Boundaries and titles: The legal angle – Part 2
The above ways of proving title to land have been reiterated in a litany of cases which include the case of Gabdo v. Usman (2015) LPELR-25678(CA), where My Lord, Hon. Justice Abraham Georgewill, J.C.A opined thus:
“These five ways, which have crystallized over the years in a long line of decided cases as are replete in our law reports are each if proved by credible and cogent evidence sufficient to ground title in the party who so claims. These five methods are namely: (a) Evidence of traditional history of title (b) By production of title documents (c) By acts of ownership (d) By acts of possession long enough to warrant the person in possession as the owner. (e) By acts of possession of an adjoining or adjacent land in such a way as would make it probable that the owner of the adjoining or adjacent land is also the owner of the land in dispute.”
I will dwell more on the 1st and 2nd ways of proving titles to land i.e. proof of title via traditional history and proof of title via production of title documents.
Proof of title via traditional history
In States like Ondo, Osun, Kogi, Ekiti, etc, proof of title via traditional history is very common unlike in Lagos State, which is mostly through the production of documents. In law, it is believed that land is vested in the family (the extended family) as a group hence, the head of the family holds the land in trust for the entire family members. The individual members of the community or family only have rights to use land. In the celebrated case of Amodu Tijani v Secretary of Southern Nigeria (1921) AC 399 at 404, the Court was of the humble view that “land is conceived as belonging to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living and countless members yet unborn” hence, a person must prove his blood affiliation with his progenitor who founded the land that he is claiming.
For a person to successfully prove his title to land via traditional history, he must purge himself of the following:
1. Who founded the land i.e. he must show that his forefather founded the land he is laying claims to.
2. When the land was founded. The person needs not show the exact day and time the land was founded. Merely stating that the land was founded over 300 or 400 years ago will suffice.
3. How the land was founded i.e. whether through migration from a known place and deforestation of a virgin land or through conquest or through customary gift, etc.
4. Particulars of intervening users of the land i.e. his predecessors in title before the land devolved to him via inheritance.
A person who successfully proves the above requirements has no doubt proved his title to the land through traditional history.
Proof of title via production of title documents
Another way of proving one’s title to land is through proof of title via production of title documents. In respect to acquisition of land, there are several land documents evidencing title to land. The nature of ownership of the property will determine the appropriate and suitable document for such a property transaction. These documents will make the claim of land ownership legitimate. The various types of land documents in respect to land shall be enumerated below:
Certificate of Occupancy
Before 1978, there were a series of complaints in respect to customary tenure which resulted in a series of avoidable litigations, killings, sale of land to multiple innocent buyers, etc. The government therefore wanted a more agreeable tenure system by enacting a uniform law to administer all land in Nigeria. This initiative birthed the Land Use Act, 1978. The objectives of the Act are as follows;
· To remove bitter controversies and endless litigations over land which sometimes resulted in loss of lives and property;
· To simplify the ownership and management of land;
· To encourage access by all citizens to affordable land;
· To provide the Government with better access to land for public purposes and also facilitate town planning etc.
Consequently, the Land Use Act was introduced to usher in a transformation from customary land tenure regime to a statutory tenure in land by achieving a major strategy which is to expropriate and/or seize land originally owned by Families and Communities and vesting same in the State as trustees of communal and family land. The Land Use Act also introduced an administrative system of allocation and control of land, instead of the market driven system. These major and unique features of the Land Use Act birthed the Certificate of Occupancy. The Certificate of Occupancy is an officially recognized land document needed to exercise a degree of control over land without interruptions to enjoyment and use. It is a document given by the state or federal government, which leases land to the owners for 99 years. It is one of the most popular property documents or titles in Nigeria.
To be continued
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).