Property purchased without a Certificate of Occupancy is equivalent to purchasing a vehicle without a logbook.


5/25/20226 min read


In Nigeria, the Certificate of Occupancy, or C of O, is the most important document to property buyers and landowners. The document is issued by the state governments in Nigeria and verifies that you own the land or property in question. Property purchased without a Certificate of Occupancy is equivalent to purchasing a vehicle without a logbook. As a Nigerian landowner or property owner, this is not the kind of situation you want to find yourself in.

A Certificate of Occupancy is a legal document issued by the government that proves that a person owns land in Nigeria. The Government reserves the right to seize any plot of land or property without a C of O at any time without any compensation paid.

The purpose of obtaining a certificate of occupancy is to establish that the house or building is in a livable condition according to the law. Such a certificate is usually required to occupy the facility on a daily basis, to sign a contract to sell it and to close a mortgage on the property.

The enactment of the Land Use Act 1978 (the act) birthed a new system wherein by virtue of section 1 of same, all lands within the territory of a state are vested in the governor of that state who shall hold same in trust for the benefit of the people. Thus, a person in Nigeria cannot “own” land but rather is conferred the right to occupy the same for a certain time.

According to Section 9 of the Land Use Act 1978, the State Governor of the state in Nigeria where the land is located may authorize the issuance of an occupancy certificate. This act introduced the notion of land use (residential, commercial, mixed-use, etc.) when “any person shall be entitled to a statutory right of occupancy, to issue written evidence indicating such right of occupancy.”

There is one feature that makes a Certificate of Occupancy different from all other title documents in Nigeria: no land can bear two Certificates of Occupancy because it is the first title document issued on land, whether bare or developed, that has never been registered at the Land Registry.

C of O’s are issued to the land which has first been registered with the Surveyor-General of the State or the Federation when the land is Federal land. An important part of charting the ground is determining if it is free of government acquisitions.

Here are some of the things found on the C of O:

  • Certificate of Occupancy number

  • File number · Plot number

  • Location details

  • Plot size

  • Survey plan or graphic (plot shape)

  • Date of issue

  • Lease term

  • Initial annual ground rent fees

  • Land use purpose

  • Terms and conditions

  • The following are the benefits of having a C of O;

  • Having a C of O ascertains one as the owner of a plot of land or property.

  • It prevents the Government from confiscating one’s land or property without compensation.

  • Having a C of O increases the value of one’s land, particularly in Abuja.

  • It prevents a situation where multiple owners claim a single property.

  • It is acceptable as a security or collateral for loans from banks and other financial institutions

  • It is a widely used to resolve land disputes that arise from ownership tussle

  • It is a very crucial document during mortgage transactions.

The process of applying for a certificate of occupancy varies depending on whether the land is owned by a private individual or the state government. A buyer of land directly from the state government must apply for a Certificate of Occupancy as soon as the sale of the property is finalized, as there is no doubt as to ownership or authenticity of the power to sell this land.

Whereas when buying from families or the popular “omo onile”, be sure to make findings to ensure that the property indeed belongs to the people claiming ownership to it.

Upon confirming that the seller has legal ownership of the land being sold to you, you research if the seller already owns it. You only need to change the ownership title at the land registry if the person or entity you are buying from already has a C of O.

The second entity that is legally authorized to sell your land is the state government. When you buy directly from the government or a reputable real estate company in Nigeria, obtaining the C of O would be straightforward since it will be initiated as soon as the sale is confirmed.

Steps to Obtaining C of O for State-Owned Land

  • The Applicant should obtain a form from the Ministry (Land Use and Allocation Section) or download same from their website and submit the application form with the following attached;

  • Tax clearance or Evidence of being domiciled abroad. · Passport Photographs (3 copies)

  • An official receipt for application fees of #5,000 for residential land use or #10000 for Commercial land use.

  • Applicant collects an acknowledgment slip as Evidence of payment.

  • Applicant collects Letter of allocation.

  • Applicants pay for allocated land (In a period not less than 90 days)

  • The Letter of confirmation is issued to the Applicant with a plot and block Number.

  • The Scheme Officer begins processing the application for the C of O, signs off on the file, and forwards the files to the Executive Secretary of Land Use Allocation Commission. (LUAC) – 5 Days.

  • The Surveyor General provides Scheme Officer with a digitized survey copy (2 Days)

  • The Executive Secretary to LUAC approves processing and signs a letter of allocation.

  • The Executive Secretary LUAC signs off on the file. · The Executive Secretary LUAC sends the file to the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor, Lands (2 days)

  • The Senior Special Assistant, Lands examines the entire file and sends it with a covering memo to the Permanent Secretary (PS) Lands Bureau (2 days)

  • Should the file have a query, the message is relayed back by notification for correction.

  • The Permanent Secretary Lands Bureau signs off on the memo and sends the file to the Governor (2 days)

  • The Governor then approves the file and electronically signs the C of O (2 days)

  • If the file has a query, a message is relayed back by notification. ·

  • Once the C of O has been approved and signed, the Governor signs off and sends the file to the Deputy Registrar for further processing (2 days)

  • The Deputy Registrar processes the file further, signs off, and send the file to the Registrar of Titles for final registration (2 days)

  • The Registrar of Titles registers the C of O, signs off, and request for printing of C of O (1 day)

The holder of a certificate of occupancy is deemed to have accepted the terms and conditions attached to it, which are enforceable against himself and his successors in title. These include:

  • Payment of penal rent for breaching any covenant or condition such as failing to effect improvements on the land or alienating the land or any part thereof without the consent of the governor. (s. 5(1e and f))

  • Payment to the governor for any unexhausted improvements of the land existing on the land at the date of entering the occupation. (s. 10(a))

  • Payment of rent as prescribed under the act from time to time. (s. 10(b))

  • Allowing the governor or his agent access to the land for purposes of inspection during the daytime. (s. 11)

  • To maintain in good and substantial repairs all beacons or other landmarks defining the boundary granted under the certificate of occupancy and in default shall be liable to bear the expenses of doing same. (s. 13)

  • The land covered by the certificate of occupancy cannot be alienated without the prior consent of the governor, otherwise, such alienation shall have no effect. (s. 22).

The rights conferred on a holder of a statutory right of occupancy include:

  • Exclusive rights to the land, which is enforceable against all persons except the governor of the state where the land is situated. (s. 14)

  • Sole right to absolute possession of all improvements on the land. (s. 15a).

  • Right to transfer, assign and mortgage any improvement on the land subject to the provisions of the act. (s. 15b)

  • Right to be compensated in the event the land is acquired by the governor for public purposes. (s. 29(1))

With regards to the status of a certificate of occupancy, it has been held by the supreme court in a number of cases such as Ogunleye v. Oni (1990) 2 NWLR (pt. 135) 745; Otukpo v. John & Anor (2012) lpelr-25053(SC); Madu v. Madu (2008) lpelr-22732(SC) that it only serves as prima facie evidence of title or possession to land but not conclusive proof of same. Therefore, a holder of a certificate of occupancy is presumed to have the exclusive right of occupancy over the land to which it relates until proven otherwise.

In conclusion, although it is a fundamental right in Nigeria for every citizen to have access to and ownership of land, this right is not absolute. Upon meeting certain qualifications, it is granted by the Governor of the state where the land is located. Generally known as a C of O, the Certificate of Occupancy is the document issued by many state governments in Nigeria to landowners and property buyers as a legitimate proof of ownership after requirements have been met.

NB: This article is not a legal advice, and under no circumstance should you take it as such. All information provided are for general purpose only. For information, please contact



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