From the Court

LANDMARK JUDGEMENT

 

In The Supreme Court of Nigeria
On Friday, the 26th day of January 1990
SC 154/1987
Before Their Lordships
Muhammadu Lawal Uwais-Justice, Supreme Court
Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore-Justice, Supreme Court
Abdul Ganiyu Olatunji Agbaje-Justice, Supreme Court
Philip Nnaemeka-Agu-Justice, Supreme Court
Abubakar Bashir Wali-Justice, Supreme Court
Between
Anazodo Nwosu-Applicant
And
Chukwumanjo Udeaja-Respondent
Judgement of the Court Delivered by Abdul Ganiyu Olatunji Agbaje. J.S.C.
The plaintiff, Anazodo Nwosu, sued the defendant, Chukwumanjo Udeaja
in the then High Court of East Central State of Nigeria in the Onitsha
Judicial holden at Onitsha claiming against him as follows:-
(a)    Declaration of Title to all that piece or parcel of land
situate at Umu-Umeagbu family Uruagu Nnewi as will be delineated in
the plan to be filed with the Statement of Claim. General annual value
not more than £5.
(b)   £100 damages for trespass.
(c)    Injunction to prevent the defendant his agent and/or servants
from trespassing into the said plaintiff’s land.
Pleadings in the case were ordered by Oputa, J. (as he then was) on
20th November, 1972. After pleadings had been filed and exchanged and
after a series of interlocutory applications which have nothing to do
with this appeal, actual trial of the case began before Uyanna, J., on
14th May, 1982 in the High Court of Anambra State of Nigeria in the
Nnewi Judicial Division holden at Nnewi to which the case was assigned
after Anambra State has been carved out of the old East Central State
of Nigeria.
The learned trial Judge, Uyanna, J., having heard the parties and
their witnesses gave judgment for the plaintiff in the following
terms:-
(1)    That Exh. A dealt with ”Ana Mbubo” which is part of and within
the area verged green on Exh. L, plan No. EC365/72 tendered by
plaintiff.
(2)    That the whole of the land verged pink on both plans is not the
area of land the subject matter of Exh. A.
(3)    That Exhs B & D are relevant and refer to the land the subject
matter of Exh. A.
(4)    That the land mentioned on Exh. A was sold to plaintiff’s
father and that part of the terms of Exh. A was that if the
defendant’s father did not pay back the sum borrowed from plaintiff’s
father, plaintiff’s father could take over defendant’s father’s house
which plaintiff had done since 30 years defendant’s father died. It
follows from the findings that the plaintiff is entitled to
declaration of statutory rights of occupancy in respect of the portion
of land verged green within Exh. L. plan No. EC 365/72. Plaintiff is
also entitled to a decree of an order of perpetual injunction in
respect of the area verged green. The plaintiff is not entitled to
damages as claimed since the defendant had exclusive possession.
Plaintiff’s claim is dismissed as regards area of the land not within
the area verged green.
The plaintiff was not entirely satisfied with the decision of the
learned trial Judge so he appealed against it to the Court of Appeal,
Enugu Judicial Division contending there that on the admissible oral
and documentary evidence before the trial court, he was entitled to
judgment in terms of his claim not only in respect of the area verged
“green” on the plan of the land in dispute, Exh. A as ordered by the
learned trial Judge but also in respect of the whole of the land put
in dispute by him on the said plan that is, the area of land verged
“pink” thereon. The Court of Appeal coram Maidama, Akpata and
Babalakin, JJ.C.A. rejected the contentions of the plaintiff before it
and in its judgment dated 20th May, 1985, dismissed the plaintiff’s
appeal to it and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
This is a further appeal by the plaintiff to this court against the
decision of the trial court albeit by way of an appeal against the
decision of the Court of Appeal in its appellate jurisdiction on the
judgment of the trial Court. Leave of the Court of Appeal to appeal
against the decision was sought and obtained on the 25th September,
1985.
The plaintiff is now attacking the judgment of the Court of Appeal on
the following grounds of appeal, leaving out their particulars:-
The plaintiff gave evidence in support of the contentions in his
Statement of claim and tendered certified true copies of the various
judgments he pleaded. Then he called a licensed surveyor, one Chief
Ejike Chidolue who put in evidence a survey plan of the land in
dispute in this case Exh. L and a survey plan of the land when he had
earlier surveyed it for the plaintiff in September 1951 for a previous
land case, Exh. “M.” The plaintiff called no other witness.
The learned trial Judge when the plaintiff sought to put in evidence
certified true copies of the various judgments he pleaded and counsel
for the other side objected to their admissibility ruled as follows:-
As I said earlier, it is too premature to object against admissibility
on the ground of irrelevancy. The documents should go in at this stage
and the court may hear further addresses later on. Objection
overruled: They are tendered as follows. Suit No.39/42 marked Exh. B;
Suit No. 58/42 marked Exh. C. Appeal dated 16/ 3/51 marked Exh. D.
Appeal No.2/1953 marked Exh. E Suit No.127/51 marked Exh. F
After this ruling, the record of proceedings indicates that the
