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Expert Opinion: The Relevance of a Survey Plan In Nigeria  

Some people like to ask ‘what exactly is the relevance of a survey plan?’.

A survey plan’s primary purpose is to prove the identity of a land which comes handy when a dispute ensues. A survey plan becomes of utmost importance for any success to be attained in any land suit. A plaintiff seeking for declaration of title to land has a cardinal duty to show with certainty, the area of land being claimed, failure to do so makes his or her claim to be at risk of being dismissed.

Hence, a land survey plan is a specialized map of a parcel of land, created by thoroughly examining and measuring the property. It determines and delineates boundary locations, building locations, physical features and other items of spatial importance. More than just a diagram of the property, a land survey plan is an important legal document that displays the exact legal borders of the property and applicable aspects of the registered title.

The purpose of a survey plan in a land dispute is to show graphically the morphology of an area in dispute, its extent and size. Where a plaintiff desires to draw up or cause to be drawn up a survey plan showing the land in dispute, such a plan must show clearly the dimensions of the land, the boundaries and other salient features. That is how delicate a survey plan is.

There are instances when a land survey plan becomes inconsequential in a land litigation or in the proper determination of issues arising from a land suit. The court considers in such instances the necessity of survey plan for the proper trial of the action. Therefore a survey plan is not necessary in the following situations;

1. When there is a proper identification of the disputed land via the evidences put forward or admitted into court.

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2. Where the land in dispute is known to both parties or is clearly ascertainable whether from the averments in pleading or otherwise and its area, exact location and precise boundaries on the ground are either unmistakably and appropriately pleaded or are admitted or acknowledged by the defendant, the non-production in evidence of the survey plan of such land cannot be a matter of great moment and does not dis-entitle the plaintiff from maintaining an action in respect of title, trespass or injunction over such land.

However a survey plan becomes necessary when the following arise:

1.It is settled law that, where the identity of the land in dispute is in dispute, there is need to produce a survey plan particularly if the facts produced in evidence cannot establish with certainty, the identity of the said land.

2. Where parties file different survey plans on both side, it will be the duty of the party who disputes the identity of the land (and who wants to succeed), to file a composite plan where it becomes necessary or as the court may direct at the trial. The purpose of filing a composite plan is to fix and delimit the land in dispute.

3. Where a plaintiff pleads and serves the defendant a survey plan which is subsequently admitted in evidence as exhibit and which shows the boundaries and features on the land in dispute, this will constitute sufficient proof of the boundaries and features set out in the land in dispute.

A defendant who intends to challenge or dispute such boundaries or features as shown in the survey plan must do so by specifically traversing the plaintiff’s pleading in that regard, because a mere general traverse will be insufficient.

In the event that a plaintiff tenders a survey plan of the land in dispute, and the plan is admitted without objection while the defendant fails to file a counter claim, the defendant cannot be heard to contend that the plaintiff did not prove with certainty the boundaries of the land in dispute.

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What governs the admissibility of a survey plan?

Section 3 (1) (i) of the Survey Act Cap LFN 1990 which provides that unless a plan:
(i) Has been prepared and signed by a surveyor or is a copy of a plan so prepared and signed and certified by a surveyor as being a true copy, and

(ii) Has been examined by the Survey Department and bears the Counter-signature of the Director.
Where the identity of a land is in dispute and there is no cogent evidence on the identity of the land the party who pleads a survey plan ought to tender the plan at the trial. Where he fails to do so, the court is entitled to invoke Section 167 (d) of the Evidence Act.

If a party to a land in dispute has produced and tendered the survey plan showing, the area he is claiming with certainty and ascertainable boundaries, that party need not call a surveyor to testify before the courts.

It should be noted that, if the defendant fails to raise the issue of a survey plan at the trial when he had the opportunity to then it becomes unfair to deprive the plaintiff of the benefit of the judgement in his favour.

Inaccurate descriptions in the survey plan holds its implications, and may throw the judgement against you. It is therefore essential that a surveyor prepares plans which will not only capture the details of what their clients show them but also features which will help the court to form a good picture of the land and unless it is meant to fulfill said function it would be useless to the court in following the party’s case.

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Surveyors will do well to bear in mind the provisions of section 8(1) of the Survey Act by which they will lose their licenses, if they make false or incorrect surveys or untrue report or plan. But more than that, the court has the power, if satisfied that the surveyor has made an inaccurate plan to punish him as for contempt of court.

In circumstances where having found a possible discrepancy in the two plans tendered and as no expert was called to explain the discrepancy, the trial court will not enter judgment in favour of the plaintiff for his claim.

Also, the court will not ascribe probative value to a survey plan which is bereft of features which can give the boundaries in it the character of certainty.

If an inaccurate plan is adduced in the court or the plaintiff’s evidence is at variance with his plan, the court will not make a declaration of title.

However, it is submitted that the proper order for the trial court to make in such circumstance is not one of dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim but a non-suit with liberty to the plaintiff to take fresh action after rectifying the survey plan.

The production of a survey plan is one of the ways in which evidence can be led to prove the identity of a person’s land.

A survey plan prepared by a licensed surveyor is the best way of discharging the onus of establishing an entitlement to a piece of land.

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