The difference between a Certificate of Occupancy and a Deed of Assignment can be derived from their distinct features and the role they each individually play in the acquisition of title to landed properties in Nigeria.
Certificate of Occupancy
A Certificate of Occupancy is an authorized document of grant issued by the State Government to confer ownership and right of occupancy in a definite land for all purposes to an individual, group of individuals, or corporate bodies for a term of 99years.
Section 9 of the Land Use Act 1978 empowers the State Governor of the state in Nigeria where the land is located to issue the certificate of occupancy. The Section provides that “it shall be lawful for the Governor when a person is entitled to a statutory right of occupancy; to issue a Certificate under is hand in evidence of such right of occupancy”.
One of the distinct features of a Certificate of Occupancy is that no land in Nigeria can bear two Certificates of Occupancy because it is the first document issued on land whether bare or developed, which has never been registered at the land registry. The land, upon which a C of O is issued, is first charted by the office of the Surveyor-General of the State or the Federation where it is Federal land. The essence of charting the land is to determine if it is free from any government acquisition.
Deed of Assignment
A deed is an important land document executed by parties in a land agreement to transfer the unexpired interest in land to another. Upon the completion of a land transaction between a buyer and a seller of land, a Deed of Assignment is executed in favor of the Assignee to evidence the transfer of the unexpired residue of the land by the Assignor to the Assignee, and such a Deed is registered at the Land Registry to perfect the acquisition.
A deed serves as the final document that will be executed between parties to a land transaction after full payment has been made by Assignee (buyer) and acknowledged by the Assignor (seller). It contains the details of parties to the transaction, the full description of the land, the consideration paid by the buyer, history of the land (which can be one whose title is derived from a Certificate of Occupancy), and the signature of the parties to the transaction.
To perfect the title conveyed by a Deed of Assignment, the Assignee (buyer) must carry out three basic steps to perfect his or her title which are;
- Obtaining the Governor’s consent and
- Stamping of the Deed of Assignment.
- Registration of the Deed of Assignment
The performance of the above steps gives priority of title to the buyer of the land against any subsequent claim of ownership to the land.
The distinction between the Certificate of Occupancy and Deed of Assignment
- A Certificate of Occupancy is issued by the State Governor or Government on new land and signed by the Governor, while a Deed of Assignment is an agreement drafted by the lawyer of the Assignee (buyer) and signed by the parties upon payment of the consideration and agreement of the terms stipulated and is only sent to the Governor for his consent as a means of perfecting the title.
- A Certificate of Occupancy is issued by the State Government for a term of 99 years from the commencement date stated in the C of O, while a Deed of Assignment has no fresh 99 years term, as the title commences from the date the unexpired interest in the land was passed.
- A Deed of Assignment must be recorded at the Land registry to show legal evidence that there has been an exchange of ownership of title in the land and to create awareness to the general public that the land is encumbered, while a Certificate of Occupancy is granted to indicate that the owner of the land has been granted a right of occupancy by the State Government where the land is located.
- A Deed of Assignment acts as the main document between a land seller and a purchaser to evidence proof of ownership in favor of the seller, while a Certificate of Occupancy simply shows that the holder is in exclusive possession of the land.
- In a Certificate of Occupancy, the Governor of a State upon which the land is located grants individuals, groups of individuals or company the land for 99 years to hold, use and occupy. A Certificate of Occupancy is issued by virtue of Section 9 (2) of the Land Use Act, while in a land transaction where a buyer sells his remaining interest in land to another without any reversionary interest a Deed of Assignment is issued.
- A Certificate of Occupancy issued by the Governor on land can be revoked on grounds of overriding public interest by Section 28 of the Act, while a Deed of Assignment cannot be revoked, but only the Governor’s consent granted upon the perfection of the Deed can be revoked.
- Finally, a Certificate of Occupancy is not a good root of title, especially where there are existing interests on the land, while a Deed of Assignment is a good root of title.
In closing, Certificate of Occupancy and Deed of Assignment are both legal means of acquiring title and ownership to land properties in Nigeria. Hence both documents must be properly investigated by a purchaser of land where the seller relies on these documents as his root of title.