BUYING LAND IN NIGERIA – THE LEGAL REQUIREMENTS
Buying land in Nigeria is one of the common property law transactions, which is administered by various legislations depending on the jurisdiction in Nigeria. Conveyancing, as it is known, is the process by which ownership of land is transferred between a seller and a buyer. This can include both residential and commercial land transactions.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE BUYING LAND IN NIGERIA
A prospective purchaser of any property (or normally his solicitor) would have to main concerns. First, he must be sure that the vendor of the property is really entitled to sell it. Thus the buyer must first insist that the vendor proves that his title to the land is good and that he can pass to the purchaser the land/ property which he is offering to sell. Secondly, the purchaser will want to know whether any third parties have rights to the land which might interfere with his intended use of it. These third-party rights might include covenants restricting usage, a right of way, tree preservation order, or even mortgages. Concerns about these matters will lead the purchaser or his representatives, to make extensive enquiries before the purchase of the property is finally concluded.
There are however many factors one needs to consider before buying a land in Nigeria these ranges from
i. The size of the land,
ii. The soil type,
iii. The location of the land which is very important,
iv. The purpose which the land will be used for,
v. Accessibility of such land i.e proximity to access road,
vi. The price of the land,
vii. The legal papers available in respect of the land,
viii. The environment, as well as the security conditions of the area, should be well evaluated before engaging in such a transaction.
In taking cognizance to the aforementioned factors, it is advisable to involve an expert who has the background, requisite knowledge and skills in this area of a property acquisition. Thus it is very important to have a lawyer who is grounded in property law practice before embarking on a land purchase. This is so because a lawyer would ensure you don’t run into legal troubles with land documents after purchase, and also by virtue of our enabling laws it is only a legal practitioner that are allowed to prepare legal documents (instruments) involved in these conveyance process which involves the transfer of interest from one person to another.
Furthermore, inquiries which would be relevant for the purchaser solicitor to seek before buying a land on behalf of the purchaser include;
i. Boundaries of the property
ii. Disputes over the property
iii. Guarantees in respect of the property
iv. Services supplied on the property
v. Planning schemes of the property
vi. Insurance provisions and policies
vii. Reversionary title or interest
When all these have been satisfied, the purchaser solicitor can now proceed with the purchase of the property
DOCUMENTS REQUIRED FOR LAND PURCHASE IN NIGERIA.
During the process of purchasing a land, there a number of crucial documents required from the seller in order to effectively validate the transaction. These documents are necessary as they are evident of title which the buyer possesses in relation to the land. It is important to note that there are different types of land documents in Nigeria. These documents include:
i. Approved survey plan: This is an important title document that helps to reveal the true ownership status in any land and landed properties’ transactions. It also helps to reveal if such land is not under any government acquired or committed lands/area.
ii. Approved layout
iii. Deed of assignment: This is a very important document that must be demanded and given to a purchaser after the conclusion of any land/property transaction between such purchaser/buyer and the owner/seller of the land/landed property in question. Section 2(v) of the Conveyancing Act 1881 provides the definition of conveyance as follows: “A conveyance includes any assignment, appointment, lease, settlement and other assurances and covenants to surrender made by deed of sale, mortgage, demise or settlement of any property or on any other dealing with or for any property; and convey, unless a contrary intention appears, has a meaning corresponding with that of conveyance”.
iv. Purchase receipt: this is the evidence of due payment of the purchase of the land and it is usually required when registering the land.
v. Certificate of Occupancy: this is one of the most important land title documents that is used to certify the legal ownership status of any land in Nigeria irrespective of its usage. It is usually delivered to the owner of a parcel of land by the government attesting to the owner’s interest to the land where such interest is in accordance with the applicable laws. It is a legal document indicating that a person who has acquired an interest in land has been granted a statutory right of occupancy by the governor
vi. Power of attorney: this is usually required where a person is acting for another person, individuals or companies as his agent. It is a document that authorizes such person to act on their behalf.
These documents are essential as they are necessary to process a search in the land registry, the registration of title, registration of Deeds, as well as registration of Certificate of Occupancy. It is equally important to note the LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF REGISTRATION OF LAND IN NIGERIA which is essentially three:
Non-registration may (i) render certain documents void, (ii) render them inadmissible as evidence in judicial proceedings, and (iii) make them lose priority against registered ones affecting the same land.
It must, of course, be noted that registration does not by itself cure the instrument( legal document) registered of any defect, nor does it confers upon it any effect or validity which the instrument, apart from the registration, would not otherwise have had.
PROOF OF LAND OWNERSHIP IN NIGERIA
There have always been disputes arising from land matters which often end up in litigation; this is usually as a result of failure to obtain the right documents for proper ownership of land and also the failure to complete the process of acquiring a perfect title to the land. That is why in the bid to achieving justice, the court will rule in favour of any party that can prove a better title to a land or property. This was the position of the court in ELEGUSHI v. OSENI (2005) 14 NWLR (PT 945) AT 348.
Thus in law, there is every possibility that the owner of a piece of land or property may not appear before the law as a person with a better title as it was held in the case of Agboola v. United Bank for Africa Plc. & 2 Ors. (2011) 4 CLRN 33. In the popular case of IDUNDUN v. OKUMAGBA (1976) 9-10 SC, 227 1 NMLR, the supreme court held that title or ownership to land can be proved in any of the following five ways:
1. By traditional evidence.
2. By production of documents of title duly authenticated and executed.
3. By acts of ownership extending over a sufficient length of time numerous and positive enough as to warrant the inference of true ownership.
4. By acts of long possession and enjoyment, and
5. Proof of possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances rendering it probable that the owner of such connected or adjacent land would, in addition, be the owner of the land in dispute.
Thus the most common ways listed above is the production of a document of grant or title. This method entails providing any of the following document; Deed of Assignment/ conveyance, a Deed of gift, a legal Mortgage, and a Certificate of Occupancy. As such it is important that a person intending to buy a land must make sure to instruct his lawyer to perfect the title of the land or property.
HOW TO WRITE LAND AGREEMENT IN NIGERIA
It is very instructive to note that it is only a legal practitioner that is entitled to prepare instruments relating to land. Such instruments include Deed of a lease, Assignment, Legal mortgage, etc. the name and address of the legal practitioner must be stated on the instrument and it must bear a seal of such legal practitioner, this is also known as Franking of such instruments. Why this is so is that where an instrument relating to immovable property does not contain the particulars of the legal practitioner who prepared it, it may not be accepted for registration at the land registry.
In conclusion, it is very essential and advisable to involve a lawyer when one intends to buy a land or acquire a property as role and responsibility of a lawyer in relation to this transaction including but not limited to the following:
i. Investigation of the title sought to be transferred from the appropriate registries
ii. Advising on the viability or otherwise of the title of the property sought to be transferred.
iii. Preparation of formal contract that encapsulates the agreement of the parties in respect of the property that is being transferred. Excellent drafting skills are required for this to ensure that the document reflects the full intention of the parties
iv. Approval of the contract by the solicitor of the purchaser
v. Exchange of contract by the parties to the contract
vi. Obtaining the consent of relevant authorities for permission to transfer the legal interest in the property
vii. Preparing and ensuring the execution of the deed or the instrument that transfers the legal interest in the property.
viii. Payment of stamp duties, fees and other taxes in respect of the property being transferred
ix. Registration of the instrument that conveys the legal interest in the land
All of the above must effectively be carried out by the legal practitioner for the buyer of the property.