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Supreme Court backs Enugu family in land ownership claim

By Emmanuel Badejo
01 March 2015   |   11:00 pm
A piece of land located at Obeagwu Ugbawka and popularly referred to as Akpa land now belongs to the family of Umuigbudu in Nkanu Local Government Area, Enugu State, the Supreme Court, has concluded. Also, the apex court said that the ownership claim by members of Umunwesete clan, could not be sustained and as such…

A piece of land located at Obeagwu Ugbawka and popularly referred to as Akpa land now belongs to the family of Umuigbudu in Nkanu Local Government Area, Enugu State, the Supreme Court, has concluded.

Also, the apex court said that the ownership claim by members of Umunwesete clan, could not be sustained and as such an appeal by them was consequently dismissed.

Following controversy over the land, Messrs. Godwin Onovo, Samuel Ani, Godwin Ani and Jonathan Nweke for themselves and on behalf of the family of Umunwesete family had sought court’s intervention seeking among others declaration of title to a customary right of occupancy of the said land, N500 general damages for trespass and a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants led by Ferdinand Mba, their servants or their agents from entering the land in dispute. 

The case of the plaintiff, who sued for themselves and on behalf of Umuenwezette Quarter of Obeagu, Ugbawka, was that the land in dispute had belonged to them from time immemorial; that they had also exercised acts of ownership over the said land all this time. 

Both parties agreed as a common factor between them that they share a common ancestor – Ogbu Nwazeogu, who had two sons namely Anyi Ogbu and Nevo Ogbu. While the plaintiffs/appellants are the descended of Anyi of Anyi Ogbu, the defendants/respondents are that of Nevo Ogbu; both parties however disagreed as to was the elder of the two sons if Ogbu Nwezeogo. It was also agreed by both parties that their common ancestor shared his land between his two sons.

From the pleadings and the evidence led on the record, both parties relied on traditional history and acts of ownership and possession. The plaintiffs, in addition further relied on a 1957 suit No. E/10/57 in proof of their ownership to the land in dispute.

The crux of the matter before the trial court was, while the plaintiffs/appellants on the one hand, claimed that their ancestor was given Akpa land of which the land in dispute formed a part, the defendants’ ancestor was not given any portion of the Akpa land but was only given the Apiti land.   

  The defendants on the other hand had contended that their common ancestor Ogbu Nwezeogo gave each of his two sons a portion of Akpa land and also a portion of Apiti land.

  In other words, the defendants/respondents, contrary to the contention by the plaintiffs/appellants are of the view that the parties each has a portion of share in both Akpa and Apiti lands.

  On June 9th 1983, the trial court Judge, Ubaezonu J, (as he then was) in a considered judgment dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim in its entirety.

  Not satisfied with the judgment, the plaintiffs as appellants appealed to Court of Appeal, Enugu. The lower court in its considered decision also entered judgment in favour of the respondents against the appellants whose appeal to that court was dismissed.

  “The appellants were again dissatisfied with the said judgment of the lower court and further appealed to the Supreme Court by filing five grounds of appeal.

   Due to non-diligence in prosecuting, it was initially dismissed but relisted and subsequently the names of the original parties were changed accordingly.

  Counsel thereupon adopted their respective briefs of arguments and relied there on. On behalf of the appellants, their learned counsel Chief (Mrs.) Offiah (SAN) urged that the appeal be allowed and the judgment of the two lower courts should be set aside for having misconstrued the claim by the appellants. On the side of the respondents however, the counsel Chief Onaja, SAN adumbrated his submission and urged in favour of the dismissal of the appeal as lacking in merit.

  In her lead judgment, which was endorsed by other jurists on the panel, Justice Clara Ogunbiyi while reviewing the case noted that the findings of the lower court were very well calculated and she could but agree with the endorsement made by it that the articulation by the trial court in that behalf was sound and well thought out. 

  She added that the proof of the issue at hand was a matter of evidence and the trial court was in the best position to determine on whose side the pendulum of justice would tilt having seen, heard and assessed the credibility of the witnesses on both sides. 

  The lower court, according to her in its review of the evidence on record did a job very well done.        

  “Again and as rightly observed by the lower court, the learned trial court judge did clearly comprehend the entire case and rightly came to a conclusion which was abundantly by evidence.

I further wish to add that the lower court was on the right path as did the trial court in accepting the evidence by the defendants/respondents which was amply supported by the evidence from the plaintiffs, witnesses especially that relating to the confirmation that the defendants/respondents are presently exercising act of ownership over the land presently in dispute.”

 Ogunbiyi, in her final submission said: “From the evidence of acts of ownership and possession before me I find no strength whatever in the case of the plaintiffs nor do I find any weakness in the case of the defendants which will lend strength to the case of the plaintiffs. The evidence of acts of ownership led by the defence is such stronger than and preferable to that of the plaintiffs. The defendants’ buildings are scattered all over the land in dispute.

  “I am not in the slightest doubt that the above findings by the trial court was well founded and the support given to it by the court below is unassailable. The appellants indeed failed to prove that they are entitled to declaration of title to customary right of occupancy of the piece or parcel of land in dispute situate and lying at Obeagu Ugbawka and called Akpa land against the respondents. Their claims were properly dismissed by the trial court, which dismissal was rightly affirmed by the court below.”