Everyday land transactions occur in Nigeria. Sometimes these lands are subject of dispute, or fraudulently sold to the purchaser even where there is an encumbrance on the said land. There are cases where a particular piece of land is sold to several persons and this causes dispute and litigation.
Before purchasing piece of land, due diligence must be conducted so as to ascertain if the vendor has the right to sell the land. The law is that you cannot give what you have.
Over the years there has been incidents where a purchaser bought a land which has a defective title or a land subject to dispute in court.
There is need to conduct a search on the title. Searches can be conducted in the following ways –
1. Searches at the Lands Registry – The Land Instrument Registration Law of each State establishes a land registry for the State, where documents relating to land within the territory are kept, and it varies from one State to another. This is conducted where a lawyer acting on the instructions of the purchaser sends application to register of Deed or completes a form. There is payment of search fee, usually a small token at designated bank, attachment of payment receipt to application and submission. After payment has been made and receipt evidencing same, the record is brought by registry officials for inspection. A search at the land registry will reveal a lot of information like the real owner of the land and encumbrances on the land, if any,
identity of property, when was the deed created: was the deed properly perfected, etc.
In Abuja, a written application to conduct a search should be made to the Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS) stating the particulars of the property.
The application should be accompanied by a letter of consent by the owner of the title authorising the purchaser’s solicitor to conduct the search of the file/property.
The application must be accompanied with evidence (bank slip) of payment of search fee paid in a designated bank.
The officials at AGIS would conduct the search and complete the search report, which is signed by the Registrar of Deeds.
The solicitor is given the search report.
2. Search at the Companies registry – In a situation where the past owners of the property is company incorporated under companies and allied matters Act. This will help to reveal the trustees of the company or if the company is registered and also get to know if the company has the capacity to carry out the transaction. This search is very important just like the search conducted at the Lands Registry. It will reveal if the purported company has the power under its articles and memorandum to dispose of its assets and in what manner it should be disposed.
3. Search at Probate registry – This is a search conducted to reveal whether or not probate has been granted in relation to a land and who are the personal representatives. There are cases where vendor has not obtained letters of administration and goes ahead to deal with the land. This is know if the vendor is empowered in law to deal with the said land.
4. Physical inspection – This is a personal visit to the land in question in order to find out from neighbours if there is any issue, or to find out for yourself the actual size of the land and whether it conforms to the dimensions of the land registry. Physical inspection will also reveal if the land is situated in a swampy area or deserted area. It is advisable for physical inspection to be done during the rainy season. There are cases where inspection was done in dry season, purchaser pays for the land only to discover that the land is usually flooded during the rainy season. Physical inspection will also reveal if there is an encumbrance or restriction placed on the land, for instance some landlords place the inscription – “THIS LAND IS NOT FOR SALE” or “CAVEAT EMPTOR”. on the land.
5. Traditional evidence – This is a search conducted on the principal members of a family land or on the community and heads of the community where the property is not subject to family or community ownership, to confirm that all relevant consents were obtained and that the title is neither void nor voidable. A further search could also be conducted by asking people who live nearby or some questions as to the ownership of the land. This kind of search is similar to physical inspection.
6. Court judgments –This is another place to conducted a search as most lands are usually in dispute before the court and this could take years. You can get the CTC of a court judgment by paying a token for a certified true copy to be given to you.
Also this seach enables you to know if a land has been subject to court litigation which is a big problem some buyers usually find themselves in.
This search should be conducted to see if the land is subject to any court litigation, and if any, the outcome of the dispute; or whether the vendor is a personal representative or beneficiary in a probate dispute which entitles him to convey the property. Or if the title is based on a Court issued certificate. If it is recovery of debt and the property is in lieu
Examination of abstracted documents/photocopies: to check whether there is any forgery indicated by perusal of the documents.
It is important to carry out a proper search before purchasing land so as to avoid issues that may arise out of the purported sale or purchasing a land that has already been sold to another. A proper search in these places listed above will save you money and cost of litigation. Where there are conflicting interests on the same subject matter, the law is that the first in time will prevail. Your interest might not be the first in time, so caution should be exercised adequately before purchasing any land.
Written by Mpi Elton Chizindu Esq.