⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Mrs. Lois Chituru Ukeje & Anor v. Mrs Gladys Ada Ukeje (2014) – SC
⦿ LITE HOLDING
The law that dis-inherits children from their deceased father’s estate. It follows therefore that the Igbo native law and custom which deprives children born out of wedlock from sharing the benefit of their father’s estate is conflicting with section 42(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
⦿AREA OF LAW
– Law of Succession (female inheritance).
– documentary evidence.
– oral evidence.
– Igbo custom.
Mrs. Lois Chituru Ukeje & Anor.
Mrs Gladys Ada Ukeje
(2014) JELR 42212 (SC)
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Olabode Rhodes-vivour, JSC
* FOR THE APPELLANT
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
On the 27th day of December 1961 Lazarus Ogbonnaga Ukeje a native of Umahia in Imo State died intestate. He had real property in Lagos State and for most of his life was resident in Lagos State. The 1st appellant got married to the deceased on the 13th of December 1956. There are four children of the marriage. The respondent is one of four.
After Lazarus Ogbonnaga Ukeje died, the 1st and 2nd appellants’ (mother and son) obtained letters of Administration for and over the deceased’s Estate. On being aware of this development the plaintiff/respondent filed an action in court wherein she claimed to be a daughter of the deceased and by virtue of that fact had a right to partake in the sharing of her late father’s estates.
Her claims before a Lagos High Court were for: 1. A declaration that the plaintiff, as a daughter of one L.O. Ukeje (deceased), is the person entitled to the estate or one of the person entitled to share in the estate of the said L.O Ukeje (deceased). 2. An order that the grant of Letters of Administration dated 15th June, 1982 made to the 1st and 2nd defendants in respect of the estate of the said L. O. Ukeje (deceased) be revoked and declaring the same to be null and void to all intents and purposes in law. 3. An order of injunction restraining the 1st and 2nd defendants from administering the estate of the said L.O. Ukeje (deceased) and relying on the said Letters of Administration dated 15/6/82 granted to them and/or holding themselves out as administrators of the said estate to members of the public and/or transacting any business with any person in respect of the said estate of the said L.O. Ukeje (deceased). 4. An order that the 1st and 2nd defendants prepare an inventory of all and singular the estate and/or render account of all monies, transactions and/or properties which have come into their possession since the grant of the said Letters of Administration of the estate of Mr. L.O. Ukeje (deceased). 5. An order that the grant of Letters of Administration of the said L. O. Ukeje (deceased) be made to the plaintiff and the second defendant.
In a judgment delivered on 10/1/92 the learned trial judge, Fafiade J found that the plaintiff is a daughter of L.O. Ukeje (deceased) and proceeded to grant reliefs 2, 3, and 4. As regards relief 5 the learned trial judge ordered the 1st and 2nd defendants/appellants to hand over the administration of the estate to the Administrator General pending when the five children (the plaintiff/respondent inclusive) would choose 3 or 4 of them to apply for fresh letters of Administration.
The defendants/appellants’ lodged an appeal. The Court of Appeal Lagos (Division) agreed with the learned trial judge. That court dismissed the appeal for lacking, merit. This appeal is against that judgment.
Whether the respondent as plaintiff proved that she is a biological daughter of L.O. Ukeje (deceased).
Was the evidence of DW8 discredited in the High Court?
Did the trial court arrive at its decision after following the proper guidelines for decision making laid down by the Supreme Court?
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. Under this subsection the court will presume a document to be authentic if the contents on the face of the said document were properly done and the document is properly executed by the authorized Government Official. I must say that a birth certificate is conclusive proof that the person named therein was born on the date stated, and the parents are those spelt out in the document. Once the authorized Government official appends his signature and stamp on the document and such authentication is not contested by the adverse party the presumption of regularity will be ascribed to it. It has not been disputed that the respondent was born in Lagos on the 5th of July, 1952 and her birth was registered in Lagos in August 1952. Her parents are L.O. Ukeje (deceased) and PW2. Since the appellants’ did not rebut the presumption of regularity the finding of fact by the trial court remains unassailable. L.O. Ukeje (deceased) is the biological father of the respondent. Exhibit H is authentic, it is genuine. The Court of Appeal drew the right conclusion in respect of Exhibit H, Exhibit M, M1.
ii. Learned counsel for the appellants only contested exhibit H, M and M1 to show that the respondent is not the daughter of the deceased. The respondent also relied on exhibit 3 – Guarantors Form, and exhibit J – judgment in her divorce case. The respondent, testified as plaintiff on 8/1/90 that when she wanted to obtain a new Passport the deceased, L.O. Ukeje filled the Guarantors Form for her and acknowledged that he was the father of the plaintiff. The Guarantors Form is exhibit 5 and it supports her testimony. Furthermore the respondent was married to a German National. Somewhere along the line her marriage collapsed. In the divorce suit she is referred to as Nee Ukeje.
