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  If you’ve been tracking recent happenings in Nigeria, you’ve probably witnessed the furore over the demolition of selected buildings by the government in Lagos and the FCT. Amidst the debate that has ensued in the wake of the demolitions, some have asked: are authorities ever right to demolish houses whose owners possess a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for such properties?
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In this article, we’ll take a look at 5 possible reasons regulators may decide to demolish houses used for residential or commercial purposes, even when their landlords supposedly possess a C of O for them. But first, let’s talk about what a C of O is, and why it’s an important document.

What is a C of O?

A C of O—that is, a Certificate of Occupancy –is a legal document which proves that its holder is the owner of the piece of land for which it has been issued and that the holder has a right to use it. C of O’s are issued by state governments and contain information such as the name of the land owner, the location of the land, its size, and the purpose for which it is used, among others. This document’s issuance and use are governed by the Land Use Act (1978).

Why the Government May Demolish Houses with a C of O

Here are 5 reasons the government could destroy structures even though their owners have a C of O for the land on which they sit.

The C of O Doesn’t Cover all of the Land

In certain cases, landowners or real estate developers have C of O’s that don’t cover all of their land. For example, a real estate company selling spots in a 120-acre estate may claim that the estate has a C of O, and convince clients to buy plots and build on them, when in fact the C of O is only valid for 70 acres of that space. Anyone who buys property in portions of the estate not covered by the C of O could have their building demolished by the government at some point in the future.
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The Buildings Concerned are Structurally Unstable

Sometimes, regulatory authorities could identify houses or office complexes with structural defects and mark them for demolition, even if their owner has a C of O for the land they exist on. Defects of this kind are considered a potential public hazard, posing a threat to life and property that exceeds any case for private ownership.

The C of O Has Been Illegally Obtained

There are some ways this could happen. One is getting lone actors within the concerned government agencies to provide you with a C of O even though you or the land in question don’t officially qualify for it. Another is outright document forgery. When the government establishes that a person’s land ownership document hasn’t been secured through the right channels, it may be justified to bring that person’s building down.

Conditions of the C of O Have Been Breached

The Land Use Act makes it clear that a C of O can be revoked if or when its holder does not abide by the conditions attached to the document. An example of such a breach would be building blocks of shops on land which was originally designated for agricultural use. In this sort of case, the government would be acting within its legal rights if it moved to take down the structures concerned.

Overriding Public Interest

The government could remove property that stands in the path of its public project, including roads or public buildings that it wants to construct. This has played out on multiple occasions. There’s the example of the planned demolition of buildings along the Ossah Road in Abia State, due to the road’s expansion by the state government. Property owners who had genuine C of O and whose structures were marked for demolition were promised compensation by the government. This is in line with the dictates of the law.
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Final Words

Admittedly, the loss of real estate assets to demolition is almost always painful for the owners affected. You should be cautious of the instances we’ve discussed in this article to avoid suffering that fate. Featured Image Source: The Nation Newspaper
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This article was first published on 6th December 2023


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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