After 22 years, court validates Macjob’s claim to Ogun land
CONTRARY to two earlier verdicts, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, has ratified and endorsed the ownership claim of one Chief A.E.O. Macjob to a parcel of land located behind WAEC office, Onikolobo, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
He, being the respondent before the Apex’s Court, defeated the appellant, one Dr. Soga Ogundalu, in a 22-year old dispute. The respondent, Macjob, as plaintiff sued the defendant/appellant, for a declaration of title to a parcel for the land, forfeiture of the appellant’s lease of the land on ground of misconduct, damages and perpetual injunction restraining the appellant from further trespass on the land.
The appellant filed a statement of defence. He maintained that he bought the land from the respondent, and counter-claimed for specific performance of the contract for sale of the land to him. According to the respondent, he leased the land to the appellant for piggery business and let him into possession in 1987, and that he did not sell the land to the appellant.
But the respondent did not tender a written lease of the land. The respondent also did not present evidence of the commencement date of the lease or its mode of determination.
He tendered a survey plan (exhibit 3) in evidence, which showed that a parcel of land verged blue within a large expanse of land verge red. The evidence the respondent presented to the trial court showed that the land verged blue was the land in dispute.
The respondent asserted that the appellant went outside the purpose of his lease of the land because he constructed a giant fence, a gate and an electricity generator house on the land without the consent of the respondent in 1993.
Under cross examination, the respondent admitted that he demanded the sum of N4,000 from the appellant as balance of the purchase price for the land in 1989.
The appellant’s case was that he bought the land verged blue on exhibit 3; that he paid N2,000 in 1998 and paid N1,000 in 1989. But the appellant did not present any written agreement for the sale of the land to him by the respondent.
Rather, he presented documentary evidence that the respondent demanded for the balance purchase price of N4,000 in 1989. However, the evidence before the trial court showed that the appellant tendered the sum of N4,000 in two installments of N2,000 by two cheques in 1990 and 1993, which were rejected by the respondent.
The trial court found that the respondent leased the land to the appellant but held that the leased was invalid because it lacked the essential ingredients of a valid lease such as a commencement date and the mode of its determination. Nonetheless, the trial court granted forfeiture of the lease on the ground that the acts of the appellant on the land amounted to misconduct by a tenant.
The court of first instance therefore found that there was no sale of the land to the appellant under native law and custom. Consequently, it made a declaration of title over the parcels of land verged red and blue in exhibit 3 in favour of the respondent.
The trial court also restrained the appellant from further trespass on the land verged blue in exhibit 3. Finally, the trial court dismissed the appellant’s counter-claim.
The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal, Ibadan, which upheld the trial court’s findings and dismissed the appeal. Again, the Court of Appeal, like the trial court, dismissed the appeal.
Aggrieved, the appellant appealed to the Supreme Court, which considered the matter on four issues including whether the sale or lease of the land in dispute was valid, and whether the Court of Appeal was correct in affirming an order of forfeiture in favour of the respondent after it had found that all the ingredients of a leasehold have not been established by the respondent? The other two issues were whether the trial court and the court below are right in granting an order of declaration of title in favour of the respondent and whether the counter-claim of the appellant was rightly rejected by both courts below.
After reviewing the submissions of counsel and the conclusions reached by the two lower courts, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, in his lead judgment said that it was clear that the sale of the land in dispute was not valid since the purchase price was not fully paid.
He added that, since the purchaser failed to pay the balance of the purchase price within a reasonable time, the claim for the sale of the land in dispute was in the circumstances not valid.
Order of forfeiture, according to Rhodes-Vivour, could not be ordered because an order as such order could only be made if the lease was valid. “An order for forfeiture cannot be ordered because the lease is invalid.
Both courts were wrong to order forfeiture.” In the over all, the apex’s court held: “In view of the fact that legal title resides with the plaintiff, the plaintiff is entitled to a statutory right of occupancy in respect of the land verged BLUE, measuring 492.630 square meters, situate, lying and being behind WAEC office, Onikolobo, Abeokuta.
Concurrent findings of both courts below that the respondent is the person entitled to statutory right of occupancy over the land verged red and blue is wrong and in the circumstances perverse.
The land in issue is the land verged blue and not the land verged red. Making far-reaching pronouncements on the land verged RED is a deliberate but unsolicited venture into uncharted territory.
The order of the trial court, affirmed by the Court of Appeal that: “Declaration that the plaintiff is entitled to a statutory right of occupancy in respect of all that parcel of land edged blue and red situate, lying and being behind WAEC office Onikolobo Abeokuta” is hereby set aside for being perverse.”
According to the court, the appeal succeeds in part… “The plaintiff/respondent is entitled to a statutory right of occupancy in respect of all that piece or parcel of land edged blue, lying and being behind WAEC office, Onikolobo Abeokuta.
Order of forfeiture is hereby set aside. Order of injunction is hereby set aside. The plaintiff/respondent is hereby ordered to return the sum of N3,000.00 to the appellant forthwith.”