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Abraham Oyeniran & Ors. v. James Egbetola & Anor. (1997)

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⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:

Abraham Oyeniran & Ors. v. James Egbetola & Anor. (1997) – SC

by PaulPipar

⦿ THEME(S)

Jurisdiction;
Customary land;
Land Use Act;
Occupancy rights;

⦿ PARTIES

APPELLANT
1. ABRAHAM OYENIRAN
2. JABARU ASHIRU
3. SALAWU BANGBADE
4. SALIMONU OLAITAN

v.

RESPONDENTS
1. JAMES EGBETOLA
2. DANIEL OLAGUNDE

⦿ CITATION

(1997) LPELR-2876(SC);
(1997) 5 NWLR (Pt.504);

⦿ COURT

Supreme Court

⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:

Uthman Mohammed, JSC

⦿ LAWYERS WHO ADVOCATED

* FOR THE APPELLANT

– Mr. Bada

* FOR THE RESPONDENT

– Chief O. Afolabi

⦿ FACT

The claim of the plaintiffs, who are respondents in this appeal, as per their writ of summons, is as follows: “(i) Declaration that the plaintiffs, by customary occupation are entitled to the customary right of occupancy to the plaintiff’s Songbe/Idi-Iroko Farmland situate lying and being at Songbe/Idi-Iroko, Kuta in Iwo East Local Government Area of Oshun Division of Oyo State of Nigeria; (Relevant Plan of the said disputed land to be filed with the Statement of Claim will show specific delimitations.) (ii) N1000 being General Damages against the defendants for trespass committed upon the said farmland by the said defendants and/or their agents between February and May, 1982. (iii) Injunction restraining the defendants, their agents, servants and/or privies from further acts of trespass upon the said farmland.”

From the reliefs claimed in the Writ of Summons, the parties are in dispute over title to a piece of farmland at Songbe/Idi-Iroko, Kuta, in Iwo East Local Government Area, now in Osun State. At the conclusion of the trial the learned trial Judge, in a considered judgment, found in favour of the plaintiffs/respondents and granted all the reliefs sought for in the writ.

Available:  Incorporated Trustees of Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative & Ors. v NIMC (2021) - CA

Dissatisfied with the decision of the trial High Court the appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal. At the Court of Appeal the appellants brought in for the first time the issue of jurisdiction. Ground 5 reads: “The learned trial Judge erred in law when he assumed jurisdiction over the land in dispute and which land is subject to Customary Right of Occupancy.” Two issues were raised in respect of Ground 5. They are: “(i) Whether the High Court had jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter before it having regard to the provisions of the Land Use Act 1978, particularly sections 39 and 41 thereof. (ii) Whether there is anything on the record to show that the land in dispute is in a rural area.”

The Court of Appeal considered all the issues including the issue questioning the jurisdiction of the High Court to adjudicate in the matter and in a considered judgment, it dismissed the appeal.

The appellants have further appealed to this court on five grounds of appeal.

⦿ ISSUE(S)

1. Whether the Court of Appeal was right to have upheld the trial Judge’s finding that the State High Court has jurisdiction over land the subject matter of a Customary Right of Occupancy?

⦿ HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI

[APPEAL: ALLOWED]

1. For ISSUE 1, the Supreme Court held that the high court had no original jurisdiction in respect of Customary right of occupancy.

⦿ REFERENCED

⦿ SOME PROVISIONS

Section 19 of the High Court Law of Oyo State (now applicable to Osun State): “The High Court shall have appellate jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from Customary Courts and appeals from decisions of Magistrates on appeal from Customary Courts in accordance with provisions of any law relating thereto.”

Available:  Remilekun Olaiya v. Mrs. Cornelia T. Olaiya & Ors. (2002) - SC

Sections 39(1) and 41 of the Land Use Act, 1978:
“39(1) The High Court shall have exclusive original jurisdiction in respect of the following proceedings:
(a) Proceedings in respect of any land the subject of a statutory right of occupancy granted by the Military Governor or deemed to be granted by him under this Decree; and for the purpose of this paragraph proceedings includes proceedings for a declaration of title to a statutory right of occupancy;
(b) Proceedings to determine any question as to the person entitled to compensation payable for improvements on land under this Decree.
(2) All laws, including rules of court, regulating the practice and procedure of the High Court shall apply in respect of proceedings to which this section relates and the laws shall have effect with such modifications as would enable effect to be given to the provisions of this section.”

The provisions of section 41 reads:
“41. An Area Court or Customary Court or other Court of equivalent jurisdiction in a State shall have jurisdiction in respect of proceedings in respect of customary right of occupancy granted by a Local Government under this Decree; and for the purposes of this paragraph proceedings includes proceedings for a declaration of title to a Customary Right of Occupancy and all laws including rules of court regulating practice and procedure of such courts shall have effect with such modifications as would enable effect to be given to this section”.

⦿ RELEVANT CASES

In Sadiku v. Dalori (supra) Wali J.S.C., in the lead judgment, which he wrote, affirmed a decision of the Court of Appeal, Jos Division, that the High Court had no original jurisdiction to determine a matter which concerns proceedings involving a grant of a Customary Right of Occupancy by a Local Government.

Available:  Kossen (Nig.) Limited & Anor v. Savannah Bank of Nig. Limited (1995) - SC

This was the view held by Karibi Whyte, J.S.C., although obiter, in the case of Alhaji Baba Bakin Salati v. Alhaji Talle Shehu (supra) wherein he opined at page 76 thus: “39(1) Specifically relates to “proceedings in respect of any land subject of a statutory right of occupancy granted by the Military Governor or deemed to be granted …” On the other hand Section 41 confers jurisdiction on Area Courts or Customary Courts or Courts of equivalent jurisdiction in respect of customary right of occupancy granted by a Local Government under this Act. There is no ambiguity in the two sections that the exclusive original jurisdiction in respect of land held under statutory right of occupancy is vested in the High Court of the State, whereas jurisdiction in respect of customary right of occupancy is vested in the Area or Customary Courts. The exercise of these jurisdiction will seem to me mutually exclusive. There is no doubt therefore that the one cannot exercise the jurisdiction of the other.”

⦿ NOTABLE DICTA

* PROCEDURAL

The first point to consider before going into the issue of jurisdiction is the location of the land in dispute. – Uthman Mohammed, JSC. Oyeniran v. Egbetola (1997)

* SUBSTANTIVE

It is my view that the legislature, by classification of land tenures and assigning jurisdiction to particular set of courts for determination of disputes arising from such land holdings, does not want the courts to exercise concurrent jurisdiction over such matters. – Uthman Mohammed, JSC. Oyeniran v. Egbetola (1997)

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