➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Ugugua Ukwa & Ors. v. Awka Local Council & Ors. (1965) – SC
by “PipAr” Branham-Paul C. Chima.
Supreme Court – SC. 633/1964
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, November 19, 1965
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
➥ PRINCIPLES OF LAW
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
➥ CASE FACT/HISTORY
The case of the appellants was that when the Eke Odenigbo market was abandoned in favour of Eke-Awka, the Ezi Awka people resumed dominion over it and demarcated its boundary with adjoining areas granted to the people of Awka with a line of Ogilisi trees. The respondents, however, interfered with the rights of the Ezi Awka people over the land by letting portions of it and felling five iroko trees on it.
The respondents’ case was that in 1936 the whole people of Awka agreed to have a meeting place and for that purpose the area in question was surrendered by the Ezi Awka people to the entire Awka community; the village hall was then built. As a result of a scheme of development prepared by one Mr Udeozo in 1945 more land adjoining the area in question was given up to the Awka community and on this area the Eke Awka market was established and the Igwebuike Grammar School built; the area was laid out in plots and let out to tenants, and three iroko trees were felled.
The plaintiffs, who are the appellants and represent the people of Ezi-Awka, had claimed title to and recovery of possession of an area of land called Eke Odenigbo; £3,100 as damages for trespass to the land and an injunction to restrain the defendants from entering into or remaining upon the area in question. The respondents who were defendants below are the Awka Local Council and four named members of it. At the conclusion of the case of the appellants at the trial the respondents through their counsel stated that title was not disputed and that original ownership was in the appellants.
The learned trial judge put the question in this way: “… the question arises, did this new creation lead to the abandonment of Eke Odenigbo as a market?” His answer was “I would arrive at the conclusion, in this respect, therefore, that, qua market there has never been a sufficient abandonment of the Eke Odenigbo to destroy its character as such.”
The Appellant has appealed.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION(S)
I. Has the new creation lead to the abandonment of Eke Odenigbo as a market?
RULING: Yes – IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT THE EARLIER PURPOSE HAD BEEN ABANDONED
“Throughout the respondents’ case it appears to be agreed that Eke Odenigbo was abandoned as a market and that a new market, Eke Awka, was established some distance away from the main road; Eke Odenigbo was then used as a motor park. We think that the learned trial Judge was mistaken when he concluded, in the face of all the evidence, that the area in question had not been abandoned as a market. The area was used as motor park and was laid out in building plots which, as the respondents themselves say, were let out to tenants.”
“The evidence that several people have been allocated plots on which they have built houses and for which they pay rents to the Council strengthens the evidence that the area was no longer being used as a market.”
II. Whether, assuming the area had been abandoned by the respondents, the appellants had resumed possession?
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT APPELLANT WAS ENTITLED TO POSSESSION MOMENT THE PURPOSE WAS ABANDONED
“We do not think the question is whether the appellants resumed possession, for, in our view, their right to recover possession revived when the area was abandoned in respect of the use for which it was originally given unless the grantors made a fresh grant or agreed to the land being used for some other purpose.”
III. Whether the Appellant is estopped by laches from asserting title to the land?
RULING: No – IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT NO EVIDENCE THE RESPONDENT HAS CHANGED HIS POSITION FOR THE WORSE
“With all respect to the learned trial Judge we do not agree that in the case under consideration the appellants were estopped by their conduct from asserting their titles. The doctrine of laches is that a person entitled to land should not stand by and allow another person who thinks the land is his to make improvements, and then assert his right to the land; he wants to take the improvements and cheat the other man of the expense he is making. In this case there is no evidence that the Council spent any money before the appellants’ eyes. It divided the Eke Odenigbo area into plots and gave them out to people to build on upon a charge of rent; but we do not see how any wrong is done to the Council if the tenants of the plots are told that they should now pay rent to the true owners of the land since, as we have pointed out, there is no evidence that the Council had changed its position for the worse or taken any irrevocable step which would make it inequitable to permit the appellants to assert their title and dominion over the land in dispute. For these reasons we think that the learned trial Judge should have declared the title of the appellants to the land in dispute and granted the injunction sought.”
IV. Whether the Appellant is entitled to damages for trespass?
RULING: No – IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT THE APPELLANT ACQUIESCED TO THE TRESPASS BY VIRTUE OF THE COUNCIL MANAGEMENT SINCE
“The claim for damages is on a different footing. The learned trial Judge found that for many years, the Council had been managing the land in dispute and its markets; collecting dues, making grants of portion of it to the appellants’ people and strangers until 1960, without let or hindrance from the appellants. The appellants clearly acquiesced in the Council’s management of the land in question, and cannot now complain of trespass by reason of the very fact of such management.”
“It is ordered that the appeal from the judgment of the High Court of Eastern Nigeria Onitsha in Suit 0/87/60 between 1. Ogugua Ukwa, 2. Nwogbo Okafor and 3. Nnameke Okafor (for themselves and on behalf of Ezi-Awka, Awka) and 1. Awka Local Council. 2. Edward Nwimo, 3. Oyeoka Agbata, 4. Nweke Nwanna and Lawrence Anwuna, BE ALLOWED; the judgment including the order for costs is set aside and a judgment that the plaintiffs are entitled to ownership and recovery of possession of the land Eke Odenigbo (edged in yellow on plan MEC/51/61 marked Exhibit 1) situate in Awka, and to an injunction restraining the defendants and by their servants and agents from further entering and or remaining upon or in any way interfering with the plaintiffs’ ownership and possession of the land be substituted. The appellants will have the costs of this appeal assessed at 50 guineas. The order made as to costs in the court below is hereby set aside. The plaintiffs will be entitled to costs in that court which are assessed at 200 guineas.”
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)