5 Things Every Land Owner Should Know in Proving Title to Land

5 Things Every Land Owner Should Know in Proving Title to Land

5 Things  Every Land Owner  Should Know in Proving Title to Land

As a Nigerian, you must have probably have had your fair share of land disputes or had come across a dispute over two individuals or communities on a land matter. Sometimes, as you are in transit from point A to point B, you will notice a sheer number of buildings tagged with warning messages such as “This land is not for sale, beware of 419.” This is a testament on how easy land disputes arise, hence the need to give off a fair warning.

Before discussing what a land owner should know in proving titles to land, every land owner must firstly know the kind of interests he can hold on land. These interests are Legal interest; and (ii) Equitable interest.

5 Things Every Land Owner Should Know in Proving Title to LandLegal interest is the highest form of interest. It is in the form of having perfected land documents such as certificate of occupancy, deed of conveyance, deed of registration. In any case where there are multiple interests in land, the person with a legal interest is seen as having a better claim to the land.

Equitable interest is borne out of the understanding that for one reason or another, people can acquire land with imperfect documents. The law in a bid to be fair would recognize the right of these people but under the condition that it would fail is someone has a legal interest on the same piece of land.

There are five (5) ways of proving title to land. These are:

  1. Traditional Evidence
  2. Production of documents of title;
  3. Proof of acts of ownership;
  4. Acts of long possession and enjoyment of land; and
  5. By proof of possession of adjacent land in dispute in such circumstances which render it probable that the owner of the adjacent land is the owner of the land in dispute.[1]


  1. Traditional Evidence

Traditional evidence is referred to as immemorial evidence which means going back to ancient times in history. For evidence of traditional history to be acceptable to establish a claim for declaration of title, it must go back to ancient times in the sense that the evidence existed for a very long time. This type of evidence is not usually documented because it has survived through generations.

In Court, both parties in a land dispute may rely solely on evidence of traditional history as to how the disputed land devolved on them. Both versions may be similar, and each version may take on its own to be believable. The law is that where a claimant relies on traditional evidence to prove his claim and same is found to be cogent, it is sufficient to sustain his claim. However, where the other party relies on traditional evidence and there is a conflict between which the Court is unable to resolve, the title may be established by evidence of facts in recent memory. This is what has come to be known as the rule in Kojo II v. Bonsie. The rule is to the effect that “where parties rely on traditional history in proof of their title and the evidence of traditional history is conflicting or is inconclusive, the rule is to be applied to the case by making reference to facts in recent history to resolve the issue.” In the case, the court outlined the principle which is that witnesses of the utmost veracity may speak honestly but erroneously as to what took place a hundred years or more ago. Where there is a conflict of traditional history, one side or the other may be mistaken, yet both may be honest in their belief. In such a case, a demeanour is little guide to the truth. The best way is to test the traditional history is by reference to the facts in recent years as established by evidence and by seeing which of the two competing histories is the more probable.

  1. Production of documents of title.

There should be witnesses, written agreements of the land’s alienation, and signatories in some cases. Production of documents of title alone is not sufficient to discharge the onus on a plaintiff to prove the title he claims; he must go further to trace the root of his title to one whose ownership of the land has been established. Production of title is merely proof of title. It does not means that once a person produces what he claims to be aof grant, he is automatically entitled to a declaration that the property which such an instrument purports to grant is his own. Rather production and reliance upon such an instrument inevitably carries with it the need for the Court to inquire into some or all of a number of questions, including: 1) Whether the document is genuine or valid; 2) Whether it has been duly executed, stamped and registered; 3) Whether the grantor[2] had the authority and capacity to make the grant; 4) whether the grantor had in fact what he purportedly to grant; 5) Whether it has the effect claimed by the holder of the instrument.

  1. Proof of acts of ownership

A land owner can prove his ownership or title to a piece of land proving acts of ownership, such as acts by persons claiming the land such as selling, leasing, renting out all or part of the land , or farming on it or otherwise utilizing the land beneficially and such acts of ownership extending over a sufficient length of time and numerous and positive enough to warrant the inference that he is the true owner.

  1. Acts of long possession and enjoyment of land

A person is said to be in possession when he is in occupation or physical control of the land. The degree of physical control necessary to constitute possession may vary from one case to the other. The party is expected to prove or adduce evidence to show that he lawfully entered into the disputed parcel of land and has been in undisturbed possession for a very long period of time. It must also be noted that claim premised on acts of long possession is only tenable where title is not in dispute and the person in possession is able to validly establish his ownership of the land by proving his root of title.

It should also be noted that where a person from the beginning enters into a disputed land as a trespasser, being in long possession does not count for the person. Unlawful and adverse possession of a piece/parcel of land against the interests of the owners will never in law ripen to confer title in the trespasser no matter how long he has dwelt on the said piece of land. Proof by long possession can only count where it is established by cogent evidence that the person validly entered into the land, and is entitled to possession by reason of having a valid root of title.

  1. By proof of possession of adjacent land in dispute

Proving possession of adjacent land in dispute in such circumstances which render it probable that the owner of the adjacent land is the owner of the land in dispute. For the method of proof of title to land to apply, evidence must be led that the land is next to or near the disputed piece of land, and the evidence must show that the land in question is neighbouring the land in dispute. Second, the adverse party or opponent of the person relying on this method of proof of title to land must admit ownership of the adjacent or contiguous land to the land in dispute by the person claiming ownership of the disputed piece of land.[3] This mode of proof of ownership merely raises a presumption that the ownership of the adjoining land is likely to be the owner of the land in dispute.


Conclusively, the methods of proof of title to land – traditional evidence, production of documents of title, proof of acts of ownership, acts of long possession and enjoyment of land, proof of possession of adjacent land in dispute- are not mutually exclusive as parties can rely on either one or more than one method of proof. What a land owner should do is to adduce cogent, credible, relevant, admissible, weighty and conclusive evidence in conformity with any or some of the methods of proof.

Land owners or persons seeking to acquire landed property should ensure that they seek and obtain early legal advice so as to ensure proper search of roots of predecessors title as well as ensure valid documentation of purchase to prevent disputes and litigation.

[1] Idundun v Okumagba (2006) 2LC 100 (SC)

[2] See Romaine v. Romaine (1992) LPELR 2953; Folorunsho v. Aremu (2022) LPELR-58608(CA).


[3] See Registered Trustees of Anwar-Ul-Islam Movement of Nigeria v Ogunyade (2017) LPELR-42320(CA)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Enquire here

Give us a call or fill in the form below and we'll contact you. We endeavor to answer all inquiries within 24 hours on business days.

    × How can I help you?