⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
IRAGUNIMA v. RIVERS STATE HOUSING AND PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY (2003) – SC
by PipAr Chima
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
* NO ORDER AS TO COST WHERE RESPONDENT FILED NO BRIEF
As the respondents filed no brief nor participated at the hearing of the appeal, I make no order as to costs. – Ogundare JSC. Iragunima v. Rivers State (2003)
* WRONG EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE BY TRIAL COURT
Where the Court of Appeal wrongly evaluates the evidence before the trial court and arrives at a wrong conclusion not borne out from the evidence before the court, the Supreme Court will intervene on the ground that the finding is perverse. But where the finding of the Court of Appeal is borne out from the evidence adduced in the trial court, this court cannot intervene. I do not see any reason for intervention in this appeal. – Niki Tobi JSC. Iragunima v. Rivers State (2003)
Dr. N.A. Iragunima
Rivers State Housing and Property Development Authority
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
M. E. OGUNDARE, J.S.C.
* FOR THE APPELLANT
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
⦿ CASE HISTORY
The land in dispute was originally leased by the Government of the former Eastern Nigeria to one Felix Nwosu in 1957 for a term of seven years. Felix Nwosu later assigned the lease to James Muche Okoro. The assignment to Okoro was registered in the Deeds Registry. In 1973 James Okoro applied for renewal of the lease. The Governor of Rivers State gave approval for the renewal of the lease for a term of 60 years with effect from 1st January, 1964. James Okoro was called upon to pay the necessary fees for the renewal of the lease, which he did. It would appear however, that the formal lease was not drawn up for execution. James Okoro built on the land and in 1982 by an agreement entered into between him and the plaintiff, sold the property to the latter for a sum of N40,000.00 which plaintiff paid to Okoro. A Deed of assignment was executed by the parties and this Deed was forwarded to the Ministry of Lands, Rivers State for the Governor’s consent. The Ministry of Lands replied asking Okoro to pay the sum of N1,500.00 consent fee which sum was paid by the plaintiff through Okoro. From that time on the plaintiff was paying the ground rent and property rates on the property up to 1986. In that year plaintiff went to the Chief Lands Officer to inquire about the delay in having the Deed returned with the Governor’s consent endorsed on it. It was then she learnt that the property had been sold by the 1st defendant to the appellant by a sale agreement dated 8/5/86. Plaintiff then wrote a petition to the Commissioner for Lands and Housing Rivers State pointing out that the property was not an abandoned property. While waiting for a reply to her petition, she saw an advertisement in the Nigerian Tide Newspaper edition of 11/8/86 wherein the property was advertised for sale. She immediately instructed her solicitor to write to 1st defendant drawing its attention to her earlier petition to the Commissioner for Lands. Upon receipt of her letter the 1st defendant invited her for an interview at which she presented all the documents in her possession relating to the property to the interview panel. On 26/2/87 the 1st defendant wrote to the plaintiff conveying approval of the sale of the property to her by James Okoro. This however, was not the end of the matter because subsequent to this letter, the 1st defendant wrote another letter to the plaintiff inviting her for yet another interview. She attended the 2nd interview and thereafter instructed her solicitor to write to the 1st defendant reminding the latter of the implications of the 2nd interview. The solicitor’s letter notwithstanding, the 1st defendant wrote another letter to the plaintiff reversing the approval conveyed in the letter of 26/2/87. The tenants in the house on the instigation of the relations of the appellant refused to pay rents to her and she was kept from gaining access to the property. Hence the action she instituted against the three defendants.
The plaintiff Mrs. Abigael Uchendu had sued the Rivers State Housing and Development Authority, the Attorney-General of Rivers State and Dr. N. A. Iragunima as 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively, claiming, as per paragraph 31 of her amended statement of claim, as follows:
1. A declaration that the plaintiff is the rightful owner of Plot 9 Orije Layout in Block 254 otherwise known as No.3 Oloibiri Street, Orije Layout, Port Harcourt, having purchased the same for the sum of N40,000.00 from Mr. James Okoro who had a valid lease of the property at the time of sale and to whom the property was validly released.
2. A declaration that the 3rd defendant is not entitled to the ownership of the said Plot 9 Block 254/No. 3 Oloibiri Street, Orije Layout, having not purchased same from the rightful owner.
3. A declaration that any purported sale of the said property by the 1st defendant to the 3rd defendant is void and of no effect.
4. N100,000.00 special and general damages for trespass, from the defendants.
5. A perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, their servants and or agents from further acts of trespass upon the said property.”
Pleadings having been filed and exchanged the matter went to trial upon the plaintiff’s amended statement of claim and the statements of defence of the 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively. The 1st defendant did not file any pleading. At the trial evidence was given in support of plaintiff’s case; the defendants did not adduce any evidence but rather rested their case on that of the plaintiff. In effect they did not deny any of the evidence given by the plaintiff and her witness, James Okoro. The learned trial Judge, in a reserved judgment found, plaintiff’s case proved.
Being dissatisfied with the judgment the 3rd defendant, appealed to the Court of Appeal, his appeal was dismissed. He has now further appealed to this court.
⦿ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION
1. Whether the 2nd respondent (plaintiff) succeeded in proving her case for declaration of title, trespass, injunction and nullification of the sale of the property in dispute to appellant?
IN HOLDING FOR THE RESPONDENT,
i. James Okoro applied for a renewal of the lease which was assigned to him by Nwosu. There is evidence on record that approval was given by the Governor for the renewal of the lease in favour of Okoro for a term of 60 years from 1/1/64 the date the original lease expired. There is evidence on record that Okoro was called upon to pay all necessary fees relating to the new lease, that is arrears of rent from 1964-1973, the preparation, execution and registration of the new lease (see exhibit L in these proceedings). There is evidence that Okoro paid all the sums he was required to pay and obtained receipts, which were all tendered in evidence. What remained was for the 1st defendant to execute the new lease in favour of Okoro. This was not done. Equity regards that as done which ought to have been done.
ii. The position then is that at the time the 1st defendant sold the property to the appellant, plaintiff had equitable title to the property. But there is no evidence on record of the title, whether legal or equitable, that the 1st defendant had in the property which it could pass on to the appellant. As stated earlier in this judgment, none of the defendants led evidence in support of the averments in their pleadings. The appellant, therefore, acquired no interest whatsoever in the property. Plaintiff’s equitable interest, in my respectful view, is sufficient to support her claims in this case.
⦿ ENDING NOTE BY LEAD JUSTICE – Per
⦿ CONTRIBUTIONS OF OTHER JUSTICES TO ISSUE(S)
⦿ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
⦿ REFERENCED (CASE)
* FIVE WAYS TITLE TO LAND COULD BE PROVED
Idundun v. Okumagba (1976) 9-10 SC 227; (1976) 1 NMLR 200, this court enumerated five ways in which title or ownership of land could be proved. These are: (1) By traditional evidence. (2) By production of documents of title duly authenticated and executed. (3) By acts of ownership extending over a sufficient length of time numerous and positive enough to warrant the inference of true ownership. (4) By acts of long possession and enjoyment, and (5) Proof of possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances rendering it probable that the owner of such connected or adjacent land would, in addition, be the owner of the land in dispute.
⦿ REFERENCED (OTHERS)
⦿ SIMILAR JUDGEMENTS