Buying traditional lands: The intrigues, the panacea


“He is not a real man that does not own a piece land”-Hebrew Proverb

By AKHIGBE Dominic M

MON, OCTOBER 31 2016-In the last one week, Property Logic has been busy with enquiries from readers who wanted to know the best way to assess trouble-free lands for further development. I must say, the callers were as diverse in their enquiries as in the places they called from. Some had experiences they shared with me. Others were just apprehensive to take steps because of the experiences of others. Whichever divide you are; the truth is; buying lands is certainly not supposed to be such a huge burg. Unfortunately, mostly in the South-west and some Eastern states, buying lands is sometimes a matter of life or death. It is more so because, in most cases, the wrong people middlemen are engaged in brokering the deals. This makes it easy or make the buyers very vulnerable to the criminal intents of the mostly notorious ‘omon oniles’ In this edition, will attempt to advance my teaming readers some of the steps that can be taken to reduce the incidences of such fiascos that mostly become the lots of traditional land buyers. Please, note that these steps are not full proof and should not be construe as sacrosanct in land dealings. You may however find them precautionary enough to guide you in taking steps to acquire traditional lands for development.

The first step I strongly recommend in buying lands mostly from traditional people is to approach a Professional. It is recommended that you approach a lawyer that is grinded in Property & Real Estate dealings. It is not every lawyer that is vast in Real Estate and property acquisition and management. If you are in doubt, please interview the lawyer and let him furnish you with a few deals in land he has successfully brokered. You can take further steps to check with some of such clients he has handled their transactions. Once you are convinced, tell him what your plans are. However, if you already have a land that is of interest to you, let the lawyer have all the details you already have at your disposal for his perusal and further action.

As you work along with the professional you have engaged, do not let your hands off the steering finally. Sometimes, such experts have too many things doing that they may leave out a few details that will eventually matter along the line. So, always ask questions and let him know if you have made observations along the line. Assuming he knows everything and sleeping in the oars could be very counter-productive. Suffice to say however that a good lawyer that knows his onions has a name and professional integrity to protect. He would therefore be careful not to take steps that will eventually be detrimental to the transaction. It is also wise to engage a professional that lives among the owners or has a close proximity with them. This will readily avail him information that will be very useful in the transaction. For instance, a professional that lives around a traditional family from whom you intend to purchase a land readily knows the moral tenacity of that family. He can say, with little difficulty if such a family has a record of criminality or otherwise. This may pose some difficulty for a distant consultant who may now have to rely on hearsays.

The second step is to conduct a thorough due diligence on the land of interest. Ask questions from close people. You may get across to other land owners, agents, surveyors or even other lawyers who are very likely to have information about the land and the family. Since traditional land owners are often families with historical background and in most cases possess huge sizes of lands, getting information about them and the lands may not be a major challenge. Such enquiries will clarify issues like real ownership, acquisition, possible litigations or disputes over such lands. It is also important to get information from the local police stations closest to such lands. This is because; the police are most likely to have been involved in matters that may have arisen in such lands if there were such.

The third step is to locate a very influential person in the traditional family. Such people have great deal of influences on other members of the traditional families and their opinions are often very weighty. In the land cases I have been involved in; either as a litigator or an arbitrator, it is always the influential members that usually come up with counter positions to the transactions thereby threatening the taking of possession by the buyers. So, when they are involved from the beginning of the transactions, their view, opinions and interest are captured thereby reducing the possibilities of counter-positions to the transaction at a latter date. Of course, be sure such an influential person does not sidetrack the other members of the family mostly the youths and the very elderly of the family as this may pose major issues latter on. I have experienced scenarios where youths deprived developers from accessing lands that were duly bought from traditional families as they claimed they were not ‘settled’ during the transaction.

The fourth step is to request for the land lay-out where such exists. The land lay-outs help you identify those key areas that have been marked out for other uses such as roads, drainages, schools, public halls and others that are expected to impact on the size of the land. I had a case in time when a developer bought over twenty acres for a mini estate development. As the company was about rolling out its developmental structures including fencing; he was confronted by an army of youths who insisted that the fencing could not be done as this was going to deprive them of an age-long road to another flourishing village some distance away. At negotiation, they told the CEO of the Estate Company that he has to provide an alternative route for them if the fencing must be allowed. Unfortunately, the alternative route would require a bridge across a river that separated the two communities. By the time the company consulted a construction firm to assess the cost of undertaking the construction; it was running into some millions of naira. The only option was to leave the road as it was. This clearly altered the company’s original plan of having a uniquely modest estate comprising of a projected number of housing units as the estate was split into two smaller components. A lay-out would have solved this huge challenge earlier on. So, request for a layout is key. Where the family does not have any, get to the town-planning department closest to the land for help.

Fifth step is a Search. Do not just rely on verbal assurances that the land has no issues. In fact, we have discovered through practice and experience that more often than none; issues come up from those transactions where such assurances were assuredly given. It is therefore the duty of the professional you have engaged to conduct a due diligence on such traditional lands. Just like you would find out in your checks on the family, you will be able to discover a lot more information about your target land. Your search should cover the Lands and survey section of the Ministry of Housing, the Registries of the courts within jurisdiction, the police stations around, and other agencies that should be of interest in land matters. This may be a bit expensive as such Searches have their logistic costs and other expenses that may be required for such due diligence. It is however better not to be penny wise and pound foolish! This stage is very critical as it saves you harrowing experiences arising from counter-claims. From experience, I know that land disputes could stretch for ages and may sometimes turn bloody in extreme cases.

When an aggressive search has been conducted and a clean bill is achieved, the next step may be price negotiation. This also requires some level of expertise. A lot of factors are considered when price negation is to be made. It is advisable to engage the services of Valuers and Agents who are better informed of the moving rates within such communities. Here, you also need to be careful not to engage those that have selfish interest to protect as this may negatively impact in your negotiation. Going back discreetly to conduct price intelligence is key in this respect. As a developer for instance, the best price is key as this may ultimately impact in your reselling price. So, you must be careful not to be over-priced or short-changed.

AKHIGBE Esq is CEO, Property Logic Incorporated/Business coach & Seminar speaker/expert in business and property law. Tel: 2348034846284

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