➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Michael Alaba Onagoruwa v. Mrs. Aderoju Akinremi & Ors. (2001) – SC
by “PipAr” Branham-Paul C. Chima.
Supreme Court – SC.191/1997
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, the 8th day of June, 2001
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Registration of Titles;
Trespass to land.
➥ PRINCIPLES OF LAW
⦿ THE ADVANTAGES OF THE REGISTRATION OF TITLE
The advantage of registered title is that the purchaser can discover from the mere inspection of the register whether the vendor has power to sell the land and what the more important incumbrances are except in the case of what may be classified as overriding interest, as contained in s.52 of the Registration of Titles Law, which bind the proprietor of registered land even though he has no knowledge of them and no reference is made to them in the register. Otherwise, a registered owner of land is not affected by notice of any unregistered estate, interest or claim affecting the estate of any previous registered owner, nor is he concerned to inquire whether the terms of any caution or restriction existing before he was registered as owner of such land have been complied with see s.54. Short of rectification of the register carried out in pursuance of s.61, a registered owner’s title is indefeasible. It has been said that a register of title is an authoritative record, kept in a public office, of the rights to clearly defined units of land as vested for the time being in some particular person or body, and of the limitations, if any, to which these rights are subject. With certain exceptions known as ‘overriding interests’, all the material particulars affecting the title to the land are fully revealed merely by a perusal of the register which is maintained and warranted by the State. The register is at all times the final authority and the State accepts responsibility for the validity of transactions, which are effected by making an entry in the register. — Uwais, JSC.
⦿ WHERE NECESSARY, SURVEY MAY BE TENDERED TO PROVE TRESPASS
So, apart from the weak ipse dixit of the appellant that the 1st respondent was occupying Nos. 146 and 147 (which are indeed plots 91 and 93) and that the 2nd respondent was occupying No. 145 (i.e. plot 89), there is nothing to actually demonstrate this by a proper survey plan showing encroachment particularly as the respondents throughout denied being on any part of the appellant’s land, There is no evidence of any threat by any of them to invade the appellant’s right to the said plots 89, 91 and 93 in L.G. DaCosta Layout, Onike, Iwaya, Lagos State. The appellant has been unable to prove any act of the respondents upon which an order of injunction and award of damages against them can be based. Had he succeeded in doing so, the respondents would have been adjudged trespassers since the appellant whose title to the land is not in doubt has accordingly established his right to possession by virtue of that title. — Uwais, JSC.
⦿ REGISTERED LAND SYSTEM VS UNREGISTERED LAND SYSTEM
The title which the plaintiff claims in respect of plots 89, 91 and 93 derived from the system of registration of title first introduced into Nigeria in 1935 and the law applicable to the case is the Registration of Titles Law Cap. 166, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 1994. The courts below did not realise that the claim before them is in respect of land located in a Registration District under the aforementioned Cap. 166 Laws of Lagos State. The conveyancing of unregistered land depends upon production by the vendor of a series of documents which recite previous dealings or transactions affecting the land showing the ability of the vendor to convey what he has agreed to convey. In that case title has to be proved afresh each time a disposition of land is made. On the other hand, the conveyancing of registered land is different. As soon as title to land is registered, its past history becomes irrelevant, from that time title is guaranteed by the State and a purchaser can rely on it and transfer of land becomes the substitution of one person’s name for another’s in the Registry. The property register describes and identifies the land and the interest in the land which is the subject-matter of the title. Registration of titles is however distinct from registration of instruments, the former is simpler, cheaper, speedier and more reliable. — Ogwuegbu, JSC.
⦿ PURCHASER OF REGISTERED LAND IS NOT AFFECTED BY NOTICE
Thus a purchaser of registered land is not affected with notice either actual or constructive, of any unregistered estate, interest or claim which affects the estate of his vendor. The estate of a first registered owner for value is free from unregistered estate, interest or claim affecting the land. It is not limited by any interest adverse to or in derogation of his title subsisting or capable of arising at the time of first registration. The plaintiff having tendered the documents enumerated above ought to have been declared owner of the parcel of land and if the courts below had appreciated the basic idea behind registration of title under cap, 166, Laws of Lagos State, 1994 and its incidents, their decisions would have been different. There is no way the defendants can successfully challenge the title of the plaintiff short of the rectification of the register in accordance with sections 60 and 61 of the law, Since that was not the case, the title of the plaintiff in respect of plots 89, 91 and 93 remains indefeasible. — Ogwuegbu, JSC.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
Dr. Olu Onagoruwa.
