CASE SUMMARY OF:
Igbanude Obodo & Anor. v. Emmanuel Ogba & Ors (1987) - SC
- Communal land;
- Role of the trial court;
1. Igbanude Obodo;
2. Ozo Madubueze Ozo Madu (For themselves for and on behalf of Amangwu Amandim Olo, Udi Divison)
1. Emmanuel Ogba;
2. Nwokeke Oguama;
3. Ozomadu Igwuzo (For themselves for and on behalf of Umuafuke Amandim Olo, Udi Division)
1. Nweke Nnaeme;
2. Obuagwu Chiwetalu;
3. Ezekwune Okolie (For themselves for and on behalf of Umuonyia Amandim Olo, Udi Division).
1. Anijo Maduekwe;
2. Egwuatu Nwankwo;
3. Uzoechi Nwokike (For themselves for and on behalf of Umuawata Amandim Olo, Udi Division).
(1987) 2 NWLR (Pt.54) 1;
(1987) All N.L.R 215
LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
* FOR THE APPELLANT
- Chief G.C.M. Onyiuke, SAN.
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
- A.N. Anyamene, SAN.
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FACT (as relating to the issues)
Umuene Town, Olo, Udi Division is made up of four villages or quarters namely Umuonyia, Umuafuke, Umuawata and Amangwu.
In Suit No.E/68/73, the people of Amangwu through the Plaintiffs on record sued three sets of Defendants for themselves and representing the Umuafuke Amandim Olo, the Umuonyia Amandim Olo and the Umuawata Amandim Olo.
The Claim of the Plaintiffs in Suit No.E/68/73 was for the following:-
(i) Declaration of Title to a piece and parcel of land called "Nkwoagu Amangwu".
(ii) N400.00 general damages for trespass.
(iii) Perpetual Injunction restraining the Defendants, their servants and/or agents from...interfering with the said land etc. Pleadings were ordered, filed and exchanged.
From those pleadings, there was no dispute with regard to the Identity of the land the Plaintiffs were claiming. The Plaintiffs' plan Exhibit 3 and the Defendants' plan Exhibit 4 refer to one and the same land. The only dispute that went to trial was one solitary issue - the ownership of the land in dispute. The Plaintiffs say the land in Exhibit 3 belongs to them (the Plaintiffs) exclusively, while the Defendants say that the land in dispute belongs communally to all the 4 quarter of Umuene including the Plaintiffs.
There was however another Suit No. E/190/77 filed four long years after Suit No. E/68/73. In Suit No. E/190/77 three members of Umuafuke quarter of Umuene sued 3 sets of Defendants representing the 3 remaining quarters of Umuonyia, Umuawata and Amangwu (the Plaintiffs in Suit No. E/68/73).
At the close of pleadings in Suit No. E/ 190/77 the Two Suits E./68/73 and E/190/77 were on the application of Mr Nwanya, learned counsel for the Plaintiffs in Suit E/190/77 consolidated for hearing and were heard together.
The Learned Trial Judge gave judgement in favour of the plaintiff.
The Court of Appeal overturned the judgement of the trial judge.
Hence, the plaintiff (as Appellant) has appealed to the Supreme Court.
1. The main issue is whether the piece of land in dispute is communally owned or not.
HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
1. THE SUPREME COURT GAVE JUDGEMENT IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENTS.
i. The first principle is that, as its name implies, it is the trial Court that is charged with the responsibility of trying cases, which means trying issues. It is therefore the business of the trial Court to decide those issues and thus decide the dispute. The business of an appellate Court is not to re-open the dispute and start trying the case, as it were, de novo, far from it. The proper function of an appellate Court is to over-see, to superintend and to review the way the dispute and the issues arising therefrom were tried, to see whether the trial Court used the correct procedure and/or arrived at the right and proper decisions.
ii. The question then arises - were they really co-owners of the land in dispute? It is here that Exhibit 5 comes in. In Exhibit 5 the chiefs of Umuawata and Umuonyia quarters of Umuene wrote to the trial Court dissociating themselves from the Suit filed against the people of Amangwu who they conted "are the owners of the land said to be in dispute". In the face of Exhibit 5 one wonders how the Court of Appeal can say that the land in dispute is communally owned by the four quarters of Umuene including Umuawata and Umuonyia. The theory or claim of communal ownership of the land in dispute naturally and irretrievable founded on the rock of Exhibit 5. This ground of appeal therefore succeeds.
iii. In the case on appeal the trial Court believed and accepted the evidence of the Plaintiffs and their witnesses. It rejected the evidence of the Defendants/ Respondents. On what evidence one may now ask, did the appellate Court below find that the land in dispute was communally owned? That Court could not have believed the Defendants on the printed evidence. It did not even say it believed them. The net result will then be that the Court below found for the Defendants on no credible evidence. And there lies the danger of appellate Courts tampering with the findings of fact based on the credibility of witnesses. In the case now on appeal, it can not possibly be said that there were no evidence, no facts, and no rational interpretation of those facts which would sustain the value judgment of the learned trial judge.
iv. If the other 3 quarters of Umuene knew that the land in dispute was communally owned they should have intervened in Exhibits 1 and 2 to prevent a stranger village claiming their land. They did not do this. They are therefore bound by the outcome of Exhibits 1 and 2. It seems to me of the very essence of justice that if the other 3 quarters of Umuene, including the present Respondents, showed no interest in the land in dispute in Exhibits 1 and 2 (almost the same are now in dispute) and they were by their conduct then saying that the land was not theirs, they should not now be allowed to claim the very same land as communal to them and the Appellants.
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Ordinarily it is not the function of an appellate Court to disturb the findings of fact of the trial Court unless such findings are shown to be unreasonable or perverse and not a result of a proper exercise of judicial discretion: Ntiaro v. Akpam 3 N. L. R. 9 at p.10 Where the appellate Court is in doubt as to whether the trial Court was right or wrong, it is bound to resolve such doubt in favour of the trial court.The point here is that the onus is on the appellant to satisfy the appellate Court that the decision appealed against was wrong. Where doubt exists then that onus has not been discharged. - Oputa, JSC. Obodo v. Ogba (1987)
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