2. ISSUE 2 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENT.
i. To my mind after reviewing the testimony of DW8, his cross-examination and the observations of the learned trial judge and the Court of Appeal I would hold that the evidence of DW8 was not discredited in the High Court, rather, not much weight was attached to it by the learned trial judge as she found the evidence speculative and the witness not properly qualified.
3. ISSUE 3 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT. THE COURT STATED THAT THE TRIAL COURT ARRIVED AT THE PROPER DECISION.
⦿ ENDING NOTE BY LEAD JUSTICE – Per
In the light of all that I have been saying, the appeal is dismissed. In the spirit of reconciliation parties to bear their own costs.
Section 42(1), (a), (2) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
⦿ SOME PROVISION(S)
Section 114(1) of the Evidence Act which states that: “The Court shall presume every document purporting to be a certificate, certified copy or other document, which it by law declared to be admissible as evidence of any particular fact and which purports to be duly certified by any officer in Nigeria who is duly authorized thereto to be genuine, provided that such document is substantially in the Form and purports to be executed in the manner directed by law in that behalf.”
⦿ RELEVANT CASE(S)
⦿ CASE(S) RELATED
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
This Court and indeed an Appeal Court has the power to adopt or formulate issues that in its view would determine the real complaints in an appeal. – Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
The position of the law is that once documentary evidence supports oral evidence, such oral evidence becomes more credible. The reasoning is premised on the fact and the law that documentary evidence serves as a hanger from which to assess oral testimony. – Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
If I may add, the duty of the trial court is to receive all relevant evidence. That is perception. Thereafter the judge is to weigh the evidence in the context of the surrounding circumstances of the case. That is evaluation. A finding of fact involves both perception and evaluation. – Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
When there is an appeal where there is a finding of fact affirmed by the Court of Appeal, this court would presume that the trial judge’s conclusions are correct. This is so since the trial judge was the only judge who saw and heard the witnesses. When the Court of Appeal affirms the conclusions of the trial court the presumption becomes much stronger. The presumption can only be displaced by the appellant who seeks, to upset the judgment on facts. – Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
This court would be quick to reverse concurrent findings of fact if there was miscarriage of justice or a violation of some principle of law or procedure or the finding, is found to be perverse. – Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
The respondent, as plaintiff produced exhibits M, M1 photograph and negative to support averment in her pleadings that she is the daughter of L.O. Ukeje (deceased). The defendant/appellant denied the averment in the plaintiff’s pleadings. At that stage pleadings are settled. At trial, if the defendant seeks to disprove the plaintiffs documentary evidence (i.e. exhibits M, M1) which was used to support her claim to being the daughter of the deceased, the defendant is not bound to plead that the plaintiff’s documentary evidence is false, fraudulent or forged. The defendant is to cross-examine him and lead evidence to show beyond reasonable doubt that exhibit M, M1 are forgeries. This the defendants appellants were unable to do. – Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
This appeal is on the paternity of the respondent. Whether the respondent is a daughter of L.O. Ukeje (deceased). L.O. Ukeje deceased is subject to the Igbo Customary Law. Agreeing with the High Court the Court of Appeal correctly found that the Igbo native law and custom which disentitles a female from inheriting, in her late father’s estate is void as it conflicts with sections 39(1)(a) and (2) of the 1979 Constitution (as amended). This finding was affirmed by the Court of Appeal. There is no appeal on it. The finding remains inviolate. – Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
No matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child, such a child is entitled to an inheritance from her late father’s estate. Consequently the Igbo customary law which disentitles a female child from partaking, in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate is in breach of section 42 (1) and (2) of the Constitution, a fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigerian. The said discriminatory customary law is void as it conflicts with section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution. – Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
All they are saying is that it was not the late Ukeje who gave information for the registration of the birth of the Respondent in 1952. But, where is the evidence? It is not enough for a party to make an allegation before a court, he must lead credible evidence to prove same. – Inyang Okoro, JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)
I also agree that by virtue of Section 42(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (then S.39 (1) of 1979 constitution), any customary law which says or tends to suggest that a female child cannot inherit the property of her father, is not only unconstitutional but also null and void. – Inyang Okoro JSC. Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014)