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UNREGISTERED INSTRUMENT CAN SERVE AS EVIDENCE OF EQUITABLE INTEREST

Dictum

Even though Exhibit E, an unregistered deed of surrender or release is not in law a valid document capable of transferring any title or estate under the Property and Conveyancing Law, such a document is still enforceable by the court as evidence of an equitable interest of title. Thus, it is admissible to prove payment of a purchase price. This is based under the maxim “Acquitasfactum habet quodfieri oportui ” which means “equity regards as done that which ought to have been done”. Under the rule of equity a purchaser should not be made to lose the land purchased by him merely because the strict legal requirements of registration was not met. [Tewogbade v. Obadina (1994) 4 NWLR (Pt.338) 326; Eso v. Adeyemi (1994) 4 NWLR (Pt340)558; Bello v. Otolorin (1996) 9 NWLR (Pt.470) 49 referred to].

— Adeyemo v. Ida & Ors. (1998) – CA/1/6/92

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UNREGISTERED INSTRUMENT CAN BE USED TO AFFIRM EQUITABLE TITLE

I agree with the learned trial Judge that Exhibit 3 is an instrument within the meaning of section 2 of the Land Instrument Registration Law and that having regard to the mandatory provisions of section 15 of the said law no registrable instrument which has not been registered should be given in evidence. But it was probably too wide a statement for him to have concluded that “no title” could be based on Exhibit 3. Certainly not a legal title but equitable title or interest, yes. In the case of Okoye v. Dumez Nigeria Ltd & Anor (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt.4) 783: (1985) 6 S.C. 3 Bello. J.S.C. (as he then was) delivering the lead judgment said on page 12 thus: “It is trite law that where a purchaser of land or a lessee is in possession of the land by virtue of a registrable instrument which has not been registered and has paid the purchase money or the rent to the vendor or the lessor, then in either case the purchaser or the lessee has acquired an equitable interest in the land which is as good as legal estate and this equitable interest can only be defeated by a purchaser of the land for value without notice of the prior equity. A registrable instrument which has not been registered is admissible to prove such equitable interest and to prove payment of purchase money or rent: Savage v. Sarrough (1937) 13 NLR 141: Ogunbambi v. Abowab (1951) 13 WACA 222: Fakoya v. St, Paul’ s Church, Shagamu (1966) 1 All NLR 74: Oni v. Arimoro (1973) 3 S.C. 163; Bucknor-Maclean v. Inlaks ( 1980) 8-11 S.C. 1 and Obijuru v. Ozims S.C. 48/1984 delivered on 4th April 1985 unreported yet. It follows from the foregoing that the 1st respondent’s lease under Exhibits E and F was as good as if the instruments had been registered.”

— Kutigi, JSC. Awaogbo & Ors. v. Eze (1995) – SC.69/1991

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WHAT UNREGISTERED REGISTRABLE INSTRUMENT MAY PROVE

An unregistered registrable instrument, sought to be tendered for the purpose of proving or establishing title to land or interest in land, would be inadmissible under Section 15 of the Land Instruments Registration Law; if it is however tendered to show that there was a transaction between the lessor and the lessee, it will be admissible as a purchase receipt. It will also be admissible if it is meant to establish a fact which one or both parties have pleaded. Under these two conditions, such a document does not qualify as an instrument as defined in the Land Instruments Registration Law.

– Nweze JSC. Abdullahi v. Adetutu (2019)

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LAND – REGISTRABLE INSTRUMENT NOT REGISTERED CREATES EQUITABLE INTEREST

It is however trite law that a purchaser of land who has paid and taken possession of the land by virtue of a registrable instrument which has not been registered has thereby acquired an equitable interest which is as good as legal estate. This equitable interest can only be defeated by a purchaser of the land for value without notice of the prior equity. Nsiegbe v. Mgbemena (2007) 10 NWLR pt. 1042, pg. 364, Okoge v. Dumez (Nig.) Limited (1985) 1 NWLR, pt. 4, pg. 783.

— O.O. Adekeye, JSC. Agboola v UBA (2011) – SC.86/2003

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UNREGISTERED INSTRUMENT ADMISSIBLE TO SERVE AS PAYMENT OF MONEY

As rightly pointed out by the learned counsel for the appellant, if exhibit P1 was to be regarded as a deed of conveyance, then it must be registered since it is a registrable instrument. See section 2 of the Land Registration Law of Kaduna State, as failing to register it renders it inadmissible in evidence. But if it was merely meant to serve as proof that payment of the purchase price of the disputed land and not to enforce any right created by it, then in that case, it is admissible in evidence.

– Sanusi JCA. Enejo v. Nasir (2006)

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UNREGISTERED INSTRUMENT IS ADMISSIBLE TO SHOW POSSESSION

It would therefore seem to me apposite and admissible in this action where the documents, Exhibits ‘E’ & ‘F’ were tendered in an action against the respondents for a declaration and trespass, not for the purposes of claiming title but as evidence that respondents were lawfully on the land in dispute. It is admissible to show that respondents were not trespassers to the land in dispute. In my opinion where a registrable unregistered Instrument is regarded as inadmissible in evidence, it may be necessary on a proper consideration of the document itself, and the purposes for which it was tendered to determine whether it is not admissible for that purposes. If the purpose for which it is tendered did not affect any legal interest in land, it is in my opinion admissible for the purpose for which it was produced – namely in this case an equitable right to remain all the land.

— Karibe-Whyte JSC. Okoye v Dumez & Ors. (1985) – SC.89/1984

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REGISTERED LAND SYSTEM VS UNREGISTERED LAND SYSTEM

The title which the plaintiff claims in respect of plots 89, 91 and 93 derived from the system of registration of title first introduced into Nigeria in 1935 and the law applicable to the case is the Registration of Titles Law Cap. 166, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 1994. The courts below did not realise that the claim before them is in respect of land located in a Registration District under the aforementioned Cap. 166 Laws of Lagos State. The conveyancing of unregistered land depends upon production by the vendor of a series of documents which recite previous dealings or transactions affecting the land showing the ability of the vendor to convey what he has agreed to convey. In that case title has to be proved afresh each time a disposition of land is made. On the other hand, the conveyancing of registered land is different. As soon as title to land is registered, its past history becomes irrelevant, from that time title is guaranteed by the State and a purchaser can rely on it and transfer of land becomes the substitution of one person’s name for another’s in the Registry. The property register describes and identifies the land and the interest in the land which is the subject-matter of the title. Registration of titles is however distinct from registration of instruments, the former is simpler, cheaper, speedier and more reliable.

— Ogwuegbu, JSC. Onagoruwa & Ors. v. Akinremi (2001) – SC.191/1997

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