In Nigeria, when you own a piece of land, there’s an important paper called Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) that proves it’s legally yours. This document is a big deal because it proves that someone or a company has the legal right to own and use a specific piece of land in Nigeria. It’s like a special key that opens the door to being able to use the land in a particular way.

In Nigeria, managing land is like organizing a giant puzzle, and this certificate is one of the essential pieces. It helps the government keep track of who owns what land and makes sure everything is in order.

Certificates of Occupancy in Nigeria

There are different types of Certificates of Occupancy, each with its unique features and purposes, adding more layers to how land is managed in the country. Understanding this document is like having a roadmap that guides the proper use and ownership of land in Nigeria.

Now, let’s dive a bit deeper into why this paper is so important and understand how it fits into the way the country handles and organizes its land.

What are Certificates of Occupancy

Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) are legal document issued by a government authority, typically at the local or municipal level, to affirm and officially recognize an individual’s or entity’s right to own and utilize a specific piece of land or property. In the context of Nigeria, the CofO plays a crucial role in the country’s land tenure system.

This certificate serves as evidence that the holder has fulfilled the necessary legal requirements and has been granted the legal right to occupy and use the designated land. It outlines the terms and conditions under which the land can be utilized, the purpose for which it can be used (such as residential, commercial, or agricultural), and the duration of the occupancy rights.

Different categories of Certificates of Occupancy exist, tailored to specific circumstances, such as the

  • Statutory Right of Occupancy
  • Customary Right of Occupancy
  • Deemed Grant of CofO
  • Rural Certificates of Occupancy

Each type has its own set of rules, conditions, and implications, contributing to the diverse landscape of land ownership in Nigeria.

How to Get a Certificates of Occupancy in Nigeria

Getting a Certificates of Occupancy depends on who you are buying the land or property from. If you’re buying from locals, often referred to as ‘Omo Onile’ in Nigeria, especially in Lagos, it’s crucial to check if the land or property is not claimed by the government.

Once you’ve confirmed with the authorities that the land is legally owned by the seller, the next step is to find out if they already have a Certificate of Ownership (CofO) for the land. If they do, it’s a simpler process – you just need to change the ownership details at the land registry.

The second option is buying directly from the state government, which is legally authorized to sell land. If you go this route, the process of getting your CofO is usually straightforward and begins as soon as the sale is confirmed.

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Categories of Certificates of Occupancy in Nigeria

Embarking on the exploration of land ownership in Nigeria unveils a diverse landscape of Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) that cater to different needs and contexts. These various types of land titles play a vital role in establishing and legitimizing possession rights across the country.

Statutory Right of Occupancy

The Statutory Right of Occupancy is like a special kind of Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) that many people in Nigeria get when they want to own land. This special paper comes from the rules in the Land Use Act of 1978, which says that all the land in Nigeria belongs to the government. So, if you want to have your own piece of land, you have to ask the government for this kind of CofO.

When the government gives you the Statutory Right of Occupancy, it’s like they’re letting you use the land for a certain amount of time, usually 99 years. But, there’s a catch – you have to follow the rules and promises written in the paper. It’s like an agreement between you and the government, making sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to do with the land.

Customary Right of Occupancy

Customary Right of Occupancy is a special kind of Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) used in places where traditional land ownership rules are followed. Instead of the usual government rules, this type of CofO is based on the customs and traditions of the local community.

When someone wants to have a Customary Right of Occupancy, they need to follow the traditional rules of the community. It’s like getting permission from the community leaders or following their age-old practices to have the right to use and own a piece of land.

This special kind of CofO makes sure that people can legally own land while still respecting and working within the customs and traditions of the area. It’s like a legal agreement that blends modern land ownership with the traditional ways of the community.

Deemed Grant of CofO

The Deemed Grant of Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) is a special situation that happens when a person or a group has been using a piece of land without any problems for a long time, usually around 12 years. According to the law, in these cases, it’s as if the government has automatically given the right to the land to the person who’s been using it.

But, it’s not as simple as it sounds. The rules for a Deemed Grant can be different, and individuals need to talk to legal experts to make sure they are following all the right steps.

It’s like a legal way of saying, “Hey, you’ve been using this land for a long time without any issues, so now it’s officially yours.” However, to make sure everything is done correctly, it’s crucial to get advice from legal professionals.

Rural Certificates of Occupancy

The Rural Certificates of Occupancy is like a special kind of land title made just for rural areas. Its main goal is to support and boost farming and other developments in the countryside. This special document gives people a legal right to do agricultural activities and other projects in rural places.

To get this type of Certificates of Occupancy, individuals usually need to show that they are committed to doing things that will help develop the rural area. It’s like saying, “If you promise to do things that will make the countryside better, we’ll give you the legal right to use and own this land.” It’s a way of encouraging projects that can improve life in rural places.

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Challenges and Considerations

Even though Certificates of Occupancy create a legal foundation for land ownership in Nigeria, there are some challenges and things to think about. One big issue is that it can take a long time to get a Certificates of Occupancy, and there might be a lot of complicated paperwork and rules to follow. People might also face problems like disagreements over who owns the land.