plaintiff A then gave the following evidence:-
After I had sued these people they incited Solomon Udeaja to sue me
and I won him in the suit. He appealed against the judgment and I won
him. I received certified copies of the judgment and the appeal
thereon.
The objection to their admissibility having been overruled, the
certified true copies of the judgments in Suits No.13/48 and Appeal
No.23/48 were admitted in evidence as Exhibits G and H respectively.
The learned trial Judge in the course of the judgment he gave in the
case reviewed the above rulings and held that as regards Exhs. B and D
they were properly admitted in evidence by him but as regards the
other documents i.e. Exhs. C, G, H, E and L previously admitted in
evidence by him, he stated that he was satisfied that they ought not
to have been admitted by him in evidence and he then rejected them and
expunged them from the proceedings in the case before him.
There is no doubt that the trial Judge properly directed himself as to
the case of the plaintiff before him as the following passages from
his judgment show:-
The plaintiff seeks a declaration of title to a piece of land shown on
plan No. EC.365/72 verged pink thereon and marked Exh. L in this
proceeding. He also seeks an order of perpetual injunction against the
defendant, his servants, agents or privies to restrain them from
further acts of trespass on the said land. In addition he claims a sum
of N200.00as damages for the alleged trespass.
Both parties exchanged pleadings. As said earlier plaintiff’s plan is
marked Exh. L and that of defendant, Exh. O In his pleadings as in his
evidence plaintiff averred that his father Nwosu Ezeata bought the
portion of land in dispute from defendant’s father, Solomon Udeaja.
The sale was conducted under Nnewi Native Law and Custom. As a
condition under this custom a goat was slaughtered. A sum of 17 bags
of cowries then the legal tender was paid to the defendant’s father. A
receipt was issued for this payment – it also mentioned the terms of
sale. This receipt was admitted and marked Exh. A. Despite objection
by the defendant, this document was admitted. Further reference will
be made to this later in this judgment. The sale according to
plaintiffs case was made in 1928. According to plaintiff this action
arose because in 1972 “the defendant unlawfully cut some palm trees
and excavated foundation and began to build thereon” (paragraph 17
Statement of Claim) …………
In the course of his evidence, the plaintiff tendered in sup-port of
his claim certified copies of judgments which he said took place
touching the disputed land which judgments terminated in his favour
……..
The defendant is the son of the person whose father, according to
plaintiff, sold the disputed land to his (plaintiff’s) father.”
From the following passages from the judgment of the learned trial
Judge it appears clear that the defence of the defendant to the
plaintiff’s claim was present to the learned Judge’s mind:
In his Statement of Defence as well as in his oral testimony defendant
denied that his father never (sic) sold the disputed land to
plaintiff’s father. The land had originally belonged to his great
ancestor, Digho Alaeze. After the death of Digho Alaeze his,
defendant’s father, Solomon Udeaja, inherited the land under Nnewi
Native Law and Custom. Upon the death of Digbo Alaeze he, defendant,
inherited the whole area in dispute. He said he knows “Mbubo Solomon
Udeaja” – he said it has no connection with the disputed land. His
father he said did not pledge the disputed land to plaintiff’s father.
His father died in 1950 and before his death was living on Ana Digho
Alaeze land. Before his father’s death he, defendant was living on the
disputed land with his father and mother. No sooner that his father
died than the plaintiff began molesting his mother. As a result, she
fled to Awka her parent’s home along with him and her other children.
He defendant and other children returned to Nnewi at the end of
Nigerian Civil War. He consulted Counsel who wrote a letter to
plaintiff to accept the redemption money his father borrowed from
plaintiff’s father when the defendant’s father was litigating over
other lands – not the one in dispute. Defendant continuing said
plaintiff under cover of the loan made by his plaintiff’s father to
his father was grabbing lands belonging to defendant’s father. As a
result D.W. 1, his eldest sister lodged a complaint to the Agbaja
Native Court in 1953 – that complaint was tendered as Exh. N. in 1972
when the plaintiff would not accept the redemption money he went into
the disputed land and began erecting a building. He said he had almost
completed the building by the time plaintiff took out this writ.
Finally he said that the plaintiff lives on “Mbubo” which is on Digbo
Anaeze land. He did not put plaintiff on the land nor did he acquiesce
that he continues to live thereon.
Judgment delivered by Wali. J.S.C.
I have had the privilege of a preview of the lead Judgment of my
learned brother, Agbaje, J.S.C., which has just been delivered. I
agree with the reasoning and conclusion. For those same reasons I also
dismiss the appeal and agree with the consequential orders made by my
learned brother, Agbaje, J.S.C.
Counsel
A. Adeniran (with him, Durueke) – For the Appellant
U. N. Ugwu – For the Respondent

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