Various property laws in Nigeria regulate the process of acquisition, enjoyment and disposal of real properties, and also any interest in land. The property transactions that transfer interest in real property can range from outright sale of a property, lease, donation of power, charge, assent, and mortgages in Nigeria.
There are various sources of laws that apply to property transactions in Nigeria which shall be briefly explained below.
- Customary Laws- these laws apply to ownership and transfer of properties under native laws and customs. Under customary laws, transfer of property is deemed to be complete and valid where the purchaser is in possession, there is evidence of payment of the purchase price and there are witnesses to the transaction. It is important to state that a customary law concerning property transactions does not recognize documentary evidence of transfer such as deeds, it is more of an oral transaction-based.
- Case laws- judicial decisions of the superior courts, especially the Supreme Court of Nigeria in respect of the cause of actions arising from disputes over properties have been recognized and accepted in property law practice in Nigeria. Those court decisions form part and parcel of various laws governing real estate in Nigeria. For instance, in the case of Ogunleye v. Oni, the Supreme Court of Nigeria held that the Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) is not a complete title to land, and a weak title cannot be made stronger by the issuance of Certificate of Occupancy. Also, in the case of Idundun v. Okumagba, the Court laid down how to proof a title to landed property in Nigeria.
- Received English Laws- these comprise of English Common Laws, Doctrines of Equity, and Statutes of General Application. They regulate property practices in Nigeria about the cause of actions that have been instituted and determined by the High Court and other superior courts of record, especially where there is a lack of comparable local law that can apply to the transaction. Some of the received English laws are the Conveyancing Act 1881, the Wills Act 1837, and the Statute of Fraud Act 1677. However, some of these foreign laws have now been domesticated in Nigeria and the ones not yet domesticated only have persuasive effect.
Meanwhile, the direct Nigerian laws that govern property transactions in Nigeria include the followings;
- The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)- the Constitution guarantees the right of every Nigerian to own and acquire real estate in any part of the country. Section 43 of the Constitution provides that "subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria".
Section 44 of the Constitution also further enacted the Common law principle that cautions against taking away proprietary vested rights without specific legal authority and also makes the provision of compensation.
- The Land Use Act 1978 Cap L5, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004- the Act was enacted to standardize land administration in Nigeria, where all land in various state arere vested in the state governor. Section 1 of the Act provides that"all lands comprised in the territory of each state in the Federation are vested in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerian in accordance with the provisions of the Act". By the provision of this section, the governor is responsible for allocating land in urban areas to individuals for residential, commercial, or agricultural purposes. The Act is applicable throughout the Federation as it is one of the principal laws that govern property related matters.
- Property and Conveyancing Law (PCL) 1959- this law applies to the Western region of Nigeria. The most important provision of the law is that no sale of land shall be enforced except there is a note or memorandum in writing, which contains the terms of the sale and subsequently signed. The law also emphasises on the importance of land transaction instruments to be by deed, as Section 67(1) of the law provides that "all conveyances of land or interest in land for the purpose of creating any legal estate are void unless they are made by deed". The PCL governs ownership of properties in Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti, and some parts of Lagos State.
- Illiterate Protection Act- illiterate laws are enacted to protect those that are unable to read, write, or fully understand a particular property document that is involved in property transactions from fraud. It makes provisions for illiterate jurat in every property transfer document.
- Registration of Titles Law 2004 of Lagos State- this Act is applicable in some parts of Lagos State, which includes Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Lagos Island, Surulere and few others. It requires titles to land to be registered as first or subsequent registrations. Registration serves the purpose of ensuring that title has been registered and investigated by the Registrar of titles so that land purchasers can rely on the registration to determine that a land vendor has the right of title to sell.
- Land Instrument Registration Laws of various States- these laws apply to states in Nigeria; it defines registrable instruments and the effect of non-registration. The Land Registration Law of Lagos State 2015 provides for the procedure for registration of property in Lagos State. There are 36 states in Nigeria, and of these states have laws that govern the procedures for property registrations and usage of lands.
- The Stamp Duties Act LFN 2004- the Act regulates stamp duties imposed on land transaction instruments and paid within 30 days to the Federal or State government on land instruments such as a deed of assignment, leases, or mortgages. The rate of stamp duty payable is dependent on the type of property and value of the land transaction.
- Administration of Estate Laws of States- in relation to real estate, this law regulates the administration of the estate of a deceased person who dies intestate (without leaving a will) and testate (with a will). Many states in Nigeria have laws that regulate the estate of deceased persons. In Lagos State, for example, the Administration of Estate Law of Lagos State makes provisions for the administration of the estate, devolution of the estate on personal representatives, the rights and duties of the representatives, and the process of obtaining a grant of probate and letter of administration.
- Companies and Allied Matters Act Cap 2020- by the provisions of the Act, companies registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) are permitted to mortgage their properties by creating debentures over the assets of the company. Section 191 of the Act provides that a company may borrow money for its business or objects and may mortgage or charge its undertaking, property, and uncalled capital and issue debenture, stocks, and other security for any debt, liability, or obligation of the company.
- Wills Laws of States- this law aims to guarantee the freedom to make wills and dispose of the estate. Wills are to be made following the requirement of the will to ensure its validity.
In closing, the above-listed laws govern ownership and control of properties in Nigeria. It is important to state that property law is broad as it regulates various transactions on a property. Apart from all of the mentioned laws, various states also have laws that govern properties within those states. Most states also enact laws that limit foreign ownership of properties within their territories.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.