The controversy over ownership of land in Nigeria has no bounds, the issue over who has a particular property has always been the fulcrum of disputed land and property in Nigeria. The Nigerian High Courts are mostly confronted with the task of deciding who the actual owner of a particular piece of land is and this herculean task mostly ends up in decision that favours the party that proves a better title as opposed to the actual owner.
The law in its aim of achieving justice mostly gives credence to who can prove his title as opposed to who the actual owner is; the irony of the position of the law is, it claims to give title to the actual owner of the land but in reality, it is the party that provides a better title that gets the nods of the law. The consequence of this position is simply that an actual owner of a piece of land or property may not appear before the law as a person with a better title, and the only save haven for any party claiming ownership of property is to get his title properly registered in the respective land registry applicable to the State to avoid future dispute. (Note: registration of title is not a prima facie fact that you are the owner of the land but at least puts one in a comfortable position to defend your title)
Going further it is important to state salient facts that are required for every land owner to know i.e. the position of the law as to good title, how to prove a better title and perfection of title.
THE POSITION OF THE LAW AS TO GOOD TITLE
The following documents in law convey Good Title
- A deed of Assignment/Conveyance
- A legal Mortgage
- A Deed of Gift
The Following documents in law convey Bad Title
- A lease
- Equitable Mortgage
- Power of Attorney
- Certificate of Occupancy
HOW TO PROVE A BETTER TITLE
It has long been established by the Supreme Court on the celebrated case of D. O. Idundun & Ors. v. Daniel Okumagba & Ors. (1976) 9-10 SC 227 at Pp. 246-250 that there are five ways of proving title to land. These are:
- by traditional evidence
- by production of a document of grant or title
- by proving acts of possession and ownership extending over a sufficient length of time and are numerous and positive enough to warrant the inference that the plaintiff is an exclusive owner
- by proving acts of long possession and enjoyment of the land; but this only raises a presumption of ownership
- By proof of possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances which make it probable that the owner of such adjacent or connected land is probably the owner of the land in dispute.
The above mentioned ways of proving title to land are the only recognized ways before the Court in Nigeria.
The most common of the ways listed above is the production of a document of grant or title. This method entails providing any of the following documents; deed of assignment/conveyance, a legal Mortgage, a deed of gift and a certificate of occupancy.
PERFECTION OF TITLE
To perfect your title in land, one is required to do the following;
- Governors Consent
For every transfer of interest in Land in Nigeria the consent of the Governor is required, this is provided in Section 22 of the Land Use Act, 1978. The Act provides that all land in each state in the Federation is vested in the Governor of each State, whose prior consent is mandatory for the legal validity of any transfers or alienation of interest in landed property. Therefore, the consent clause is tied to the instrument itself immediately after the signature of the parties.
Obtaining the governor’s consent requires the following documentation:
- Covering letter with address and telephone numbers;
- Completed Form 1C;
- Certified True Copy (CTC) of title document of assignor;
- Current tax clearance certificates of the assignor and assignee;
- For limited liability companies, the internal revenue certificate of PAYE Directors;
- Four copies of the deed of which consent is sought should be attached;
- Copy of the survey plan, as approved by the Surveyor General Office and a picture of the building;
- Evidence of payment for charting fee, endorsement fee, Form 1C;
- Evidence of payment of land use charge;
- Where the property is covered by a state leasehold or Certificate of Occupancy, evidence of payment of Ground Rent, up to date;
- Where the property is covered by a state Leasehold or Certificate of Occupancy, evidence of payment of Ground Rent, up to date;
- A photograph of the property;
- A copy of the applicant and/or his agent/legal representative’s identification.
This is governed by the Stamp Duties Act. Below are the requirements and procedures for stamping your instruments.
- Forward the title document to the Stamp Duties Commissioner within thirty days of execution otherwise you will be liable to pay penalty.
- Ensure that you deliver at least two (2) copies.
- The Commissioner will assess add valorem (based on value). It is usually between (3.5%) of the consideration of the transaction.
- Payment should be made by bank draft and sometimes in the name of the state government.
- Upon making payments, the commissioner will impress on the instrument the words, “stamp duty paid”.
Every instrument of transfer (i.e. Deed of Conveyance, Deed of Assignment) is a registrable instrument under the Land Instrument Registration Law/Act and must be duly registered to have the force of law and also to have priority over any other instrument of transfer. (Note: An instrument will not be registrable unless the Governor’s Consent has been obtained and it is stamped.
A sale/purchase of a landed property in Nigeria is not a conclusive fact of ownership. A land owner either by way of inheritance, purchase etc. must take the required steps of registering his or her title in the land registry because ownership is at stake if any trespasser proves a better before the Court. By virtue of the fact that prove of better title is mostly by production of title documents, it is required that such title documents are duly registered.
By registering your title now, you put yourself in a favourable position in law and in reality. Take the required steps now in order to avoid future problem.