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By Dennis Agbo

A newly administered Notary Public, Mr. Chinaza Egwuatu, Esq has suggested that the courts when faced with cases that have to do with title to land or any real estate matter should admit in evidence only documents and instruments that were duly notarized.

Notarized documents are verified and certified documents by a Notary Public as to their authenticity. It is the duty of the notary public to verify the identity of anybody signing a legal document, witness the signatures, and then affix his or her stamp/seal for that purpose.

Egwuatu made the suggestion, on Friday, shortly after being administered with an oath as a Notary Public of the Supreme Court of Nigeria by the Chief Justice of Enugu State, Justice Raymond Ozoemena.

He said that as a Notary Public, he would henceforth ensure that only documents that are authentic will be notarized since the presentation of fake documents has become a common practice, particularly on land matters and every real estate enterprise.

“It is however the duty of a Notary public to verify the authenticity of documents he is notarizing to avoid forgery and fraud. You administer the oath to ensure that whatever one is deposing to in his affidavit is true so that whenever it is found to be untrue such a person will be charged for the offence of perjury.

“The issue of fake land titles is where a Notary public comes in, he should verify the authenticity, you go into the root of a title to ensure that signatories actually emanated from true owner and by so doing we will forestall the issues of land grabbing because if you come to the court, majority of the cases are land-related matters,” Egwuatu said.

He stated that various legal documents such as instruments of transfer, especially in real estate, wills, Power of attorney, require notarization, particularly those that are susceptible to fraud.

“When a document is notarized, there is a general presumption that it is legitimate and authentic. A notary public cannot be expected to notarize a document that he didn’t witness its signing. A notary public will usually verify the identities of the parties intending to sign a particular document, ensure that they are signing willingly without any form of coercion, duress or undue influence. He will also ensure that all parties are of sound mind and understand what they sign and also ensure that parties have legal capacity to sign

“The idea behind notarization is defeated where parties pre-sign documents, and then brings it to a notary public for notarization without any form of identification and investigation. That in my opinion is a bad practice. To be able to forestall fraud, a notary public is expected to verify the identities of the parties before him, he should, if possible, request for copies of their driver’s license or any valid means of identification.

“The notary public should also ensure that the signature on the means of identification as presented corresponds with that which the party is signing on the document. A notary public can refuse to notarize a document if he’s not convinced as to the identity of a party or parties before him. The job of a notary public requires utmost care and caution due to the trust and status given to notarized documents globally,” he added. 

Egwuatu disclosed that due to advancement in technology and also result of the Covid-19 pandemic some notaries have extended their practice online for convenience purpose.

“It is important to mention however that this doesn’t change anything as regards the process of notarizing a document; it doesn’t make room for pre-signing before notarization. An online notary public will usually insist on verifying your identity, and recording your signature, which could be done by video or witnessing the signing online.

“My submission is that every instrument of transfer in real estate must be notarized so as to reduce incidents of fraudulent sales. The notaries have a big role to play here to ensure that only legitimate documents get notarized. It is suggested that the courts when faced with cases which have to do with title to land or any real estate matter, should admit in evidence only documents and instruments that have been duly notarized,” he suggested.

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