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Ijesha community lose out on Ogun land to Sowemimo Family

“THE appellants in the instant case having not discharged the duty the law places on them of demonstrating that the concurrent findings of fact of the two lower courts are perverse cannot, therefore, succeed. Having resolved all the three issues the appellants formulated for the determination of their appeal against them, I find the appeal for that reason devoid of merit. Same is hereby dismissed at a cost of N100,000 in favour of the respondent.”

With these words, Justice Musa Muhammad of the Supreme Court dismissed the ownership claim of Ijesha community in Abeokuta represented by Chief James Oluseyi Olonade to two parcels of land, No 82 and 86 Sokenu Road, Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The court also upheld the respondent’s claim, Joseph Sowemimo’s family, represented by one Babatunde Sowemimo to the disputed property.

The present appeal arose the judgment of the Ibadan Division of the Court of Appeal, which had affirmed the decision of the Ogun State High Court.

According to the facts of the case, the appellants as plaintiffs at the trial court, for themselves and on behalf of the Ijesha Community of Abeokuta, sued the respondent who, in addition to being the defendant, also counter-claimed for himself and on behalf of his family.

Appellants’ claim as contained their further amended statement of claim is for forfeiture, declaration of title, damages and injunction. But, the respondent’s counter claim is for declaration of title, damages and perpetual injunction in respect of the same piece of land to which appellants’ claim relates.

Plots No. 82 and 86 along Sokenu Road at Oke Ijeun in Abeokuta were in contention between the parties.

The appellants asserted that the plots form part of the land granted by the Egbas to Ijesha people led by their ancestor Adeleke; that after the grant to them by the Egbas, the Ijeshas have continued to exercise various acts of ownership in relation to the parcel granted to them which acts include grants to many people with respondent’s father, Sowemimo, being one such beneficiary. The grant made to Sowemimo by the appellants’ ancestors is under customary tenancy.

It was also appellants’ case that respondent’s father had built two houses on the land in dispute and, contrary to the terms of the tenancy between them, abandoned the two plots. This explains the re-entry into the land by the Ijesha people who thereafter let the two plots to one Alhaji Saubane Olaogun, the Asiri Abo. The said Olaogun has developed the two plots and rented same out to tenants on behalf of the Ijesha Community.

The respondent, on the other hand, claimed that his father derived title to the two plots following absolute grant by Ijeun people, the original owners. The grant to respondent’s ancestor was made many years before the settlement of the Ijesha Community on a nearby land. The respondent denied his father ever being a tenant to the Ijesha Community. He insisted that the appellants are trespassers.

In its decision, the trial court found that the Ijeshas were not the original owners of the land in dispute and that Sowemimo, respondent’s father, had built his two houses on the land in dispute, which he acquired from the Ijeuns long before the settlement of the ljesha Community in Abeokuta. The court further held that there couldn’t have been any customary tenancy, therefore, between the Ijeshas and respondent’s father.

Consequently, the court dismissed appellants’ claim and granted respondent’s counter-claim in part. It was the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ appeal against the decision of the trial court by the court below that brought about the appeal.

At the hearing of the appeal, appellants’ reply brief, was adopted and relied upon by counsel as parties’ respective arguments for or in opposition to the appeal.

Respondent’s brief contained arguments on the preliminary objection he earlier filed against the competence of the appeal. But that was not pursued and deemed abandoned.

Whether the Justices of the Court of Appeal werenotwrong orcommitted misdirection of law when they confirmed the granting of the respondent’s counter-claim based on two contradictory roots of his title to the land in dispute

Whether the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were not wrong in confirming the judgment of the trial court based on acts of possession as opposed to the unproved root of title as pleaded.

Whether the Justices of Appeal (sic) were not wrong in their holding that although the learned trial judge directed the visitation to the locus-in-quo, the failure to eventually visit the locus in quo before judgment did not occasion miscarriage of justice.

The lower court, it was contended, found that respondent’s counter-claim was based on two contradictory roots of title. These findings notwithstanding, the lower court, in spite of the unchallenged evidence of the record, proceeded not only to affirm the trial court’s dismissal of appellants’ claim but its partial grant of respondent’s counter-claim.

The lower court’s failure to make specific pronouncement on respondent’s contradictory root of title and its affirmation of the trial court’s findings in spite of the absence of evidence to support respondent’s pleadings was to be fatal.

Responding, counsel submitted that appellants’ argument under their first issue was misconceived.

The respondent, it was argued, neither pleaded contradictory roots of title nor did the lower court in its judgment make any such finding.

The respondent, it was submitted, in his further amended statement of defence succinctly pleaded his root of title and relied on traditional history to prove his claim.

Nowhere, it was further submitted, has any contradictory fact in relation to respondent’s counter-claim been pleaded. Appellants’ arguments in respect of this issue, which neither emanated from respondent’s pleadings nor the lower court’s findings, contended counsel, remained unfounded, disingenuous and incompetent. It was urged that in resolving the issue against the appellants the ground of appeal, the issue distilled from same and the arguments advanced thereon be ignored.

In the final analysis, the apex’s court said the two courts below made concurrent findings on the above crucial issue, which had not been demonstrated to be perverse or against the current of plausible evidence accepted by the trial court and affirmed by the court below.

“This court does not form the habit of interfering in such situations. I shall not interfere. For the above reason and of course the detailed ones adumbrated in the lead the judgment, which I seek leave to adopt, I too feel that the appeal lacks merit and should be dismissed. I order accordingly and abide by the consequential orders therein made; that relating to costs inclusive.”

This item featured originally in Guardian News

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