According to the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (land use act of 1978), state governments have all rights to all pieces of land in their states.
In other words,
The people are not [directly and by default] the owners of the lands of the state. However, all parcels of land can be classified into two: acquired lands and free lands.
- 1 What are acquire lands?
- 2 What are Free lands?
- 3 Take-home point for acquired vs free lands
- 4 Gaining Ownership of a Free Land
- 5 Deed of Sales/Assignment
- 6 Excision
- 7 What about “Excision in Process”?
- 8 What about Committed acquisition and Global acquisition?
- 9 Closing TL;DR
What are acquire lands?
While a state government naturally owns all pieces of land in its state, acquired lands are those pieces the state government currently has interests in. And when has I say “interest”, this doesn’t necessarily mean the government wants to use if for something.
This also implies that there might pieces the government isn’t interested in, at the moment.
And when a state government has interest in a land, it would often explicitly state its interest. But at times, certain conditions automatically make a government interested in some lands.
when an area which hasn’t been given out by the government, starts to develop economically, it automatically becomes an area the government has an interest in, without the government having to explicitly state its interest in the land of the area.
What are Free lands?
Free lands refer to the parcels of land the government currently has no interest in. In other words entities in the country [people, groups of people, communities, companies, etc] are allowed to use any free piece of land, pending the time the government becomes interested in it.
Take-home point for acquired vs free lands
A state government owns all pieces of land in its state. And when a government is interested in land, we say it is an acquired land. But when the government has no interest in a land, it is called a free land, pending the time it also becomes an acquired land.
Furthermore, entities in Nigeria are allowed to use free lands, pending the time their government shows interest in the land.
But once the government shows interest in a land, it doesn’t matter you have built on it, the land becomes a government property you should never touch again.
But what if you’d like to own a free land permanently, and not just own it pending the time government shows interest in it?
Well, this is where things like C of O, Gazette, Deed of Sales/Assignment, etc come in.
Gaining Ownership of a Free Land
Just as I’ve stated,
Every entity in Nigeria [person, group of people, community, company, etc] is allowed to use a free land in the country, pending the time its state government shows interest in it. But if you’d like to become a permanent owner of a land that is free, and no other entity has ever claimed genuine ownership to, the country has room for that.
To become a permanent owner of a free parcel of land [that no other person has ever claimed genuine ownership to], you’d have to obtain a thing called “Certificate of Occupancy” [C of O].
Certificate of Occupancy is what gives you the legal right to claim permanent ownership to land.
In other words, when you have a Certificate of Occupancy over a free piece of land, no one [even the government] can also claim ownership of the land.
However, there are times when the government may desperately need to claim your land. For instance, let’s say your land is needed for the good of the state at large, the government can still claim back the land you’ve been given a C of O for. But under such circumstances, people are often compensated, or given another parcel of land.
In short, a Certificate of Occupancy is simply a legal document which makes you a legal owner of a free piece of land no one has ever claimed genuine ownership to. In other words, you can simply walk into a thick forest no one has ever claimed ownership to, carve out a piece of land, then request a Certificate of Occupancy for it.And once you’re granted a C of O for that land, be rest assured that land in the forest is yours and would always be yours, unless you die, give it to someone, sell it, or the government has to reclaim it for some exceptional reason.
You should, however, note that a Certificate of Occupancy has limited validity.
A Certificate of Occupancy issued to a person is only valid for 99 years. In other words, if you’re still alive after 99 years of obtaining the C of O, your Certificate of Occupancy would be no more valid.
But it’s possible to renew your Certificate of Occupancy after it has expired.
There’s no problem if you give out your land property to someone or sell it, before your Certificate of Occupancy expires. if you give or sell your parcel of land to someone before your Certificate of Occupancy expires, the new owner would remain a valid owner, even after your Certificate of Occupancy expires.
Deed of Sales/Assignment
In the previous section, I explained how to become a legal owner of a free land [also called virgin land].
But in this section,
I’d be discussing how to become of the legally valid owner of the land you bought from someone who was given the C of O for the land.
Many people in this country think becoming a legal owner of land bought, is as simple as having proof of payment. But that can’t be more wrong. There may be no doubt about the fact that you paid the owner of the land, but if certain things are not done, you wouldn’t be considered a valid owner of the land, in the face of the law.
