⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Pius Umeadi & Ors v. Victor Chibunze & Anor (2020) – SC
1. PIUS UMEADI;
2. JONAS UMEADI;
3. CLEMENT UMEADI;
4. CHIGOZIE UMEADI;
5. CHARLES UMEADI;
6. NKEKE UMEADI;
7. TOCHUKWU ECHEZONA;
8. OKECHUKWU ECHEZONA;
9. ANTHONY ECHEZONA;
10. MARCEL NWANA;
11. NWANKWO NGENE
1. VICTOR CHIBUNZE;
2. WILLIAMS CHIBUNZE
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
CHIMA CENTUS NWEZE, J.S.C.
⦿ LAWYERS WHO ADVOCATED
* FOR THE APPELLANT
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
At the High Court of Anambra State [Trial Court, for short], the respondents in this appeal, as plaintiffs, took out a Writ of Summons against the appellant herein [as defendants].
They sought the following declaratory and injunctive reliefs:
(a) A declaration that the land in dispute is the exclusive property of the plaintiffs and are entitled to the customary right of occupancy in and over the said land called “Ishiekpe;”
(b) A mandatory injunctive order on the defendants to rebuild the damaged house of the first plaintiff which they destroyed;
(c) N10,000 (Ten Thousand Naira only) (sic) damages for trespass;
(d) A perpetual injunction to restrain the defendants by themselves, agents, privies, servants, workmen or whomsoever from further acts of waste and trespass on the land.
The High Court gave judgement in favour of the plaintiffs.
The defendant, herein Appellant, appealed to the Court of Appeal, which dismissed the appeal. The defendant herein have further appealed to this Court.
1. Whether the respondents established by cogent evidence the custom that a family member who defends family land by oath taking automatically became the exclusive owner of such family land so as to entitle them to the declaration they sought?
2. Was the Court below right when it affirmed the decision of the Trial Court that burden of proof shifted to the appellants when the Respondent failed to discharge the initial burden of proof?
⦿ HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. Like the Lower Courts, I find that the respondents established, by cogent evidence, the custom that a family member who defends family land by oath taking, automatically, becomes the exclusive owner of such family land. They (the respondents) are entitled to the declaration they sought.
2. ISSUE 2 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. In this instant matter, there is no evidence that the alleged custom of the people of Amansea and Igbos in general relating to oath-taking has been judicially noticed by our Courts. In effect, the burden of proof was on the appellants to prove by evidence that in Amansea, in particular, and Igbo land, in general, that practice of oath taking in land dispute must be supported had been applied for long period of time that is has now obtained the force of law.
On the issue of family land, I. A. Umezulike J. in his Book, A.B.C. of Contemporary Land Law in Nigeria pages 295 to 297 stated it as it is thus: “By definition, family land is land which vests in a group of persons and their children. It could also refer to land which had vested upon individuals who have descended from a common ancestry or pedigree, and including, of course, those such as domestics and strangers who have been incorporated into the family by the founder. At the death of the founder, all the empty land, farm land and houses acquired by him in his life time become family property. In plain language, the land belongs to the family of the said founder as a corporate entity in which case they become inalienable (which means that family land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living and countless are still unborn) or they become distributable to the members of the founder’s family as defined by him during his lifetime.”; “Hence, every member of the family has or enjoys a locus-standi to institute an action in respect of any wrong or illegal dealings with the property. And the right of action to protect family property avails the individual member even if he has not the authority of the family to bring the action. In other words, any member of family no matter how insignificant he may be considered can bring an action to protect a family land. This tends to make sale of family property uncertain and insecure. We say so because conveyancers approach such sale with the defective eye. This is because a disgruntled member of the family can emerge at anytime or many years after sale to raise sundry objections. A purchaser of a family land does not therefore know how many years he would enjoy the land before counting his blessing. This is because after a decade or more, the sale could be truncated at the suit of an aggrieved family.”
⦿ SOME PROVISIONS
⦿ RELEVANT CASES
Tobi, JSC, explained in Onyenge and Ors v. Loveday Ebere and & Ors  6 SCNJ 126: “where parties decide to be bound by traditional arbitration resulting in oath taking, common law principles in respect of proof of title to land no longer apply. In such situation, the proof of ownership or title to land will be based on the rules set by traditional arbitration resulting in oath-taking. In arbitration under customary law, the applicable law is customary law and not the common law principle with their characteristic certainty and ossification.”
Omaye v Omagu (2008) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1087) 447, where it was held that “Customary Law is unwritten and it depends on what the appropriate authority believes or is persuaded to believe by evidence as the customary law.”
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
The Appellants have not been able to establish that the concurrent judgments of the two Courts below were perverse or unreasonable, and that they occasioned any miscarriage of justice to them. Those are the only grounds or bases for the Apex Court to intervene and disturb such concurrent judgments on facts. – Ejembi Eko, JSC. Umeadi v. Chibunze (2020)
I need to place on record in reiteration that where parties who believe in the efficacy of a juju resort to oath-taking to settle a dispute they are bound by the result and so the common law principles in respect of proof of title to land no longer applies since the proof of ownership of title to land will be based on the rules set out by the traditional arbitration resulting to oath-taking. – Peter-Odili, JSC. Umeadi v. Chibunze (2020)
Oath-taking is a valid process under customary law arbitration and it is one of the methods known to customary law for establishing the truth of a matter. – Peter-Odili, JSC. Umeadi v. Chibunze (2020)