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
B. A. Shomotun, Esq.
➥ CASE FACT/HISTORY
The plaintiff’s claim to ownership of the said plots 89, 91 and 93 is based ultimately on Registration of Titles Law, 1935 (Cap.166) vol. 7, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 1994. The Oloto chieftaincy family originally owned the land involved, as part of their larger parcel of land. By a deed of conveyance dated 24 February, 1964 registered as No.3 at page 3 volume 1222 of the Register of deeds kept at the Lagos State land Registry, Lawrence Gregorio Da Costa acquired a vast parcel of land from the said Oloto chieftaincy family. This was admitted as Exhibit A. The said Da Costa laid the land into various plots. The land is known as L.G. Da Costa Layout, Onike, Yaba. Thereafter he sold eight of the plots to Oyenuyi Arolabu Oyesanya (pleaded erroneously by the plaintiff in para. 4 of his statement of claim as Oyeniyi Afolabi Oyesanya) by a deed of conveyance which the said Oyesanya registered under Title No. 10246: see Exhibit B. The eight plots so registered are numbered 17,78,80, 85,87,89,91 and 93. By a deed of transfer dated 15th March, 1978, the said Oyeniyi Arolabu Oyesanya transferred the entire eight plots to Michael Alaba Onagoruwa (the plaintiff). The transfer was registered under the same Title No. 10246.
The appellant in his statement of claim pleaded how he came to be the owner of the plots of land under registered title. He led evidence and tendered the Exhibits already referred to, particularly Exhibits A, B, C, C1 and D. He said that plot 89 is No. 145 in the intelligence sheet (Exhibit D) while plots 91 and 93 are Nos. 146 and 147 respectively. He said further that the 1st and 2nd respondents broke into plots 89, 91 and 93. Specifically, he identified the 2nd respondent as occupying plot 89 (i.e. No. 145) While the 1st respondent is on Nos. 146 and 147. The 3rd respondent pleaded that the 1st and 2nd respondents are his tenants and claimed not to know of any layout called Da Costa Layout but that if there was such layout, his own land was not within that layout.
In both the writ of summons and statement of claim as amended, the Plaintiff’s claim read: “1. A DECLARATION that the plaintiff is the owner of the parcel of land known as Plots 89, 91 and 93, Dacosta Layout, Onike, Iwaya, Lagos State which parcel of land is covered by Title No. 10246. 2. N5,000.00 special and general damages for trespass. 3. A PERPETUAL INJUNCTION restraining the defendants whether by themselves or by their servants, agents or privies or otherwise howsoever from further trespassing on the plaintiff’s land known as Plots 89, 91 and 93 Dacosta Layout, Onike, Iwaya, Lagos State and covered by Title No. 10246.”
On 16th February, 1990, the learned trial Judge (Famakinwa, J.) who heard the case dismissed the claim. The appellant’s appeal against that judgment to the Court of Appeal was dismissed on 26 November, 1996. The appellant has further appealed to this court.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION(S)
[APPEAL SUCCEEDS IN PART]
I. Whether the identity of the plots of land in respect of which the plaintiff claimed declaration of title, perpetual injunction and damages for trespass is ascertainable?
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT CONSENT OF GOVERNOR DOES NOT COME INTO PLAY – LAND WAS ALREADY REGISTERED BEFORE LAND USE ACT
“Let me briefly dispose of the respondent’s counsel’s argument on the Land Use Act and the reliance on the Registration of Titles Law by the appellant. It is true that any transfer of title derived even under the Registration of Titles Law must receive the consent of the Governor from the day the Land Use Act, 1978 came into force in order to make the transfer or alienation valid. That is what ss.22 and 26 of the Land Use Act stipulate. See Savannah Bank (Nig.) Ltd. v. Ajilo (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt.97) 305; Awojugbagbe Light Industries Ltd. v. Chinukwe (1995) 4 NWLR (Pt.390) 379; International ile Industries Ltd. v. Aderemi (1999) 8 NWLR (Pt.614) 268. But the transfer of plots 89, 91 and 93 in question in this case to the appellant by Oyenuyi Arolabu Oyesanya was concluded before the Land Use Act came into force on 29 March, 1978. Exhibit C which is the transfer instrument shows that it took place on 15 March, 1978 while Exhibit C1 shows that the document was already in the Land Registry on 28 March, 1978. That disposes of the argument on the Land Use Act.”
