The constitution, which is the supreme law of the land in section 43 of the 1999 constitution empowers every citizen of Nigeria to own and acquire immovable property anywhere in Nigeria. In a bid to fulfill this solemn provision of the constitution, in acquisition of landed property, a lot of people make some fatal, ludicrous, and lugubrious mistakes and error which affects the root of title of the property they intend to purchase.
Some of these mistakes and errors stems from lack of due diligence, palpable ignorance and dearth of useful information. What is interesting to note, though, it is that some Nigerians have been oblivious to one of the most ubiquitous morsels of conventional wisdom in property transaction- which is due diligence in the investigation of the title of the property they intend to purchase.
A person who intends to purchase a landed property in Nigeria must conduct proper investigation and carry out due diligence and searches in all places and offices where there may be particulars or details of the property.
Some of the places searches are conducted are as follows:
PHYSICAL INSPECTION OF THE PROPERTY: This is the first and primary place a prospective buyer should conduct search. Searches here will reveal whether there is any act of government services on the property such as electric poles and wire cutting across the property or water main, telephone cables, drainages interfering with the property.
Furthermore, it will also give clues as to whether there are any adverse party interested in the property. A simple enquiries to the surrounding neighborhood will reveal whether the land is in dispute and whether the land is for sale or not. Sometimes if the land is not for sale, there are some disclaimer, boldly written thus “This property is not for sale beware of 419”. Furthermore, there might be some caveat emptor, which will put off some prospective buyers that the property is not for sale. In all, a prudent and diligent buyer must physically visit the property he or she intends to purchase
Land Registry: The lands registry of a state is also very important place to conduct search in a property. The land registry of the state administers the land in the state. However search in the land registry are usually done when the land in question is one that either has a certificate of occupancy, Governor consent, registered survey plan and registered Deed of assignment. Not all search on properties can be conducted in the land registry. Lands that the only title document is a family receipt or an unregistered deed of assignment or power of attorney. No sort of search or investigation can be done at the land registry. However, the importance of search at the hand registry cannot be overemphasize, as it is the most important place to conduct search if the property is registered at the land registry.
The search will reveal the following:
a. The description of the property-size, survey plan, beacon, maps, charts, intelligence sheets and cartographic deals
b. Any previous or existing an encumbrances on the property such as mortgages, charges and pledges
c. Any act of government acquisition of the property
d. Any court judgment that may have been obtained and registered over the property. Letter of protest by rival claimant may be formed in the file/registry of the property.
The procedure for conducting search in a land registry of the different state is the same with slight variation. In Lagos state for example, a prospective buyer will go to the bank, and pay the prescribes fee of N3750 at the bank, take the teller and approach the ministry of land and submit it to those saddled with searches at the land registry. The applicant who is the prospective buyer or his solicitor, will then conduct the search in computer system provided for conducting searches. It is also advisable that after conducting the search, an applicant should also request for the certified true copy of the search print out. The reason being that, some staff or persons purportedly working at the ministry of land might’s collude with the sellers of a particular property to upload information that will hide any defect or encumbrance of the said property the prospective buyer intend to buy. For example, if the land is under government acquisition or subject to lease or mortgage, it might not
reflect in the search, that is why it is away advisable to engage a solicitor to assist in conducting searches.
SEARCH AT THE FAMILY HOUSE TRADITIONAL/ INSTITUTION: This usually occur when the land in question is purchased from a particular family or where the land belong to a community. The reason for this type search is to ensure that the principle member of the family consent to the sale of the property. Most importantly the consent of the head of family must be sort and obtained for any sale or alienation of land that belongs to the family. Also it is also important to enquire from the head of the family or community whether there is any customary or other form of inhibition against the right of the seller to sell the property
SEARCH AT THE COURT: The reason for this type of search is when there is any information that the property is subject to any form of dispute or litigation and to know the outcome of the dispute. Furthermore, to know if there is any a court judgment and whether the judgment favours the seller. If the judgment favours the seller, whether there is any appeal filed against the judgment and the outcome of the appeal. All this should be considered before the buyer venture to purchase a property that is subject to subsisting litigation, based on the doctrine of lis pendens which is to the effect that a property sold while litigation is pending is null and void.
SEARCH AT THE PROBATE REGISTRY: This is also important where the land was bequeathed on the seller or his predecessor via a will or letter of administration. The search will reveal whether the seller is entitled to convey the title in the property or whether there is any challenge on the will, probate or administrator in the court and the terms of any judgment is respect of them
SEARCH AT THE CORPORATE AFFAIRS COMMISSION: This is important if the seller is a company. The search at the corporate affairs commission will reveal whether the company or incorporated trustee is registered and as the capacity to undertake the transaction. Furthermore, whether there is any record of any of the properties of the company in the register of the commission, and also whether there is a registered resolution of the board of directors for the sale of the property.
Samuel okolie is a lagos-based legal practitioner. 08066756987, firstname.lastname@example.org