⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
EJIKE I. UGOJI v. EZE (DR.) A.I. ONUKOGU (2005) – SC
by PipAr Chima
⦿ LITE HOLDING
The plaintiff has the onus to prove his title.
⦿AREA OF LAW
Proof of title
EJIKE I. UGOJI
EZE (DR.) A.I. ONUKOGU (2005)
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
* FOR THE APPELLANT
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
As the claims of the plaintiff convey, this was a land dispute. It is in respect of a plot of land at Ikenegbu Layout along Whetheral Road, Owerri described as Plot No. 287. The plaintiff pleaded that the land was allocated to him in 1970 after he had paid the requisite fees. It was pleaded that two plots of land in the same Ikenegbu Layout, that is, Plots 287 and 288 were also allocated to plaintiff. At a time the Military Governor of Imo State had directed that no one should be allocated more than one plot in the layout. One of the plaintiff’s two plots, that is, Plot 288 was withdrawn from him. The policy was later reversed and the plaintiff got back the aforesaid Plot 288. The plaintiff had a lease agreement in respect of the land and had been in possession of the land. In 1977, the plaintiff commenced the development of Plot 288, which is adjacent to the plot in dispute. In 1981, the defendant came on the land and erected thereon a ‘batcher’. The plaintiff challenged the defendant. The defendant later commenced the erection of a concrete fence on the land in an attempt to enclose it. The plaintiff destroyed a part of the concrete fence. He later brought his suit claiming as earlier stated in this judgment.
The defendant’s case in his statement of defence was that he obtained a certificate of occupancy on 24/11/81 over the land in dispute. The defendant described the land as Plot 288 and not 287 as the plaintiff described it. The defendant stated that the confusion, in the manner the plots of land in the layout were numbered, could have been the result of a mistake by the officials of the State Ministry of Lands and Survey. The defendant pleaded that ownership of land in the Ikenegbu Layout was vested in individual land owners, who upon a sale of the land to people executed deeds in their (the people’s) favour. It was pleaded that the Owerri Town Planning Authority, through whom the plaintiff claimed, did not own any land in the layout. The defendant further pleaded that he acquired the land in dispute in 1961 from one Gordon A. Njemanze. The land was then known as ‘Nwankwuosa’. The said Gordon A. Njemanze confirmed in writing the transfer of the land to the defendant. The defendant had since been in possession of the land. In 1981, the plaintiff trespassed thereon. The defendant resisted this but the plaintiff begged the defendant to allow him (the plaintiff) keep the building materials, which he needed in developing a structure on the adjoining Plot 288, on defendant’s land. The defendant reluctantly agreed. The defendant pleaded that he had erected the ‘batcher’ on the land in dispute about 12 years before the plaintiff came on the land in 1981. It was on this state of pleadings that the suit was tried.
At the Owerri High Court of Imo State, the respondent as the plaintiff, claimed against the appellant, as the defendant, for (a) Declaration of tight to statutory certificate of occupancy; (b) Ten thousand Naira as general and special damages for trespass and (c) a perpetual injunction. The claims were in respect of a parcel of land described as Plot No. 287 Ikenegbu Layout, Owerri. The parties filed and exchanged pleadings after which the suit was tried by Chianakwalam, J. who, on 20th November, 1985, granted the reliefs claimed by the plaintiff save that two thousand Naira was awarded as damages instead of the ten thousand Naira claimed. The defendant was dissatisfied with the judgment. He brought an appeal against it before the Court of Appeal sitting at Port-Harcourt (hereinafter referred to as ‘the court below’). The court below on 16/3/93 in its judgment, affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Still dissatisfied, the defendant has brought a further appeal before this court.
1. Whether the respondent discharged the onus of proof on him as a plaintiff seeking a declaration of title to the land in view of the pleadings, facts and evidence led in the case.
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENT.
i. The finding of the trial Judge that the land in dispute originally belonged to Umuororonjo and Amawon kindred of Owerri town would appear to give the lie to the averment in plaintiff’s pleading that he derived his title to the land in dispute from the Owerri Town Planning Authority. This must have a devastating effect on plaintiff’s case because whilst the evidence as to the title of Umuororonjo and Amawon kindred must be rejected as unpleaded fact, the evidence that title was in Owerri Town Planning Authority must also be rejected as untrue. The result is that the plaintiff did not at the hearing plead or lead evidence as to the source or origin of his title to the land in dispute.
ii. But, with respect to their Lordships of the court below, it was an error to accept that the plaintiff could be granted a declaration of title to land when the plaintiff did not even plead the root of his title. There was therefore no duty on the defendant to meet the case of the plaintiff, which was so patently weak and unsustainable. I think that the court below should have seen that the plaintiff who had pleaded that he derived his title to the land in dispute from Owerri Town Planning Authority could not depart from his pleading to rely on a title from Umuororonjo and Amawon kindred. The plaintiff’s claims ought to have been dismissed.
⦿ ENDING NOTE BY LEAD JUSTICE – Per
⦿ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
⦿ REFERENCED (CASE)
Uche v. Eke (1998) 9 NWLR (Pt. 564) 24 at 35, this court, per Iguh, JSC observed: “In the first place, it has been stressed times without number that it would be wrong to assume that all a person who resorts to a grant as a method of proving his title to land needs do is simply to produce his deed of title and rest his case thereon. Without doubt, the mere tendering of such document of title may be sufficient to prove such grant where the title of the grantor to such land is either admitted or not in dispute. Where, however, as in the present case, an issue has been seriously raised as to the title of such a grantor to the land in dispute, the origin or root of title of such a grantor must not only be clearly averred in the pleadings, it must also be proved by evidence.”
In Ngene v. Igbo (2000) 4 NWLR (Pt. 651) 131 at 142, this Court, per Ogundare, JSC said: “A long line of cases beginning with Kodilinye v. Mbanefo Odu (1935) 2 W.A.C.A. 336 has laid it down that in a claim for declaration of title the onus is on the plaintiff to prove his case. He must rely on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defence – Jules v. Ajani (1980) 5/7 SC 96 except of course where the weakness of the defendant’s case tends to strengthen plaintiff’s case – Nwagbogu v. Ibeziako (1972) Vol. 2 (Pt.1) ECSLR 335, 338 SC or where the defendant’s case supports his case – Akinola v. Oluwo (1962) 1 SCNLR 352 (1962) 1 All NLR 224 (1962) (Pt. 1) All NLR 225 all of which is not the case here.”
⦿ REFERENCED (OTHERS)
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
Now, it is now well settled that in civil proceeding commenced at the High Court, parties are bound by their pleadings and any evidence which is at variance with the averments in the pleadings goes to no issue and should be disregarded by the court. – Oguntade JSC. Ejike v. Onukogu (2005)
In coming to the conclusion that the plaintiff was in possession of the land as at 20/4/76, the trial Judge relied on exhibit “L” to the effect that the Umuororonjo and Amawon kindred leased the land to the plaintiff. But as I observed earlier in this judgment, the title of the said Umuororonjo and Amawon kindred was not pleaded. Neither was evidence called on the point. Exhibit “L” was simply irrelevant to the case made on the pleadings by the plaintiff/respondent. – Oguntade JSC. Ejike v. Onukogu (2005)