The Certificate of Occupancy: A Definitive Guide
The CofO is the shortened form of Certificate of Occupancy. The Certificate of Occupancy is issued by State Governments in Nigeria to Land owners and property buyers as a legitimate and legal proof of ownership.
To better understand it, let’s take it back in time…
The Land Use Act of 1978
It all started in 1978 with the Land Use Act. Before the land use act, lands were owned and controlled by traditional rulers and ancestral families who operated a highly unfavourable tenancy system . The 1978 Land Use Act was enacted to regulate land administration systems in Nigeria. It bestowed all urban land within a state in the state governor, and all non-urban land in the local governments in which they are found. Basically, every land in the urban area belongs to the Governor who now allocates the land as he deems it fit in public interest.
Is the Certificate of Occupancy the primary or highest proof of ownership?
The answer is It depends. It can be a primary proof of ownership or more like a secondary title of ownership. Why does it depend? Let’s take it back to the land use again. Section 22 of the Act states that “it shall not be lawful for the holder of a statutory Right of Occupancy granted by the Governor to alienate his Right of Occupancy or any part thereof by assignment, sublease etc without the prior consent of the Governor”
Simply put, the first person to occupy or own a land is entitled to the CofO- however it can not be replicated, hence the next person gets a separate document to prove ownership. So in a situation where the first person who occupied the land got the CofO then sold it to someone else. The person with Cof O is no longer the owner of the land even if it is in his name.
So you see- ownership of a land/property can rest on someone else other than the holder of the CofO. There are other primary titles that can be a more definite proof of ownership.
Sample of the CofO in Nigeria
There are currently two types of Certificate of Occupancy currently in circulation. There is the old yellow CofO and there is the new ECOf O (Electronic Certificate of Occupancy
The New Cof O from the Government is different from the old now mundane CofO.
The Electronic CofO contains;
- The picture of the owner is scanned and printed on the document instead of the old easy-to-manipulate picture stapled on.
- There is a unique encrypted barcode.
- It is drawn like a contract and you can see all the transactions that has taken place on that land.
- Contains 3 important signatures on one page-The Governor/representative, the commissioner of stamp duties and the registrar of Titles.
- Contains 2 more unique barcodes on the same page with the above three signatures.
Is the cOFo valid forever?
No! It’s valid for 99 years. The truth is we are all tenants of the Governor.
So what happens after 99 years when your CofO Expires?
After the expiration, you can apply for the reissue of the COfO. This is subject to the decision of the sitting Governor.If the Governor decides to use the land for public interest and not renew the CofO then there really nothing you can do about it. One thing to note however is that a landed property won’t be taken from a private individual and given to another private individual.
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