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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY GRANTED TO ONE WHO HAS NOT PROVED A BETTER TITLE

Dictum

It must be noted that the Land Use Act never set out to abolish all existing titles and rights to possession of land. Rather, where such rights or titles relate to developed lands in urban areas, the possessor or owner of the right or title is deemed to be a statutory grantee of a right of occupancy under section 34(2) of the Act. Where it is non-urban land, the holder or owner under customary law or otherwise is deemed to be a deemed grantee of a right of occupancy by the appropriate Local Government under section 36(2). This court re-affirmed this position in the case of Dzungwe v. Gbishe & Anor. (1985) 2 N.W.L.R. (Part 8) 528 at p.540. So, in a case like the instant, the issue is often who proved a better title or right to possess the land. 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. The courts cannot close their eyes to the weakness of his case for entitlement to it and hold that his weak title has been strengthened by the grant of the certificate of occupancy. Indeed a certificate of occupancy properly issued under section 9 of the Land Use Act ought to be a reflection and an assurance that the grantee has to be in occupation of the land. Where it is shown by evidence that another person had a better right to the grant, the court will have no alternative but to set aside the grant, if asked to do so, or otherwise to ignore it.

— Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Ogunleye v Oni (1990) – S.C. 193/1987

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WHEN GOVERNOR CAN REVOKE A RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY

The power of the Governor to revoke a right of occupancy must be for overriding public interest and for requirement by the Federal Government, for public purposes. So that any revocation for purposes outside the ones prescribed by section 28 of the Act is against the policy and intention of the Act and can be declared invalid, null and void by a competent court.

– Katsina-Alu, JSC. Dantsoho v. Mohammed (2003)

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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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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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ILLEGAL REVOCATION OF A STATUTORY RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY

See Ibrahim v. Mohammed (2003) 6 NWLR (Pt.817) 615 at 645 where Kalgo, JSC put the position of the law thus – “It is not in dispute that in the instant appeal, the respondent was not notified by the Governor of the intended revocation of his earlier grant exhibit 1 before granting exhibit A8 (AI3) to the appellant. This is in clear contravention of section 28(6) of the Act, it was also not shown by evidence that the respondent’s land was required for public purposes or interest. The respondent was not heard before the grant of his land was made to the appellant and no compensation was offered or given to the respondent as required by the Act. It is my respective view therefore, that under these circumstances the grant of the statutory right of occupancy over the same piece or parcel of land to which the respondent had earlier been granted certificate of occupancy, was invalid, null and void.”

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CIRCUMSTANCE WHERE A CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY IS LIABLE TO BE DECLARED INVALID

“A certificate of occupancy or any other document of title is prima facie evidence of title, but will give way to a better title. A person in whose name a certificate of occupancy has been issued can only validly hold on to it if he can show that he legitimately acquired the land. He should be able to show that the certificate was issued in his favour after he had properly acquired the land. Thus, where it is proved that another right of occupancy resides in another person, and such right has not been extinguished, the certificate of occupancy is liable to be declared invalid. See also the following cases: Ilona Vs Idakwo (2003) 11 NWLR (Pt. 830) P. 53; Eso Vs Adeyemi; Azi Vs Reg. Trustees Of The Evan. Church Of West Africa (1991) NWLR (Pt. 155) P. 113; and Reg. Trustees, Apostolic Church Vs Olowoleni (1995) 6 NWLR (Pt. 158) P. 514.”

— 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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