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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY IS PRIMA FACIE EVIDENCE OF R of O

Dictum

Wakama v. Kalio (supra), Musdapher JCA (as he then was) had this to say on pages 130/131: “The mere fact that a certificate of occupancy is issued by the Governor does not automatically vest the leasehold thereby created in favour of the person named. A certificate is only a prima facie evidence of the right of occupancy in favour of the person named as allottee. Thus any person without title to a parcel of land in respect of which a certificate of occupancy is issued acquired no right or interest.”

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REQUIREMENT FOR THE VALIDITY OF A CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY

“For a certificate of occupancy to be valid it must be issued after the grant of a right of occupancy under Section 5 (1) (a) or Section 6 (l)(a) and (b) or Section 34(1) of the Land Use Act. A certificate of occupancy must not be issued when there is in existence another one issued over same land. In Madu Vs Madu (2008) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1083) P. 286 @ 325, the Supreme Court held that for a certificate of occupancy, under the Land Use Act, to be valid, there must not be in existence, at the time the certificate was issued, a statutory or customary owner of the land in issue who was not divested of his legal interest to the land prior to the grant. However, this principle of law is only relevant in cases where a claimant has proved that he has a prior and un-extinguished title to the land so that the new right of occupancy cannot over-ride, extinguish or have priority over that existing right. In Apostolic Church Vs Olawolemi (1990) 10 SCNJ P. 69 @ 25, the Supreme Court also held that if the issuance of a certificate of occupancy was not in accordance with the Land Use Act, the certificate is defective and the holder has no basis for a valid claim title over the land. See also Azi Vs Reg. Trustees Of Evan. Church (1990) 5 NWLR (Pt. 195) P. 111 @ 121”.

— I.S. Bdliya, JCA. Umar Ibrahim v Nasiru Danladi Mu’azu & 2 Ors. (2022) – CA/G/317/2019

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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY IS ONLY PRIMA FACIE EVIDENCE OF TITLE

It must however be stressed that this does not and cannot, mean that once instrument of title to land, such as a Deed of Conveyance or a Certificate of Statutory or Customary right of occupancy is tendered in court, this automatically proves that the land therein purportedly conveyed, granted or transferred by that instrument becomes the property of the grantee. See Prince Ngene v. Chike Igbo and Another (2000) 4 NWLR (Pt. 651) 131. The existence of a certificate of occupancy is merely a prima facie evidence of title to the land it covers and no more. Nor does mere registration validate spurious or fraudulent instrument of title or a transfer or grant which in law is patently invalid or ineffective. See Lababedi and Another v. Lagos Metal Industries Ltd. and Another (1973) 8 N.S.C.C. 1. (1973) 1 SC. 1.

— Iguh, JSC. Kyari v Alkali (2001) – SC.224/1993

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POSITION OF THE LAW WHERE TWO OR MORE PERSONS CLAIM A RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY OVER THE SAME LAND

“The law has been settled for long that where two or more persons claim title to land or a right of occupancy over the same land, the first in time takes priority as it is stronger in law. The latter grantee is deemed not to have been granted any title or right of occupancy. A grantor of title or right of occupancy cannot give title or right of occupancy to two persons, one must be valid, the other invalid. The law is trite one cannot grant title over a parcel of land and still be in legal position to grant such title to another. He would have no such title to grant to the latter grantee under the doctrine of “nemo dat quad non habet”. See FBB Ind. Ltd. v. Mutunci Co. (Nig.) Ltd. (2012) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1297) P. 487 @ 524; Omiyale v. Macaulay (2007) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1141) P. 597; Ibrahim v. Osunde (2009) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1137) P. 382; Ashiru v. Olukoya (2006) 11 NWLR (Pt. 990) P. 1 and Dantsoho v. Mohammed (2003) 6 NWLR (Pt. 817) P. 457.”

— I.S. Bdliya, JCA. Umar Ibrahim v Nasiru Danladi Mu’azu & 2 Ors. (2022) – CA/G/317/2019

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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY IS A PRESUMPTION OF TITLE – BETTER TITLE REBUTS IT

In other words, a certificate of occupancy properly issued by a competent authority raises the presumption that the holder is the owner in exclusive possession of the land in respect thereof. Such a certificate also raises the presumption that at the time it was issued there was not in existence a customary owner whose title has not been revoked. The presumption is however rebuttable because if it is proved by evidence that another person had better title to the land before the issuance of the certificate of occupancy then the court can revoke it. See Osazuwa v. Oji (1999) 13 NWLR (Pt. 634) 286. See also Atta vs. Ezeanah (2001) FWLR (Pt. 49) 1489, (2000) 11 NWLR (Pt. 678) 363; Shogo vs. Adebayo (2000) 14 NWLR (Pt. 686) 121.

— N. Tobi, JSC. Ezennah v Atta (2004) – SC.226/2000

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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY IS NOT CONCLUSIVE PROOF OF RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY

I think the point must be stressed that a certificate of statutory or customary right of occupancy issued under the Land Use Act, 1978 cannot be said to be conclusive evidence of any right, interest or valid title to land in favour of the grantee. It is, at best, only a prima facie evidence of such right, interest or title without more and may in appropriate cases be effectively challenged and rendered invalid and null and void. See Lababedi v. Lagos Metal Industries (Nig.) Ltd. (1973) NSCC 1 at 6.

— Iguh, JSC. Olohunde v. Adeyoju (2000) – SC.15/1995

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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY GRANTED TO ONE WHO HAS NO BETTER TITLE CONTRADICTS THE LAND USE ACT

As the position was explained by this court in Ogunleye v. Oni (1990) 2 NWLR (Pt.135) 745 at 752,774 – 786: “This is the weakness of a certificate of occupancy issued in such a case. It is never associated with title. Thus, where as in this case, a certificate of occupancy has been granted to one of the claimants who has not proved a better title then it has been granted against the letters and spirit of the Land Use Act.”

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