⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
GLADSTONE NNAMDI OFODILE v. COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, ANAMBRA STATE (2000) – SC
by PipAr Chima
⦿ LITE HOLDING
The principle is that in an action for a declaration of title to land, where the plaintiff fails to prove a title superior to that of the defendant, his action must be dismissed.
⦿AREA OF LAW
Use of reasonable force
Alienation of land
Revocation of land
Nigerian Police force
Gladstone Nnamdi Ofodile
Commissioner Of Police, Anambra State
(2000) JELR 51565 (CA)
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– Chief P. G. E. Umeadi.
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Chief Legal Officer, Anambra State Ministry of Justice, W. C. Ikediugwu, Esq.
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
This appeal is from the decision of Olike, J., of the Anambra State High Court sitting at Onitsha, dismissing the appellant’s claims over a piece of land in an action in which the appellant, as the plaintiff, asked for the following reliefs: “(a) A declaration that by virtue of the lease of 5 Hill-Top, Onitsha in favour of plaintiff, the defendant has no rights extant over the said land against the plaintiffs leasehold interest for 99 years expiring 2087. A declaration that by virtue of interpretation of the plaintiff’s lease aforesaid, recovery of State or Federal Government land is not one of the statutory functions of the defendant except as may be authorised by the Federal Attorney-General in writing and only when plaintiff is in occupation without any rights whatsoever. An order directing the defendant to remove forthwith a sign- board or notice placed in 5 Hill-Top, declaring as follows: “Police Land – Keep off” as an unwarranted interference with the plaintiff’s enjoyment of his leasehold interest in the land. An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant, his servants and agents from any acts of further trespass or interference in the plaintiff’s quiet enjoyment of his leasehold interest in the land in dispute.”
Against this background, the contest between the parties was set, at the end of which the court below found that the land over which the lease was granted to the appellant is by operation of section 249 of the Land Use Act, vested in the Nigeria Police Force, and that granting a lease of the same piece of land to a private individual by the Minister without revoking the right of the Police Force over the land ‘is not in consonance with the spirit of the Land Use Act and therefore irregular on the principles of law enunciated in Foreign Finance Corporation v. Osho (1991) 5 SCNJ 52. The court held that the deed of lease issued in favour of the appellant ‘is not only unlawful but an invalid deed’ and that the use of reasonable force by the respondent in taking over what belongs to her is not unlawful, the appellant not having shown that he was intimidated by the respondent or that the respondent used violence in preventing the appellant from entering the land again. On that note, the learned trial Judge concluded that the appellant, as the plaintiff, was not entitled to the reliefs sought and dismissed his claims.
The plaintiff has appealed to this Court.
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
Applying that principle to the facts of this case the appellant who based his title to the land in dispute on the lease granted to him by the Minister for Works, Lands and Housing, who palpably acted on an obsolete law that gave him no power over the land in dispute has bought a pig in a poke. It is immaterial whether the Nigeria Police Force is a trespasser on the land because in an action for ownership of land in possession of an adversary, the plaintiff must show that he has a better title than the defendant and he cannot do this by canvassing a title that had been demonstrated to be defective – see: Adeshoye v. Shiwoniku (1952) 14 WACA 86, 87; Alli Owe v. Oshinbajo (1965) 1 ALL NLR 72, 76 and Odjevwede v. Echanokpe (1987) 18 NSCC. (Pt. I) 313, 321. The Minister having acted as a lessor when he had no statutory power to do so, the appellant must take the brunt of the error for which the law cannot assuage. On the hard shell of the law, the depressing aspect of the saga is the salt that must be rubbed into the appellant’s wound following failure to conduct transactions in land matters as laid down by the Land Use Act. Section 26 of the Act enjoins the consequence which must follow thus: “Any transaction or any instrument which purports to confer on or vest in any person any interest or right over land other than in accordance with the provisions of this Act shall be null and void.”
⦿ ENDING NOTE BY LEAD JUSTICE – Per
⦿ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
⦿ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ REFERENCED (OTHERS)
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
Firstly, the submission that the Nigeria Police Force is an integral part of ‘the Federal Executive’ with no capacity to own or possess land independently of the Federal Government is unnecessary. But more importantly, the assumption ignores the fact that the Nigeria Police Force is a creation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in much the same way as other organs of the Federal Government, such as the legislature, executive the judiciary and the armed forces of the federation, each of which, though an arm of the Government of the Federation, nonetheless, has an independent capacity and rights that do not depend on the executive arm, including the right to possess land. See sections 4 and 43; 5 and 122; 6 and part I of chapter VII; sections 194 and 197 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979. – Olagunju JCA. Ofodile v. COP (2000)
Everything considered, there is uncontradicted evidence that the Nigeria Police Force came to possession of that land before 1939 and remained in possession on 29/3/78 when the Land Use Act came into force. – Olagunju JCA. Ofodile v. COP (2000)
“Alienation” refers to the transfer of the right by the holder to another person or creation of interest in the estate for the benefit of another person. In other words, alienation is the unilateral and voluntary act of the holder of the right to transfer his right or create interest in the right, subject to the approval of the consenting authority, in contrast with passing the right or creating the interest in favour of a third party by operation of law. On the other hand, “revocation” means cancellation or recall of the grant made to the holder of the right of occupancy by the grantor as provided by sections 28 and 38 of the Land Use Act. Within the scheme of the Act, revocation may be punitive as a sanction for breach of the terms of grant as stipulated by the Act; it may be for policy consideration such as the requirement of the land for municipal, industrial or aesthetic development. – Olagunju JCA. Ofodile v. COP (2000)
I agree with the submission of the Chief Legal Officer that the proposition that extra-judicial measure cannot be used to recover possession of land is not an inflexible rule. I find to be particularly apposite the decisions in Umeobi v. Otukoya (supra), and Awojugbagbe v. Chinukwe (supra), which the learned counsel cited in buttress of his argument and which in principle do not rule out the use of reasonable force to protect and repel a clear act of trespass. – Olagunju JCA. Ofodile v. COP (2000)
The appellant having failed to name a price for his ‘injury’ as a solatium, he cannot expect from the court, unsolicited, any succour as the business of this court or of any court for that matter does not include conducting bargain on behalf of any party. – Olagunju JCA. Ofodile v. COP (2000)