Supreme Court resolves Kebbi’s land ownership dispute
This was an appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal, which set aside the judgment of the High Court of Kebbi State given in favour of the appellants. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, dismissed the appeal
FOLLOWING their inability to convince the Supreme Court of Nigeria on their claimed ownership of a landed property, eight indigenes of Kebbi State, Nigeria, have permanently lost their declared interest on a state’s parcel of land. Those that lost are Dudu, Kamba, Germane, Mani, Danga, Chike Addah, Tanko Yage and Rode Yage.
They lost the battle for the land to one Hassan Ubandawaki. Unsatisfied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto, both Addah and Yage had asked the apex court to determine whether in consideration of the pleadings vis-à-vis, the evidence led, the Court of Appeal was not in error when it held that, the land in dispute was not identified by the appellants?
Also, they wanted the Supreme Court to examine whether in view of the evidence adduced, the Court of Appeal was not wrong to have held that the appellants failed to prove their case before the trial court?
The appellant filed this action against the respondent before the Zuru Division of the High Court of Kebbi State, claiming declaration of title to land and some injunctive reliefs against the respondent, whom they alleged trespassed to the parcel of land they inherited from their fathers.
The appellants claimed that it was their father, Addah, who gave a portion of the land in dispute to the respondent to build his house and for cultivation.
The appellants averred that the respondent was a stranger who came to reside in their locality and was given a piece of land by their father in Koga village, near the Zuru Dam. In the pleadings of the appellants, they asserted that the farm in dispute is situate at the eastern part of the Zuru Dam in Zuru Local Government Area and also that Yage’s farm and the farm of Addah were one and the same as they were divided just for the purpose of inheritance.
They also claimed that, the land in dispute was bounded by a river from the east and a farm of the respondent, while being bounded in the South by the farm of Bodinga and in the North by the farm of Dandi Kalmo.
They therefore sought: A declaration that the land in dispute belongs to the fathers of the plaintiffs and they inherited same from his (sic) death from him A declaration that the defendant’s entry into the land is illegal and constitutes trespass. An order of permanent injunction directing the defendant to vacate the said land.
An order of permanent injunction restraining the defendant, his heirs or privies (sic) from further entry into the said land. An order of permanent injunction restraining the defendant, his heirs or privies (sic) from further claiming the title of the said land. The respondent, according to his defence, denied allegation of encroaching on the appellants’ land.
In his part, he claimed ownership of the land in dispute through inheritance from his own father – Kyoti, over 70 years before the suit. At trial, none of the witnesses of the plaintiffs testified on the boundaries of the land in contention as pleaded in the statement of claim.
The trial court, after hearing evidence from witnesses called on both sides of the divide, gave judgment in favour of the appellants. In the judgment, it was said that the lower court used facts not contained in evidence led before the court to identify the land in dispute.
It also made reference to a visit to locus in quo when there was nothing on the record to show that there was any such visit. The respondent’s appeal to the Court of Appeal against the decision of the trial court was successful, and that court dismissed the claims of the appellants on the ground that they did not discharge the onus of proof on them.
The appellants appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that the appellants discharged the onus on them as the respondent did not effectively challenge the evidence they led during cross-examination.
They also contended that there was sufficient evidence to identify the land in dispute although no survey plan was tendered. For commenting on issue not set out by the claimants, the Judges of the Supreme Court tongue-lashed the trial Judge.
According to Justice John Fabiyi, “It has been rightly pointed out that the trial Judge descended into the arena by giving a description of the boundaries of the land in dispute when there was no such evidence before him.
The trial Judge alluded to a surmised visit to locus in quo when there was no such visit contained anywhere in the record. “The court below found such a false assetion as being reprehensible. I agree with same. No judge should embark upon deliberate falsehood or go on his own voyage to furnish imaginary evidence on the identity of the land in dispute.
After all, a judge should not set up for parties a case different from the one established by cold facts supplied by the parties as well as their pleadings.” On the whole, Fabiyi said the appeal lacked any weight and therefore must be dismissed. “I come to the final conclusion that the appeal is devoid of merit. It is accordingly dismissed as the judgment of the court below is hereby affirmed. The appellants shall pay N100,000.00 costs to the respondent.”