By Layi Babatunde, Esq.

Over the years it has been generally accepted, that a purchase receipt issued to a purchaser of land is not a Registrable instrument, but may be evidence, of an acknowledgment of money. However, many land buyers are being issued receipts daily, on purchase of land. It is not being said that it is out of place to issue receipts, to persons who pay for a piece or parcel of land or other landed property. The caution is that, persons issued with such receipts, need do more than hold on to such receipts, if they ever hope to have any document to show as evidence of title.

Quite a number of times, persons who have been issued with purchase receipt, go on to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy. Most land buyers are apparently aware that since 29th March, 1978 land has been vested in various tiers of Government and therefore approach these Governments, for the issuance of relevant Certificates.  Based on these receipts and after meeting other conditions as may be imposed by the various Governmental authorities, a certificate as appropriate, is issued. And because a certificate of occupancy is generally accepted as a Registrable instrument, it is accordingly registered in the name of the buyer, bearing appropriate Registration Number, given by the Land Registry.

However, experience has shown that some of the receipts issued by  land “owners” to prospective purchasers, are indeed not worth more than the little piece of paper or indenture paper it is written or typed upon. For instance, it is a common practice, that land purchase receipts are indiscriminately back dated, so as to beat or mitigate the provisions of the Land Use Decree. This certainly portends greater danger, to land buyers in certain situations.

Take for example, where the land being old was, previous to the coming into effect of the Land Use Decree, vested in a family.  It follows that any prospective purchaser to claim that he derived his title from the said family,

prior to the coming into effect if the Land Use Decree, he gets a receipt pre­-dating 29th March, 1978 from such family. Now, family land has set rules governing its alienation.  A purchaser cannot bye-pass the rules and get a good title on the long run. l Major in the rule, is that such receipt must be issued by or With the consent of the’ family head (whom the law regards indeed as an INSTITUTION) and majority of other principal members.

For purposes of illustration, let us take it that, a prospective purchaser of family land negotiates the purchase and pays in 1997; but for reasons aforesaid, gets a receipt backdated to 1976.  What happens, were it to be discovered later that the family head as of 1976 was not alive as. of the time of this land transaction in 1997? Meanwhile someone who became family head only in 1997 signs a receipt bearing 1976 !

The unpleasant truth, is that a ‘certificate of occupancy issued by the Governor based on such misrepresentation, rests on a very shaky foundation, if and when properly challenged (some would say in good faith).  A certificate of occupancy issued on false or misleading information can be set aside by the court. Ditto for any approved plans. In fact in some states, an endorsement is made on approved plans to the following effect:

“This approval becomes Null and void if it is discovered to have been obtained by false presentation.

Prospective land purchaser should therefore not assume that a certificate issued under a misrepresentation by the Governor or other appropriate authority, is conclusive of what the Certificate states. They will do well, to adopt better lawful ways of mitigating the problems caused by the Land Use Decree, than accepting just any receipt. Buying Land is a far cry from buying any commodity and no one should take chances with his hard earned income. The wisdom in land purchase, is to make haste slowly, ensuring that all necessary enquiries  and documentation, are made with all diligence and seriousness.

Extract taken from



First published in July, 1999

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