The Certificate-of-Occupancy (C-of-O), the single most important document which confers ownership of a property has become the source of sorrow for most property owners in Lagos, most of who have not received their deed several years after they have applied to the authorities. Some observers have traced the delay to unnecessary bureaucracy which creates room for rent seeking activities.
Indeed, several property owners have tales of government officials asking for bribes for speedy processing of their documents. “I have been expecting my C-of-O for the past seven years. I was asked by some officials to pay some money for speedy processing but I was afraid of being duped so I declined,” says Mrs Bridget Makolo, a property owner in Satellite Town. Some have hinged their demand for issuance of C-of-O on the unscrupulous activities of land speculators; fearing such activities have led to some properties being sold and resold several times. “I have been unfortunate to lose a property once before. With a C-of-O I hope it will not repeat itself,” says Michael Ugochukwu, a businessman.
According to analysts, without the C-of-O, no property becomes a true asset; as it inhibits the ability of such asset to be accepted in formal business transactions. Some individuals and indeed firms are unable to access credit using properties without C-of-O because banks decline such collateral. Unfortunately, observers say, properties remain the most commonly tendered asset for collateral in financial transactions in developing countries. Although observers say the absence of C-of-O does not preclude any sort of transaction to be carried out on such property, however, given the numerous tussles surrounding ownership of landed properties, corporate organisations and individuals are more comfortable doing business with those who tender C-of-O. The reason for this is not far-fetched: properties with C-of-O are easily verified with the land registry at the Lands Bureau and thus “remove any doubt about the authenticity of documents relating such property” says Joseph Ugbodagha, a property consultant.
In a bid to weed out corruption from the system, the past administration of Lagos State, introduced the electronic Certificate-of-Occupancy (C-of-O) even as it says the old ‘yellow’ C-of-O is still valid. The move according to the government started under the administration of Bola Tinubu which digitalised the entire land registry; doing away with paper filing and scanning millions of files from the land bureau.“Upon your administration’s realization of the weaknesses of that document being subject to cloning, forgery and misrepresentation and the fact that due to previous work processes we had at some point more than two or three copies in circulation, this led to the introduction of a more secure and digital process culminating in the electronic Certificate of Occupancy,” said Mr Hakeem Muri-Okunola, Permanent secretary of Lands Bureau at the launch of the electronic C-of-O.
The government has asked property owners to be patient as the number of C-of-Os issued in a week is more than what most other states issue in one year. “What it takes our staff to do this is that they sometimes have to come to work on Sundays in order to be able to respond to service. Lands Bureau is one of the few agencies that have to come to work on Sundays. But I think now with automation and technology and as the bandwidth improves many people will be able to do their work while they are in motion and come and coordinate in the office,” Babatunde Fashola, former Lagos State governor said.
Lagosians expect the new governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwumi Ambode to improve on what his predecessors have done by facilitating the process of obtaining C-of-O by property owners in the state that prides itself as a “Centre of Excellence.” Recently, the President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Remi Bello, urged the new administration to take critical steps to address the cost of land, the perfection of land titles and the procurement of certificate of occupancy. “We urge the new administration to look critically at ways in which the cost of land and the cost of perfection of land titles and the duration of procurement of the certificate of occupancy can be reduced,” he said.
By Osaze Omoragbon