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WAYS OF PROVING OWNERSHIP OF AND TITLE TO A PIECE OF LAND

Dictum

“The law is trite that in claims for declaration of title to land, there are five recognised ways of proving ownership of and title to a piece of land; and they are: (a) by traditional history of the land which includes modes of acquisition of same by deforestation of the virgin forest by the first settler, conquest of the original owners through acts of war, gifts, etc; (b) by production of documents of title to the land; (c) acts of possession; (d) acts of selling or leasing portions of the land; and proof of possession of connected or adjacent land – Odunze V Nwosu (2007) LPELR-2252(SC) 67, C-F, per Onnoghen, JSC; Idundun V Okumagba (1976) 9-10 SC 227; Omoregie V Idugiemwanye (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt. 5) 41; Duru V Nwosu (1989) LPELR-968(SC) 33.”

— J.H. Sankey, JCA. Ibrahim Muli v Sali Akwai (2021) – CA/G/423/2019

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WHETHER ACTS OF LONG POSSESSION OF LAND IS SOLELY SUFFICIENT TO PROVE TITLE TO LAND

“Finally, on the issue of long possession, the law is settled that long possession alone cannot imbue title on a claimant where he is unable to prove his root of title and more so, in the face of a person who is in possession and asserts ownership of the land.”

— J.H. Sankey, JCA. Ibrahim Muli v Sali Akwai (2021) – CA/G/423/2019

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WHERE PARTY BASIS HIS TITLE ON GRANT BY CUSTOM IS TO PROVE GRANTOR’S TITLE

This court has made it clear in several decisions that if a party bases its title on a grant according to custom by a particular family or community, that party must go further to plead and prove the origin of the title of that particular person, family or community unless that title has been admitted. See on this Mogaji v. Cadbury Nigeria Ltd. (1985) 2 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 7) 393 at 431 also Elias v. Omo-Bare (1982) 5 S.C.25 at pp.57-58.

— Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Ogunleye v Oni (1990) – S.C. 193/1987

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REQUIRED EVIDENCE TO PROVE TRADITIONAL HISTORY

What are the averments which a party relying on traditional histories or evidence must incorporate into their pleadings? The Supreme Court in Lebile v. The Registered Trustees of Cherubium and Seraphim Church of Zion of Nigeria, Ugbonla and Ors. (2003) 2 NWLR (Pt.804) 399 per the judgment of Uwaifo, J.S.C. provided the answer at pages 418/419 thus: “It cannot be too often said that a party who relies on traditional history (which a claim to the finding of a village or town implies) would need to plead the names of his ancestors to narrate a continuous claim of devolution, not allowing there to be any gap or leading to a prima facie collapse of the traditional history. The history must show how the land by a system of devolution eventually came to be owned by the plaintiff.”

– Aderemi JCA. Irawo v. Adedokun (2004)

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WHERE IDENTITY OF LAND NOT IN DISPUTE, DECLARATION OF TITLE MAY BE MADE WITHOUT SURVEY PLAN

The first point that must be made is the basic principle of law that in a counter-claim, just like in any other claim for declaration of title to land, the onus lies on the claimant to prove with precision and certainty and without inconsistency the identity of the land to which his claim or counter-claim relates. See Onwuka v.Ediala (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt. 96) 182; Ezeokeke v. Umunocha Uga (1962) 1 All NLR 477. (1962) 2 SCNLR 199; Olusanmi v. Oshasona (1992) 6 NWLR (Pt. 245) 22 at 36, Udeze v. Chidebe (1990) 1 NWLR (Pt. 125) 141 etc. There can be no doubt that the most common and, perhaps, the easiest way of establishing the precise area of land in dispute is by the production of a survey plan of such land. It is, however, equally clear that it is not in all cases for declaration of title to land that it is necessary to survey and/or tender the survey plan of the land in dispute. There are many cases in which no survey plans are essential for a proper determination of the issue. What the court must consider is whether, in a particular case, it is necessary for the proper trial of the action for a survey plan to be produced. Where there is no difficulty in identifying the land in dispute, a declaration of title may be made without the necessity of tying it to a survey plan.

— Iguh, JSC. Kyari v Alkali (2001) – SC.224/1993

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WHAT CONSTITUTES A VALID TRANSFER OF A LEGAL TITLE

It is trite law that in order to constitute a transfer of legal title under English Law by purchase, there must be a valid sale, payment of money accompanied by acknowledgement of receipt and execution of a deed of conveyance. If a person sells his land to another and fails to put the person in possession, retains possession, the payment of money to the owner of a parcel of land does not per se amount to a transfer of title to the purchaser. The payment of purchase price must be accompanied either by a conveyance executed in favor of the purchaser to invest him with legal title or by entry into possession by the purchaser to give him equitable title to the land.

– Abiru, JCA. Okoli v. Gaya (2014)

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WHEN THERE ARE EQUAL EQUITIES IN A CLAIM FOR TITLE TO LAND

“The Appellant and the 3rd Respondent in this appeal were all claiming title to the subject property to wit: Right of Occupancy No. GM/14660 on plot E-43 on GDP/4 Layout situate at the City Center behind Federal Medical Center, Gombe. Both parties were claiming title to the land in dispute relying on the allocation made to them by the 1st and 2nd Respondents. Their title is therefore from the same source. The law in such a situation is settled, which is that, when the equities are equal the first in time will prevail and consequently be awarded title to the land. See Achilihu vs Anyatonwu (2013) 12 NWLR (pt 1368) 256.”

— E. Tobi, JCA. Umar Ibrahim v Nasiru Danladi Mu’azu & 2 Ors. (2022) – CA/G/317/2019

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