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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY IS ONLY PRIMA FACIE EVIDENCE OF TITLE

Dictum

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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MILITARY GOVERNOR CAN ONLY GRANT RIGHTS OF OCCUPANCY

Having removed the radical title from Nigerians, it has vested the control and management of the land in each state in the Military Governor in the case of land in the urban areas (see section 2(1)(a) and in the Local Government in the case of non-urban areas (see section 2(1)(b). The only interests in land the Military Governor and the Local Government can lawfully grant are rights of occupancy. (See sections 5 and 6). These rights of occupancy fall into two categories, namely (a) statutory right of occupancy. (See sections 5(1) and (2), customary right of occupancy (see section 6(1)(a & b). They cannot grant absolute interests or fee simple absolute to any person.

– Obaseki, JSC. Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY IS PRIMA FACIE EVIDENCE OF RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY

Exhibit D5 i.e the certificate issued by the Governor is simply a prima facie evidence of right of occupancy in his favour. However, such evidence is rebuttable. Title to land can only be vested by a holder of it if the latter has genuine or proper title to the property.

– Sanusi JCA. Enejo v. Nasir (2006)

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AFTER LAND USE ACT, SHALL CONTINUE TO HOLD AS IF HE HAS CUSTOMARY RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY

Where developed land is not in urban area, the law is that the person in whom such land was vested before the Act came into commencement shall continue to have it vested in him as if he was a holder of a customary right of occupancy granted by a local government. It could therefore be seen that the Land use Act is not a magic wand it is being portrayed to be or a destructive monster that at once swallowed all rights on land and that the Governor or local government with mere issuance of a piece of paper, could divest families of their homes and agricultural lands overnight with a rich holder of certificate of occupancy driving them out with bulldozers and cranes. The law as it is that in areas not declared urban by a state government everybody remains where he has always been as if the new Act has vested in him a customary right of occupancy.

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

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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 IN SUBSTANCE A TERM OF YEARS MAKING IT A LEASE

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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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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