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CLAIM FOR TRESPASS COUPLED WITH INJUNCTION PUTS TITLE OF PARTIES IN ISSUE

Dictum

It is an elementary principle of law that whenever a claim for trespass is coupled with a claim for an injunction, the title of the parties to the land in dispute is automatically put in issue. See Akintola v. Lasupo (1991) 3NWLR (Pt.180) 508 at 515; Abotche Kponuglov. Kodadja(1933)2W ACA24; Okorie v. Udom (1960) 5 FSC 162, (1960) SCNLR 326; The Registered Trustees of the Apostolic Church v. Olowoleni (1990) 6 NWLR (PU58) 514. The position is even much stronger where, as in the present action, the plaintiff claims a declaration that he is the person entitled, as against the defendant, to occupation and possession of the piece or parcel of land in dispute. The present action involves not only damages for trespass and perpetual injunction, but a declaration as to the plaintiff’s entitlement to the occupation and possession of the land in dispute. It cannot be doubted, in these circumstances, particularly having regard to the pleadings filed in the suit and the evidence of the parties, that the title of the parties to the land in dispute is what is primarily in issue in the case. This is simply because the law is well settled that when the issue is as to which of two claimants has a better right to the possession or occupation of a piece or parcel of land in dispute, the law will ascribe such possession and/or occupation to the person who proves a better title thereto. See Aromire v. Awoyemi (1972) 1 All NLR (PU) 10 at 12 Fasoro v. Beyioku (1988) 2 NWLR (Pt.76) 263 etc. In the same vein, where two parties are on land claiming possession, the possession being disputed, trespass can only be at the suit of that party who can show that title of the land is in him. See Awoonor Renner v. Daboh (1935) 2 WACA 258 at 259 and 263 Umeobi v. Otukoya (1978) 4 SC 33.

— Iguh, JSC. Olohunde v. Adeyoju (2000) – SC.15/1995

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ONE ALLEGING TRESPASS IS TO PROVE TRESPASS

Accordingly, where one in possession of land is said to be a trespasser, the onus is on the person asserting such an allegation to establish that he has a better title to the land than the person in possession. See Pius Amakor v. Benedict Obiefuna (1974) 3 S.C. 67. (1974) 1 All NLR 119 OR (1974) NMLR 331. It will now be necessary to ascertain whether the appellant was able to prove a better title to the land in dispute than the 1st respondent.

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

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AN ACTION IN TRESPASS IS BASED ON EXCLUSIVE POSSESSION

An action In trespass Is based on exclusive possession of the land. See Mohammed Ojomu v. Salawu Ajao (1983) 9 S.C. 22; Amakor v. Obiefuna (1974) N.M.L.R. 331; (1974) 3S.C. 66. It lies against the whole world except one who can show a better title. See Aromire & Ors. v. Awoyemi (1972) 2 S.C. 1; Amakor v. Obiefuna (supra) at 77. Trespass is a wrong to possession. It constitutes the slightest disturbance to possession by a person who cannot show a better title. See Abotche Kponugho & Ors. v. Adja Kodadja (1933) 2 WA.C.A. 24 per Lord Alness. In order to succeed, a plaintiff must show that he is the owner of the land or that he had exclusive possession of it. A trespasser does not by the act of trespass secure possession in law from the person against whom he is in trespass. Jimoh Adelakun v. Sabitiyu Oduyele (1972) 6 S.C. 208 at 210. A trespasser without a claim of right is a trespasser ab initio and the onus is on him to prove that he has a better right to possession In order to succeed in the defence. See O. Solomon & Ors. v. A.R. Mogaji & Ors. (1982) 11 S.C. 1. When trespassers knowingly and unlawfully take possession of lands, the defence of laches is not available to them. See Lasupo Akanni & Ors. v. Makanju (1978) 11 & 12 S.C. 13 at 21.

— Obaseki, JSC. Foreign Finance Corp. v Lagos State Devt. & Pty. Corp. & Ors. (1991) – SC. 9/1988

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IN TRESPASS, TITLE SUPERCEDES EXCLUSIVE POSSESSION

Although generally speaking, a claim for trespass is rooted in exclusive possession or the right to such possession of the land in dispute, once a defendant claims to be the owner of the land in dispute, title to it is put in issue, and in order to succeed, the plaintiff must show a better title than that of the defendant: see Amakor v. Obiefuna (1974) 1 All NLR 119.

– Katsina-Alu, JSC. Dantsoho v. Mohammed (2003)

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TRESPASS TO LAND REPRESENT PAYMENT FOR TORT OF TRESPASS, NOT VALUE OF LAND

When general damages are sought on the basis of trespass to land, they would represent payment for the tort of trespass, not the value of the land; and the land remains at least under the possessory ownership or right of the plaintiff claimant.

— Uwaifo, JSC. Rockonoh v. NTP (2001) – SC.71/1995

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POSSESSION IS NECESSARY TO SUCCEED FOR ACTION OF TRESPASS

In order to succeed in an action of trespass to land, plaintiff must prove and have present exclusive possessory title i.e. he must be in exclusive occupation.

– Obaseki, JSC. Ekpan v. Agunu (1986)

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TRESPASS IS UNWARRANTED & UNJUSTIFIABLE ENTRY

Now, trespass is an unwarranted or unjustifiable entry or intrusion by one person upon land in possession of another. It does not depend on the intention of the trespasser. Nor can he plead ignorance as to true owner or that he thought the land belonged to him. It is enough that the right of the owner or person in exclusive possession was invaded. It is a settled principle of law that where a person who initially entered upon land lawfully or pursuant to an authority given by the true owner, or person in possession subsequently abuses his position or that authority, he becomes a trespasser ab initio, his conduct relating back so as to make his initial entry trespass.

– Katsina-Alu, JSC. Dantsoho v. Mohammed (2003)

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