*HUSBAND AND WIFE CANNOT BUY/OWN A LAND TOGETHER IN NIGERIA.* Daily Law Tips (Tip 571) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LLM. ACIArb(UK)

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When a man and a woman marry, they become one in the eyes of the good book. However, in law they are still separate persons and at best partners-life partners. There are separate persons that can own property, sue and be sued.

In Nigeria, landed property ownership, sell and purchase of same, is for individual human beings and corporate beings (registered companies or registered associations, clubs, religious bodies and societies). Business names are not corporate beings rather they are mere trading names and not different from the owners of the trading names. Business names cannot own, sell or purchase landed property. In the case of individual human beings, the person must be 21 years old or more.

The federal legislation (the Land Use Act) governing lands and land use in Nigeria, does not cover joint ownership of land by couple as a single unit. So, a husband and his wife cannot both be sellers or purchasers of a single property via a single deed of assignment/sale. It is either the husband or his wife (whose name is on the deed or certificate of occupancy) that can be a seller or a buyer at any given time. Hence, “Mr. Adamu Obi & Mrs. Funke Obi” though they are married, they are not legally recognised beings that can own land, transact on them, sue or be sued as a single party. However, not- minding whose name is on a deed of assignment/sale or certificate of occupancy, a spouse is equally entitled to all the property of the other spouse under matrimonial joint ownership.

In summary, a couple can jointly own a property but their specific names cannot be written on a deed of assignment/sale or certificate of occupancy. Just like the case of members of an association, where the name of an association is written in a deed of assignment/sale or certificate of occupancy to contain and cover the names of all members of the association. For a couple, the danger with this is that, the person whose name is on a deed of sale or certificate of occupancy may secretly sell or mortgage a jointly owned property even without the knowledge and consent of his/her co-owner.

It is advised that where a couple wants to jointly and equally own a landed property, the best options are;

1. A couple can register a company, be the shareholders and directors. Then, they can use the company to acquire and own landed property jointly and equally.

2. A couple can have a Principal Property Settlement Agreement (PPSA) wherein landed properties are listed out and expressly made to be jointly owned. Where necessary, landed property may be allotted in the agreement. “In joint ownership, the owners have one and the same interest in the property. They enjoy the property together. They also suffer together if the property jointly owned is a subject of litigation.”, Quote from OSUJI v. EKEOCHA (2009) LPELR-2816(SC).

My authorities are:

1. Section 7 of Land Use Act, 1978

2. Married Women Property Act 1882, the Married Women Property Law 1959,

3. Lion of Africa Insurance Co. Ltd V. Mr. and Mrs. Esan (1999) 8 NWLR (Pt. 614) 197.

4. The Supreme Court’s judgement (on issue of joint ownership) in the case of OSUJI v. EKEOCHA (2009) LPELR-2816(SC).

5. The Court of Appeal’s judgement (on issue of matrimonial joint ownership) in the case of OKERE v. AKALUKA (2014) LPELR-24287(CA)

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