Surveyor General for the land to be gazetted. The person can then, with the document, process for Certificate of Occupancy or Governor’s Consent which gives permission to use and own the land for 99 years.
A Certificate of Occupancy is an authorized document of grant issued by the State Government, to a person or group of individuals, which confers ownership and right of occupancy in a specific land for all purposes for a term not exceeding 99 years subject to renewal.
It is issued only once, to the first person to purchase and own the land. It thus, prevents multiple owners from claiming ownership of a given piece of land.
Where the owner of a piece of land dies, their personal representative must, before exercising ownership over the property, obtain a grant of probate, if the person left a Will, or Grant of Letter of Administration in the case where the deceased died without a Will.
The Probate and Letter of Administration are the only valid titles to any property of a deceased and they can be obtained through the Probate Registry of the State High Court or High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
At the stage of acquiring a land, the documents required include the purchase receipt, contract of sale, deed of assignment and survey plan. It is important that any purchaser of land should conduct due diligence on the status of the land. A good title may be defeated by encumbrances such as mortgages or criminal forfeiture.