NEED TO KNOW - LAND MATTERS

A number of laws regulate land in Nigeria, principal of which is the Land Use Act (LUA); the LUA vests land title in each State’s Governor, to be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of Nigerians

It limits rights in land to Statutory Right of Occupancy granted by the State Governor and Customary Right of Occupancy granted by the local government. Other regulations include the Nigerian Constitution, Conveyancing Act 1881 (North and South of Nigeria except Abia and Rivers States), Property and Conveyancing Laws (former western Region of Nigeria, parts of Lagos inclusive), Registration of Titles law (some part of Lagos; Lagos old colonies; Victoria Island, Jibowu, Ikoyi, Yaba and parts of Mushin), Stamp Duties Act, etc.

Transfer under Customary law: 
The transfer is effected in the presence of two witnesses (names of witness must be provided) and there must be actual delivery or hand over of land to the Purchaser. The Purchaser must also be let into possession of the land. 
 
Transfer under received English law: 
For there to be an effective transfer under received English law, 
there must be a valid sale and payment of money must be accompanied by acknowledgement of receipt. The deed of conveyance must also be executed in favour of the Purchaser. 
 
(i) What to look out for? 
Laws, permits and regulations (which may differ per region), building or zoning violations, tax, charges and general hazards, e.g. forgery, inconsistent signature, faulty plans, double sale/ allocation, revocation, etc; use of a solicitor is advised.  
Location, size and use of land, presence or absence of mineral resources, age, legal status and capacity of parties and other statutorily highlighted factors (e.g. approval of National Council of States for right of occupancy granted to non-Nigerian) 
Consent of Governor or Local Government and principal members and heads of community for communal and family land.  
Town planning laws and regulations which restrict alienation/sale of land in certain areas or for certain purposes e.g. areas cordoned for commercial and industrial use. 
Land acquired by government and committed for specific uses e.g. estates, roads development, industrial, commercial and residential areas, etc. The Certificate of occupancy usually details duration of term granted and purpose for land as approved. 
Land Committed (earmarked for a specific government project) or Acquired (under acquisition but not committed); title may be granted over such land on application to the Governor and thus Excised (i.e. released back to original owners). 
Land owned by government authorities, ministries and departments - consent of minister is required as stated in the enabling legislation. 
Lis Pendis; i.e. inhibition/restriction of sale of Land which is the subject of a pending suit. This applies where at the time of sale/purchase there is a pending suit in respect of the property, the action or the lis is in respect of real property, object of the action is to recover or assert title to a specific real property; and party concerned was aware or ought to be aware of the pending suit. 
 
(ii)  3 stages of transfer of interest in Nigeria 
 
Contract stage: Search is conducted, Vendor discloses not physically noticeable defects, parties enter deed of transfer/sale and 10posit or more is paid to secure/evidence intention to complete. Where purchaser fails, the deposit is forfeited. Where vendor fails, the purchaser is refunded. 
 
Completion stage: Parties finalize transaction; deed is executed, balance of purchase price is paid and receipt issued, title documents, building permits, plans and property keys are handed over, property is taken over and solicitor/agent’s fees are paid. 
 
Post-Completion stage: Governor’s consent applied for at state’s ministry of land, with required documentation. Registration is required to be effected within 60 days of execution of deed. 
 
(iii)      Search on title documents  
A search is usually conducted to ascertain whether the Vendor has a good root of title; is the rightful land owner, the land is free from encumbrance and pending litigation, the land is not the subject of Government acquisition, the land has no overriding interests, etc. A search can be conducted at: 
1. The State Lands Registry: for general documents/information regarding the land, encumbrances, history, title holders (past and present), etc. 
2. Companies Registry (Corporate Affairs Commission): where Vendor or past owner is a company. 
3. Probate registry – to confirm grant of probate and personal representatives/beneficiaries. 
4. Traditional evidence – to confirm title/consent and principal family members or community heads. 
5. Physical inspection – to confirm actual size and dimensions, etc. 
6. Court judgments – to confirm absence of litigation and that land is not the subject of a dispute. 
 