To deal with these challenges, individuals need to get advice from legal experts. They might need to be patient and careful, making sure to check all the details and rules. If there are any disagreements, it’s crucial to talk to the right people who manage the land. It’s like making sure everything is done correctly and smoothly, even if it takes some extra effort and time.

Legal Compliance

Following the rules laid out in the Certificates of Occupancy is super important. If you don’t stick to what’s written on that paper, you might lose the right to own and use the land. The government or the people in charge might check regularly to make sure you’re doing what you promised in the document.

So, it’s really crucial to keep doing what you agreed to in order to keep your Certificates of Occupancy and avoid any problems.

Land Use Planning

When it comes to Certificates of Occupancy, there’s a close connection with something called land use planning. This means thinking about how the land will be used smartly. Things like zoning rules (deciding what kind of activities can happen in different areas), thinking about the environment, and following development plans are really important.

Landowners need to make sure that any building or changes they want to make on the land fit with what the Certificates of Occupancy says and also follow the local rules for how the land should be used. It’s like making sure everything fits together and works well for everyone.

Professional Assistance

Because dealing with land laws and getting Certificates of Occupancy can be pretty tricky, it’s a really good idea to ask for help from professionals. These are people who know a lot about the rules for land and real estate. They can give really helpful advice, making sure you do everything right and don’t run into any unexpected problems.

So, if you’re dealing with getting a Certificates of Occupancy, talking to legal experts who specialize in land matters is a smart move. They can guide you through the process and make sure everything goes smoothly.

Future Developments

The way land ownership works in Nigeria might change in the future as new laws and policies come into play. It’s really important for people who have Certificates of Occupancy to stay updated on any new rules or decisions made by the government.

Being aware of these changes is key to making sure that your rights and interests as a landowner are safeguarded over time. Keeping up with the updates will help you navigate any adjustments that might happen in the world of land ownership.

In Conclusion

Certificates of Occupancy play a crucial role in Nigeria, ensuring that people have the right to own and use land responsibly. However, getting through the complexities of the land ownership system needs careful attention, following the rules, and taking a proactive approach.

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Whether you’re getting a Statutory Right of Occupancy, following Customary Land practices, or benefiting from a Deemed Grant, it’s important to know about the challenges and things to consider. Getting help from professionals and staying updated on the legal changes will make sure that your land ownership experience in Nigeria is secure and sustainable.


What are the Different Types of Certificates of Occupancy?

In a nutshell, Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) in Nigeria come in different types tailored for specific purposes. For residential use, it can be granted to either an individual or a company. Similarly, Agricultural CofO is available for both individuals and companies, while the Industrial type is exclusively given to companies.

Notably, the Family Certificates of Occupancy is specifically designed for families, but eligibility depends on the family’s reputation. Understanding these distinctions helps individuals and entities navigate the process of securing the right type of CofO for their specific land use purposes.

What Does CofO Mean for a Building?

A Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) is a document that specifies the approved legal use and occupancy type for a building. In the case of new constructions, it is mandatory to obtain a CofO.

For existing buildings, having a current or updated CofO is necessary whenever there is a change in the building’s use, egress (means of exit), or the type of occupancy it serves. This certificate is a crucial regulatory requirement that ensures buildings comply with safety and zoning regulations, promoting the well-ordered and lawful use of structures.

How Long Does Certificates of Occupancy Last in Nigeria?

According to the Act, the governor has the authority to give someone or an organization the right to use a piece of land for up to 99 years. If you want to get a Certificates of Occupancy (CofO), you need to ask for it by applying to the land authority in the state where the land is situated.

This process involves seeking permission from the government to legally own and use the land, outlining the terms and conditions for the specified period, which can be a maximum of 99 years.

Who issues Certificates of Occupancy in Nigeria?

Indeed, as stipulated in Section 9 of the Land Use Act of 1978 in Nigeria, the authority to issue a Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) rests with the State Governor where the land is situated.

This section outlines the governor’s power to grant individuals or organizations the legal right to occupy and utilize a piece of land for a specified duration, typically up to 99 years. The issuance of the CofO is a crucial step in the land tenure process, and applicants are required to go through the relevant state land authority to secure this important legal document.

Why Doesn’t Certificates of Occupancy Give Ownership?

The Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) serves as proof of ownership, but it doesn’t confer actual ownership. If the underlying title is flawed, the CofO doesn’t validate anything. It creates a preliminary assumption that the holder possesses the land exclusively and holds a Right of Occupancy.

Does Certificates of Occupancy Create Title to Land?

While a Certificates of Occupancy is recognized as evidence of ownership, it can be revoked if it is convincingly demonstrated with evidence that someone else had a stronger claim to the land before the Certificates of Occupancy was granted.


Dennis Isong is a top realtor in Lagos with several awards. If you are looking for a trustworthy realtor in Lagos, Nigeria, especially if you are a Nigerian in the Diaspora hoping to own property in Lagos, Nigeria, stress-free, then talk to Dennis Isong. For questions, WhatsApp or call 2348164741041.
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