Supreme Court decides on controversial land tussle in Taraba
With these words, Justices Ibrahim Muhammad, Muhammad Muntaka-Coomassie, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Nwali Ngwuta and Kumai Aka’ahs of the apex court brought to an end a land tussle between one Ibrahim Sakati, the appellant and Jabule Bako, Sako Bawuri Kunini, as respondents.
The parties had had conflicting claims to fishing right over the land on which a fishpond called Nyawal is located in Taraba State.
When one Wakili Malue who was in charge of the affairs of Muri Emirate Council declined to settle the dispute, the respondents as plaintiffs took the matter to the Area Court, Jalingo, Taraba State.
Part of the claim reads: “… From there we went to Court in Kunini and reported the matter. Already the defendants have taken money from the people N1, 000.00 so the court directed that we be given our share too, so, the people brought N800.00 to the court, which was given to us, from there the court told us to manage our portion of the pond and the defendant also to take charge of his portion, but when we put our people to manage our portion the defendant went and drove them away, because of this, I went to court and complained and the court asked the defendant to withdraw his people. That is all my complaint.”
In its judgment the Area Court, having reviewed the totality of the evidence led by the parties held: “In view of the above we are satisfied that the water in dispute (Nyawal) is the property of the plaintiffs Bako and Bawuro all of Kinini because they have established their title of the water before this court because of this, therefore, we order the defendant to leave the water for the plaintiffs immediately and in addition he will refund to the plaintiffs all their process fees in court.”
The defendant, now appellant, appealed the judgment of the Area Court to Upper Area Court sitting at Jalingo.
In its judgment, the Upper Area Court found in favour of the respondents, thus: “It is my submission therefore that the trial Area Court’s decision hereby regards with the testimonies before it, was in a better position to see, watch and evaluate evidence before it. Based on the above reasons, this court, do hereby set aside the appeal of the appellant. The decision or judgment of the trial Area Court, Jalingo, is hereby affirmed. All monies realised on the pond because of the court order are to be refunded to the respondents.”
Still not satisfied, the appellant appealed to the High Court, Jalingo Division, Taraba State.
The three-man panel of Judges led by the then Taraba State Chief Judge, dismissed the appeal in the following terms: “On the whole we found no merit in this appeal and accordingly this appeal is hereby dismissed with cost at (N100.00) One Hundred Naira.” The judgment dismissing the appeal was delivered on 13th February 1992.
After an order of the court for an extension of time, the appellant filed a notice of appeal against the judgment of the High Court on three grounds of appeal. I
In the judgment, the Court of Appeal in dismissing the appeal, held: “In view of the foregoing, I have no hesitation in holding that the traditional evidence of the respondents at the trial court completely overwhelmed those of the appellant, and were rightly accepted. This appeal therefore fails and is hereby dismissed with costs of N4,000.00 (Four Thousand Naira) in favour of the respondent.”
Aggrieved by the judgment of the court below, appellant filed a notice of appeal containing five grounds including:
Whether the Court of Appeal was right in affirming that asserting right of fishing means the same thing as title to fishing and then held that the Appellate High Court Judges, Jalingo, did not change any cause of action, and no miscarriage of justice was occasioned by the construction or meaning of respondents’ claim?
Whether the Court of Appeal was right in deciding this case against the appellant on the ground that the traditional evidence of the respondents at the trial court completely overwhelmed that of the appellant and were rightly accepted?
Whether the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right when they held that after going through the entire record of proceedings, they could not see any holding of the trial Area Court II Jalingo that could be said to be perverse, unreasonable or not supported by evidence?
Whether the Court of Appeal was not in error in deciding that the appellant needed the leave of the lower court to raise a fresh issue on jurisdiction?
Whether learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right to hold that the issue of locus standi of the respondents was raised for the first time in the Court of Appeal?”
On the other hand, the respondents formulated four issues such as whether the lower court rightly held that the Appellate High Court did not misconceive or change the nature of the respondent’s claim before the trial court and whether the lower court rightly held that traditional evidence of the respondents at the trial court completely overwhelmed those of the appellant and were rightly accepted.
They also wanted the apex’s court to decided whether the lower court rightly held that there was no holding of the trial Area Court II Jalingo that could be said to have been perverse, unreasonable or not supported by evidence and whether the lower court rightly held that the appellant needed its leave to raise the issue of lack of locus standi of the respondent to initiate the action for the first time before it.”
After considering all the issues the Supreme Court held that the judgment of the Area Court II, Jalingo, Taraba State was examined and affirmed by the Upper Area Court, the High Court of Taraba State in its appellate jurisdictions and the Court of Appeal, Jos.
“It is a concurrent finding of four courts and this court did not find any perversity or substantial error either in substantive or procedural law that needs to be corrected therein.
Therefore, there is no ground for this court to disturb the judgment. Nor can it be said that the finding of the trial Area Court affirmed by three courts below was based on wrong premises.
Having held that there was no merit in the appeal, their lordships consequently dismissed the appeal, ordering the appellant to pay costs of N100,000.00 to the respondents.