Supreme Court resolves Borno land dispute
FAULTING some of the claims and a certificate of occupancy said to have been issued to a dead man, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has dismissed an appeal seeking to claim ownership of a parcel of landed property in Borno State.
The landed property is situated at Bolori in Maiduguri Metropolitan area of Borno State, which land is bounded by Flour Mill Road and Yerimma Road (also referred to as Wire Road) and by an adjourning land belonging to one Bukar Kyari Kolo.
The appellants, who took their grouse to the Supreme Court, are Alhaji Mustapha and Mohammed Mulima for themselves and as representatives of the estate of the deceased Alhaji Bukar Mulima. Hajja Aishatu Usman, representative of the estate of the deceased original first respondent Ya Hajja Gambo Goniram, Alhaji Dunoma Usman, for Hajja Bana, Attorney General of Borno State and Commissioner for Land and Survey, Borno State, as first to fourth respondents respectively.
By a writ of summons issued on the 7th of April 1992, the first and second respondents together with their sister as the third plaintiff (now deceased), instituted an action against Sanni Mustapha, the legal representative of the estate of one Galadima Mai Kyari, Alhaji Bukar Mulima, Attorney-General of Borno State and the Commissioner for Land and Survey at the High Court of Borno State claiming a declaration of title to and over land situate at Bolor in Maiduguri metropolitan area of Borno State.
Pleadings were filed and exchanged and the matter went to trial.
The first and second respondents testified on their own behalf and called two witnesses. The gist of their case was that the original owner of the land, the subject matter of the action, was one Lawal Bello, the great grandfather of the plaintiffs who first cleared and used the land many years ago.
After his demise, one of his sons, Lawan Fatumi Bolorima inherited the said farmland. And after cultivating the land for years, Bolorima made a gift of it with the crops on it to his son Alhaji Goni Fatumi, who was the father of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs inherited the land from their father about 50 years ago. They farmed on the land for many years.
During the construction of the Railway Terminus in Maiduguri, an European engineer approached the plaintiffs’ family and asked for and obtained permission to build two separate houses on parts of the land for use of the engineer for the duration of the construction of the Railway terminus. It was stated that, the European gave undertaking to give to the plaintiffs’ ownership of the two buildings after the completion of the terminus construction. After the European left, the plaintiffs took possession of their land and the two buildings on it, let them out to tenants and collected rents accordingly.
Sometime in September 1990, police came and demanded that the plaintiffs’ tenants should pay rent to the appellants. The plaintiffs engaged a lawyer to write to the police on the issue. In June 1991, the second appellant personally with his agents entered the land and exercised acts of ownership.
On 13th June 1991 the first and second respondents and their sister, as plaintiffs, filed a suit at the High Court in Maiduguri against the second appellant. When the second appellant filed a counter-affidavit in the suit, he disclosed that a Certificate of Occupancy was issued in September 1979 to one Galadima Mai Kyari. With that revelation, the plaintiffs withdrew from the said suit and filed another one joining all parties interested in the matter.
The appellants did not lead evidence to defend the suit.
However, when it was the turn of the third and fourth respondents to open their defences, the second appellant, who had been consistently absent from court, appeared and testified for the third and fourth respondents. The second appellant was even cross-examined by his counsel.
Basically, the appellants and the third and fourth respondents denied the claim of the plaintiffs and gave evidence to the effect that the North Eastern State had granted temporary certificate of occupancy over the land in issue to Messrs.’ Borini Prono.
After the expiration of the temporary certificate of occupancy, one Galadima Mai Kyari applied to them old North Easter State for a certificate of occupancy over the said plot upon which the European company had erected two residential houses. Approval was given to Galadima Mai Kyari with effect from 18th November 1972. This was affirmed with the issue of certificate of occupancy No. NE/375 in his favour. After his death, his heirs sold the land to the appellants’ father.
At the conclusion of trial, judgment was entered on 12th February 1997 in favor of the plaintiffs in terms of all the reliefs sought by them.
The second defendant was not satisfied with the judgment of the trial court and appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
The second defendant was not happy with the decision of the Court of Appeal and he appealed to the Supreme Court. But the second defendant died while the appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court and was thereafter substituted by his sons. Coincidently, the first respondent too died and was also substituted by her daughter.
It was worth noting that defence witness two testified that exhibit “D”, the certificate of occupancy was granted on the 27th September 1979 by then Commissioner for Works and Housing to Galadima Mai Kyari who had died before October 1972 and it was noted that the said certificate was issued to a dead man.
Giving his judgment, John Inyang Okoro said although the state government claimed that the first two respondents could not claim any stake on the landed property having been paid their compensation, but failed to give any notice of revocation, by which they would have been aware of the purported acquisition.
“But in this case, there is no evidence that notice of revocation was given. There is no evidence that there was any acquisition of the land. And worst still, the purported certificate of occupancy was issued to a dead person.”
Having reviewed all the submission, Okoro alongside other jurists held that the appeal lacked merit and therefore failed. “On the whole, it is my view that this issue, again does not avail the appellants. In sum, I hold that this appeal lacks merit and is hereby dismissed by me. I uphold the judgment of the lower court in this case. I award costs of N100,000.00 in favor of the first and second respondents only to be paid by the appellants.”
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