So when buying from a person issued the Certificate of Occupancy of land, a document called Deed of Sales/Assignment also has to be created. This document called Deed of Sales/Assignment, is a legal document stating that the person holding the Certificate of Occupancy has transferred ownership of the land to the buyer. But that’s not all, the Deed of Sales/Assignment must also contain a place for the Governor’s signature.
Without the Governor of the state approving the transaction [by signing the Deed of Sales/Agreement], the buyer wouldn’t be considered the new legal owner of the land.
And when a Governor approves the purchase of land, people say the land has Governor’s consent i.e the Governor of the state consents to the sales of the land.
You should note that I didn’t say the new owner has to request a new Certificate of Occupancy. The reason for this is that Certificate of Occupancy is a thing issued only once, for a piece of land. In other words, once a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued to a person for a land, no other person [even new owners] can get a C of O for that land again.
if the first owner of the land sells their land or passes it over to someone else, then they’re no more the legal owner of the land, even though they’re the only one who’d ever be issued a Certificate of Occupancy for that piece.
In summary, when someone is claiming ownership to a parcel of land for the first time, the legal document needed is Certificate of Occupancy. But when a second, third, fourth, firth… owner wants to claim ownership, they’d need a Deed of Sales/Assignment signed by the Governor [a Deed of Sales/Assignment having the State Governor’s consent].
So far I have covered how to claim legal ownership over a land that was once free. But I haven’t talked about “Excision”, a popular term thrown about these days.
I stated that lands are classified into two: acquired land and free land.
It was also mentioned that an acquired land is a piece of land the government has interest in. And don’t forget I also said certain conditions can also make a government automatically have interest in a piece of land.
However, while a government might have interest in a land, it’s not every time the government would need such. There might be acquired lands which are just lying dormant. And if you find one of such land, it’s possible to request the government to give you that piece of land [or a part of it].
And if the government decides to give you the requested land, then that piece of acquired land [or a part of it] is said to have been excised. In other words, that land which was formerly under the government’s interest, has now be given out to someone.
This giving out of land isn’t just stated verbally. When a government gives out a piece of land [excises a piece of land], the giving out of the land is recorded in a very important government book called Gazette.
The Gazette is not a book per se, but you can think of it as a book where a state government records important things. In other words, when a land is excised, that transaction is recorded.
You should, however, note that if a government decides to give you a parcel of land, you may be asked to pay a certain amount of money.
What about “Excision in Process”?
Well, “Excision is Process” simply means the government is considering giving out the land to your seller.
It doesn’t mean the government has given out the land or would assuredly give out the land. In other words, the seller doesn’t own the land yet.
So if the government decides to give out the land, then you [the buyer] would be getting a land. But if the government decides not to give out the land to the seller, then you [the buyer] wouldn’t be getting any piece of land.
In short, when buying a land stated to be “Excision in Process”, you should understand the risk associated with it.
Can I request C of O for a land that was excised to me?
No, you can’t.
A land that was excised doesn’t need to be backed by a C of O. And it’s not even possible. The fact that the excision was recorded in the Government’s Gazette is as powerful as a C of O.
Buying an Excised Land
If you plan to buy a piece of land that was excised to someone, the process you’d have to go through is similar to that of a person buying a land that already has a C of O.
In other words, to buy an excised piece of land, you’d also need a Deed of Sales/Assignment which must also receive the state Governor’s consent.
What about Committed acquisition and Global acquisition?
Remember that I stated that an acquired land is a piece of land a government has interest in. But that’s not all. We can actually further classify an acquired land into any of the two classes: committed acquisition and global acquisition.
Committed acquisition refers to those lands that the government not only has interest in, but has also decided to use for something. For instance, if a government decides to build a school on a land, then that land can be called an acquired land under committed acquisition.
As for global acquisition, this refers to acquired lands the government hasn’t decided to do anything with. In other words, this is the kind of acquired land governments release for excision [governments never release committed lands for excision].
if the government feels it’s no more interested in doing anything with a committed land, that committed land becomes a global acquisition, once again. And after it becomes a global acquisition, it once again becomes eligible for excision.
To conclude this article, Certificate of Occupancy is the document required to claim ownership to a virgin land [a land that has never been claimed ownership to before or a land given to you but has never been claimed legal ownership to before].
“Excised” simply means an acquired land [under global acquisition] has been given out to an entity.
Deed of Sales/Assignment is a legal document indicating the transfer of ownership of a land [a land with C of O or a land excised] to another entity. And all Deeds of Sales/Assignment are expected to receive the state Governor’s consent.