Duty of a Party Relying on Traditional Evidence as a Means of Proving Title to Land

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CASE TITLE:  OTASANYA v. OJELADE & ANOR (2021) LPELR-55584(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 13TH SEPTEMBER, 2021

PRACTICE AREA: LAND LAW

LEAD JUDGMENT: FOLASADE AYODEJI OJO, J.C.A.

SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:

INTRODUCTION

This appeal borders on claim for declaration of title to land based on traditional evidence.

FACTS

This appeal is against the judgment of the High Court of Ogun State.

The case of the appellant before the trial Court is that the land in dispute, which is situate at Alahun Village, off Simawa Road, Sagamu Ogun State, belongs to the Otasanya Bankole family who have been in possession from time immemorial without any disturbance from anybody whatsoever. They alleged that the cause of action of the case arose on the 18th of August 2014, when the defendants/Respondents invaded the disputed land, in company of their agents, servants and privies while armed with cutlass and guns, claiming ownership of the land. They pursued him and other members of his family from the land. They denied selling the land to the Incorporated Trustees of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

Appellant therefore instituted an action at the trial Court, and claimed as follows:

“1. A declaration that the Defendants do not have any portion of land covered by survey plan No. AP 1245 dated 12/08/1985 measuring area 309.641 acres (125.310 hectares) drawn by Adio B. Apatira licensed Surveyor located and being at Alahun Village, off Simawa Road, Sagamu Local Government Area, Ogun State.

  1. AN ORDER of this Honourable Court restraining the Defendants jointly and seven (sic) their agents, servants, privies and/or any other person acting on their instructions from claiming any of the portion of the land covered by Survey Plan No. AP1245 dated 12/08/1985 measuring area 309.641 Acres (125.310 Hectares) located at Alahun Village off Simawa Road, Sagamu Local Government Area, Ogun State.
  1. AN ORDER of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants, their servants, agents, privies and/or any other person acting on their instructions from further encroaching, trespassing, entry and/or claiming any portion of the land covered by Survey Plan No: AP1245 dated 12/08/1985 measuring Area 309.641 Acres (125.310 Hectares) drawn by Adio B. Apatira located at Alahun Village, Off Simawa Road, Sagamu Local Government Area, Ogun State.”
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The defendants/respondents responded by filing a statement of defence. The case of the Respondents was that the disputed land belongs to several families in Alahun Village and that 125 acres of the land was sold to the Incorporated Trustees of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, under native law and custom. It is further their case that it was the Appellant that led thugs to the land and chased them and their agents away, destroying blocks and boreholes put on the land by the Incorporated Trustees of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

After the close of evidence and adoption of written addresses by counsel, the learned trial Judge dismissed the claimant’s case. ​Dissatisfied with the judgment, Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION

The appeal was determined on the following issues:

  1. Whether the learned trial Judge erred in law in holding that the fact that one Nigerian or anybody at that is of one religion or the other is not a criterion for employment or contract. Except of course, the said Nigerian is to be employed as a religious head.
  1. Whether the learned trial Judge erred in law to have failed to restrain the Respondents herein, Respondents having admitted not to have been owners of any portion of the land, subject matter of this appeal and evidence shown that the Respondents did invade part of the land covered by Survey Plan No. AP1245 dated 12/08/1985 measuring area 309.641 acres (125.310 hectares) drawn by Adio B. Apatira, Licensed Surveyor, located and being at Alahun Village, off Simawa Road, Sagamu Local Government, Ogun State.
  1. Whether the learned trial Judge erred in law to have found and held that the Respondents herein are mere workers on the land subject matter of this appeal when there is nothing before the Court to show that the Respondents were working on the land based on the instructions/directive of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
  1. Whether the learned trial Judge erred in law to have held and concluded that Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) bought thirty (30) acres of the land, subject matter of this suit when there is nothing before the Court showing that Redeemed Christian Church of God bought any land from the land subject matter of this appeal.
  1. Whether the learned trial Judge erred in law to have rejected the evidence of the Appellant’s witnesses based on some contradictions in their testimonies, which goes to no issue.
  1. Whether the learned trial judge erred in law to have held that the written statement on oath of the Respondents’ witness (DW1) was in substantial compliance and is competent despite judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and/or the Oaths Act on deposition to oaths and/or written statement on oath.
  1. Whether the learned trial Judge erred in law and misdirected itself when it relied on photocopies of Exhibit “C” (Photocopy of Memorandum of Understanding Exhibit “D-D6” (Photocopies of Survey Plans) in reaching its final decision.
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DECISION/HELD

In conclusion, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

 RATIOS:

  • ACTION- DECLARATORY RELIEF(S): Duty on a party seeking a declaratory relief
  • EVIDENCE- TRADITIONAL EVIDENCE/HISTORY: What a party relying on traditional history is expected to plead and prove to establish his root of title
  • LAND LAW- TRESPASS TO LAND: What constitutes trespass to land
  • LAND LAW- TRESPASS TO LAND: Who can maintain an action in trespass
  • LAND LAW- POSSESSION OF LAND: What amounts to exclusive possession

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