Are you aware that the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is the most crucial document for landowners or property buyers in Nigeria? This document, issued by state governments, establishes you as the lawful owner of land or property.

Acquiring land or property without a Certificate of Occupancy is akin to owning a vehicle without a logbook. It’s a situation you definitely want to avoid as a landowner or property owner in Nigeria.

This article aims to provide you with comprehensive information on how to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) in Nigeria, including the necessary steps.

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A Certificate of Occupancy is a legal land title document that proves land ownership in Nigeria. Without a C of O, your land or property can be seized at any time without compensation.

According to Section 9 of the Land Use Act of 1978, the State Governor has the authority to issue the Certificate of Occupancy. This act also introduced the concept of land use classification, such as residential, commercial, or mixed-use.

While a Certificate of Occupancy is not the ultimate proof of land ownership, it holds significant legal weight unless a superior title can be established, which is rare in most cases.

One unique feature of the Certificate of Occupancy is that no land in Nigeria can possess two certificates. It is the first title document issued for a piece of land, whether undeveloped or developed, that has not been previously registered at the land registry.

The land, upon which a C of O is issued, undergoes registration at the office of the Surveyor-General of the State or the Federation, depending on whether it is federal land. This process helps determine if the land is free from any government acquisition.

The Certificate of Occupancy contains various essential details, including the certificate number, file number, plot number, location details, plot size, survey plan or graphic representation, date of issue, lease term, initial annual ground rent fees, land use purpose, and terms and conditions.

Here are the key reasons why having a Certificate of Occupancy is crucial:

1. Proof of Ownership: It establishes you as the legitimate owner of a plot of land or property.

2. Protection Against Confiscation: It prevents the government from seizing your land or property without compensation.

3. Collateral for Bank Loans: A Certificate of Occupancy is accepted as collateral for bank loans.

4. Increased Property Value: Having a C of O can increase the value of your land or property, particularly in cities like Abuja.

5. Prevention of Ownership Disputes: It prevents multiple ownership claims over a single property.

To obtain a Certificate of Occupancy, you need to approach the relevant state government department responsible for land matters. They will guide you through the process and provide the necessary forms and documentation requirements.

The process of obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy may vary from state to state. However, I will outline the general steps involved:

1. Verify Land Ownership: If you are buying land or property, ensure that it has not been acquired by the government. Confirm its legal ownership before proceeding.

2. Check Seller’s C of O: If the seller already possesses a Certificate of Occupancy, you need to change the ownership title at the land registry.

3. State Government Sales: If you are buying directly from the state government, the process of obtaining a C of O will be simpler and initiated once the sale is confirmed.

The cost of acquiring a Certificate of Occupancy varies depending on the state and location. Generally, obtaining a C of O in major cities like Lagos or Abuja tends to be more expensive than in other states. The cost is usually tied to the fair market value or calculated per square meter of land.

Now, let’s look at the specific steps involved in obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy in Lagos:

  1. Obtain Application Form: Get the application form from the Ministry responsible for land use and allocation or download it from their website. Submit the form along with the required documents, which may include tax clearance, passport photographs, and the application fee.
  2. Acknowledgment Slip: Collect an acknowledgment slip as evidence of payment.
  3. Letter of Allocation: Collect the letter of allocation.
  4. Payment for Allocated Land: Make the necessary payment for the allocated land within the stipulated period.
  5. Processing by Land Use Allocation Commission (LUAC): The Scheme Officer at LUAC processes your application, signs off on the file, and forwards it to the Executive Secretary of LUAC.
  6. Survey Copy and Approval: The Surveyor General provides the Scheme Officer with a digitized survey copy.
  7. Approval by Executive Secretary of LUAC: The Executive Secretary approves the processing, signs the letter of allocation, and signs off on the file.
  8. Review by Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor: The SSA examines the entire file and sends it with a covering memo to the Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Lands Bureau.
  9. Approval by the Governor: The Permanent Secretary signs off on the memo and sends the file to the Governor for approval.
  10. Execution of C of O: Once approved, the Governor electronically signs the C of O.
  11. Further Processing: The file is sent to the Deputy Registrar for further processing.
  12. Registration and Printing: The Deputy Registrar processes the file, and after signing off, sends it to the Registrar of Titles for final registration. The Registrar registers the C of O, signs off, and requests printing.

For state-owned land, the required documents typically include a formal letter, standard allocation form, passport photographs, evidence of tax payment, survey plan, payment receipts, and vital information form.

The process for non-state-owned land differs. The steps involve submitting an application, conducting a title search, engaging the Land Use Allocation Committee, executing the C of O, paying stamp duty, registering the C of O at the land registry, and collecting the executed and registered Certificate of Occupancy.

In Lagos, there is also the option of Electronic Certificates of Occupancy. This digital method, approved by the Lagos State Governor, streamlines the process and reduces the amount of paperwork required for land transactions. The electronic C of O does not invalidate the hardcopy version but provides additional security and verification measures.

While the Certificate of Occupancy is crucial, it’s important to note that it is not the only land document you should consider. Other documents such as deeds of assignment, lease deeds, gift deeds, vesting orders, and assents are also essential for property transactions, especially for developed properties with multiple ownership histories.

In conclusion, when acquiring land or property, focus not only on the Certificate of Occupancy but also on verifying the property’s ownership and the legitimacy of the seller’s claim. Engaging an experienced lawyer can greatly assist you in navigating these processes and ensuring a smooth transaction.