Procedure of conducting a search may differ per state; in Abuja (AGIS) a written application stating the file number and location of the property is submitted with a letter of consent by the owner of the title authorizing the solicitor to conduct the search. Search fee is paid and an official conducts the search, completes the search report signed by the Registrar of Deeds and certified by the Legal Adviser of AGIS. 
 
In Lagos, an application letter (indicating name of holder and number of property/file) is submitted to Registrar of Title with a sworn affidavit of purpose at the correspondence section of registry. A bill is issued at the search room and when paid and receipt submitted, search is conducted via an automated system and certificate of search subsequently obtained. 
 
Under the Registration of Titles Law, a letter of consent from proprietor, affidavit declaring grant of consent and photocopy of Land Certificate must be obtained in order to conduct a search. 
 
(iv) Legal documentation and registration 
 
The Registrar shall cause a certified true copy of the instrument to be pasted on the register and shall append his signature accordingly: “This instrument is registered as No. ….at Page ….in Volume … of the Lands registry in the office at ….” The Purchaser is to register title within 2 months of the date of the deed.  
 
The are three registers: the Property register (deion of title, reference to map/field plan, notes relating to ownership of mineral, exemptions from overriding interests, easements, rights, privileges,  etc.), Proprietorship Register (particulars of registered owner (proprietor), cautions, inhibitions and restrictions affecting the right of the proprietor to dispose title, etc) and the Charges Register (particulars of charge, mortgage and encumbrance created, notices of leases and adverse interest or claims permitted by law, notes relating to covenants, conditions, and other rights, dealings with registered charges and encumbrances capable of registration, etc). 
 
Ownership of title is based on registration and grants the purchaser a valid title/ownership (subject to the terms of Government’s head-lease). Failure to register renders the instrument void. Registration guarantees indefeasibility of title subject to overriding interest, reduces fraud and possible challenges arising from suppression or omission of instruments.

Registration also gives priority, as applications when received are numbered serially. Conflict as to ownership is thus determined by reference to the registered title deed. Where both parties have registered title deeds, time of registration determines priority. 
 
Land Instrument registered without inherent defects take priority over unregistered land instruments. Registration does not cure defects neither does it confer validity on the Instrument which it would not have otherwise had but for its registration. Registered Land Instrument can also be pleaded and tendered as evidence in court, whilst unregistered instrument can only be so tendered/pleaded where relief sought is an equitable one coupled with possession that some consideration was provided for.  
 
Charges against assets of incorporated companies must equally be registered with the CAC in compliance with Section 197 of the Companies & Allied Matters Act. Non-registration can lead to the same being declared null and void against the liquidator and any secured creditor of such a company. 
 
Procedure for registering deeds: 
 
Copies (original and counterparts) of duly stamped instrument to be  submitted and Ad valorem fees paid at designated bank. 
Instrument registered on a particular volume and page and given number in Register. 
Original copy is returned while CTC is kept at registry. 
 
Procedure for registration under Registration of Titles Law: 
 
Application for registration submitted to the Lands Registry and investigated by Registrar based on the available legal evidence. 
Application advertised inviting objections from those to be prejudiced by registration. 
Objections are heard in Land Registry Court subject to right of appeal at High Court. 
Where approved, transaction entered into register and Land Certificate issued.  
 
(v) Revocation of Right of Occupancy 
 
The Governor has the power by virtue of Section 28 of the LUA to revoke any right of occupancy. This power must however be exercised in the overriding interest of the public and the holder of the Right of Occupancy must be notified in advance of the revocation.  
 
The notice is to state the reason (s) for the revocation. Over riding public interest in this regard includes: 
 
In the case of statutory right of occupancy: 
 
Alienation by the occupier by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sub-lease, or otherwise of any right of occupancy or part thereof contrary to the provisions of the LUA or any regulations made there under; 
Land is required for public purpose by the Governor of the State or by a Local Government in the State or the Government of the Federation, or for mining purpose or oil pipelines or for any connected purpose. 
 
In the case of customary right of occupancy:  
 
Land is required for public purpose by the Governor of the State or by a Local Government in the State or the Government of the Federation, or for mining purpose or oil pipelines or for any connected purpose or for extraction of building materials 
Alienation by the occupier by assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sub-lease, or otherwise of any right of occupancy or part thereof contrary to the provisions of the LUA or any regulations made there under.

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