B. THE REGISTER TITLE ITSELF IS ENOUGH TO PROVE TITLE OF A PLAINTIFF
“In the present case, the appellant did not need any other evidence than Exhibits A, B, C, and C1 to establish his entitlement to the declaration he seeks as the first relief in this action. All he asks for is a declaration that he is the owner of the parcel of land known as plots 89, 91 and 93 in Da Costa Layout, Onike, Iwaya, Lagos State, covered by title No. MO 10246. Exhibits A and B show the root of title which Exhibits C and Cl show the registration of title derived from that root. The said plots 89, 91 and 93 are delineated in survey plan No. C087/72 drawn by a licensed surveyor, C. Olu Dawodu, wherein the dimension and area of each of the plots and the survey beacons demarcating each are clearly indicated.”
“I have given these details to illustrate that the facts as to the identity and location of the parcel of land were available but the two courts below did not make use of them. The lower court was therefore in error to hold, as the trial court did, that the identity of the plots in question was not established. The area of each of those plots can easily be depicted in an enlarged form from the said survey plan No. CO 87/72 by any surveyor in a survey plan. Each plot is not only ascertainable, it is certain in identity.”
II. Whether there is evidence that the respondents trespassed on the appellant’s land?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
A. NO EVIDENCE PRESENTED TO PROVE TRESPASS BY RESPONDENTS
“I accept the argument of appellant’s counsel that once the appellant is shown to be the owner of those plots of land, contrary to the erroneous view of the lower court, he is in exclusive possession or has a right to such possession and that anyone who is on the land without his permission is a trespasser ab initio. However, the question that there has been trespass on the land is a conclusion that can only be reached upon the evidence available. That was how decision was reached in the case of Madubuonwu v. Nnalue (1992) 8 NWLR (Pt.260) 440 cited by him, and similar cases. No argument was proffered to identify the evidence in support of the trespass committed by the respondents.”
“So, apart from the weak ipse dixit of the appellant that the 1st respondent was occupying Nos. 146 and 147 (which are indeed plots 91 and 93) and that the 2nd respondent was occupying No. 145 (i.e. plot 89), there is nothing to actually demonstrate this by a proper survey plan showing encroachment particularly as the respondents throughout denied being on any part of the appellant’s land, There is no evidence of any threat by any of them to invade the appellant’s right to the said plots 89, 91 and 93 in L.G. DaCosta Layout, Onike, Iwaya, Lagos State. The appellant has been unable to prove any act of the respondents upon which an order of injunction and award of damages against them can be based. Had he succeeded in doing so, the respondents would have been adjudged trespassers since the appellant whose title to the land is not in doubt has accordingly established his right to possession by virtue of that title.”
“This appeal partially succeeds and is allowed by me. I set aside the orders of the two courts below which entirely dismissed the appellant’s claim. In their place I give judgment for the appellant as plaintiff allowing his said claim to the extent by the order which I make as follows: A declaration that the plaintiff is the owner of the parcel of land known as Plots 89, 91 and 93, DaCosta Layout, Onike, Iwaya, Lagos State, which parcel of land is covered by Title No. MO. 10246, and that by virtue of the Land Use Act, 1978 and section 6(3) of the Registration of Titles Law (Cap. 166) Vol. 7, Laws of Lagos State, he is entitled to a certificate of occupancy in respect of the said parcel of land. The reliefs claiming for damages and injunction are dismissed. I award the sum of N10,000.00 as costs to the appellant against the respondents.”
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
Sections 5, 6(3), 48, 54, 60, 61, 65(2), Registration of Titles Law, Lagos State, 1994.
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ ESSENCE OF REGISTRATION OF TITLE – ACQUIRING INDEFEASIBLE RIGHT
As observed by the Privy Council in Gibbs v. Messer (1891) A.C. 248 at 254, per Lord Watson delivering the judgment of the Board in regard to a similar law as to registration of title: “The object is to save persons dealing with registered proprietors from the trouble and expense of going behind the register, in order to investigate the history of their author’s [i.e. vendor’s] title, and to satisfy themselves of its validity. That end is accomplished by providing that everyone who purchases in bona fide and for value, from a registered proprietor, and enters his deed of transfer or mortgage on the register, shall thereby acquire an indefeasible right, notwithstanding the infirmity of his author’s title.”
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)