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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY IS IN SUBSTANCE A TERM OF YEARS MAKING IT A LEASE

Dictum

What is the legal basis of a certificate of occupancy? A holder of a certificate of occupancy holds the title to the property and subject only to the conditions stipulated in the Land Use Act. A certificate of occupancy creates a term of years absolute or a lease for a number of years stated therein. See Chiroma vs. Suwa (1986) 1 NWLR (pt. 19) 751. The greatest legal estate that can now subsist under the Land Use Act is a term of years. The grant of a term of years under a certificate of occupancy is in substance a lease. See Dr Otti vs. Attorney-General of Plateau State (1985) HCNLR 787.

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

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NO ROOT OF TITLE MAKES C of O MERE PAPER

Daniel Igwu Uche v. Jonah Eke and 2 Ors., the Supreme Court per Belgore JSC (as he then was and now CJN) had this to say at pages 6 to 7: “Any grant of land whether private or by statutory right of occupancy evidenced by a certificate of occupancy will be mere piece of paper not worth anything if the root of title to make the conveyance is not vested in the vendor. If this is not so, all a person has to do is to go to the land office of the government and obtain a right of occupancy in respect of land of a family who may not know that their land has been given to a complete stranger.”

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STATUS OF A RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY ACQUIRED OVER A PARCEL OF LAND WHEN THERE IS IN EXISTENCE ANOTHER CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY, WHICH HAS NOT BEEN REVOKED

“Where two or more persons claim title to land by virtue a certificate of occupancy, the first in time takes precedence over and above the former. Furthermore, the law is trite, any title or right of occupancy acquired over a parcel of land when there is in existence another certificate of occupancy, which has not been revoked in accordance with the law, the latter title cannot be valid in law. See Adole v. Gwar (2008) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1099) P. 562; Salami v. Oke (1987) 4 NWLR (Pt. 63 P. 1; Ajilo v. SBN Ltd (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt. 97) P. 555 and Ogunleye v. Oni (1995) 2 NWLR (Pt. 135) P. 745.” — I.S. Bdliya, JCA. Umar Ibrahim v Nasiru Danladi Mu’azu & 2 Ors. (2022) – CA/G/317/2019

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WHERE TWO CERTIFICATES OF OCCUPANCY ARE ISSUED OVER THE SAME LAND

“The certificate of occupancy issued in 2008 supersedes and takes priority over the one issued in 2011. Where two persons trace their root of title to the same source, the earlier in time prevails. See Ejuetam v. Olaiya (2001) RSCNl P. 140 @ 168.”

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

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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 GRANTED TO ONE WHO HAS NOT PROVED A BETTER TITLE

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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R OF O HOLDS LARGER INTEREST THAN HOLDER OF LEASE

The Interest of a lessee in land is not exactly the same as that of a holder of a right of occupancy. A holder of a right of occupancy enjoys a larger interest than a holder of a lease (i.e. lease) although the two interests enjoy a common denominator which is a term of years.

— Obaseki, JSC. Foreign Finance Corp. v Lagos State Devt. & Pty. Corp. & Ors. (1991) – SC. 9/1988

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