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DENYING LANDLORD’S TITLE UNDER CUSTOMARY LAW WARRANTS FORFEITURE

Dictum

There is no doubt that from the pleading and the evidence the respondents have denied the title of the appellants which is an act of misconduct under customary law. It is an act of misbehaviour which attracts the penalty of forfeiture Ojomu v. Ajao (1983) 2 SCNLR 156; Josiah Aghenghen & Ors. v. Chief Maduku Waghoreghor (1974) 1 S.C.1, Ajani Taiwo & Ors. v. Adamo Akinwumi & Ors. (1975) 4 S.C. 143.

— Olatawura, JSC. Ogunola v. Eiyekole (1990) – SC.195/1987

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CUSTOM CAN BE PROVED BY A SINGLE WITNESS

In the cited case of Usiobaifo v. Usiobaifo (2005) 3 NWLR (Pt. 913) 665 Tobi JSC at pp. 683 – 684 paragraphs H D clarified the position thus – “The main crux of this appeal is whether the respondents proved the Ishan Customary Law of inheritance. The appellants submitted that they did not. The respondents submitted that they did prove the customary law. It is the argument of the appellants that a person other than the party asserting the custom should testify in proof or in support thereof. Although learned counsel cited Ozolua II v. Ekpenga and Oyediran v. Alebiosu (supra), it is my humble view that proof of customary law is not one of the areas in our adjectival law that need corroboration. While it could be desirable that a person other than the person asserting the Customary Law should testify in support of the customary law, it is not a desideratum. This is because the Evidence Act does not so provide. And here, Section 14(1) provides the anchor. The subsection merely provides that a custom ‘can be proved to exist by evidence.’ And evidence can be led on the existence of the custom by a single witness or more witnesses. It is not my understanding of the law that a village or community of witnesses must be called to satisfy the provision of Section 14(1). In the evidential scene in the context of probative value, it is not the number of witnesses that matter but the quality of the evidence given. And so, a situation may arise where a single witness gives credible evidence while a number of witnesses may not because they are a bundle of contradictions. Therefore emphasis should be on quality of the evidence given rather than the quantity.” (Underlining supplied for emphasis)

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CUSTOMARY LAW IS A QUESTION OF FACT TO BE PROVED

It is well settled that customary law is a question of fact to be proved by evidence. See Section 14 of Evidence Law. Hence a party who alleges the existence of a particular custom must adduce sufficient evidence in support and to establish its existence to the satisfaction of the court. See Inyang v Ita (1929) 9 NLR 84. But there comes a time when by frequent litigation in the courts, a point of customary law has been sufficiently ruled upon, the courts will no longer require proof, and would be prepared to take judicial notice of it. See Angu v Attah, PC 74, 28, 43; Buraimo v Gbamgboye (1940) 15 NLR 139; Giwa v Erimolokun (1961) 1 All NLR 294, 1 SCNLR 337. The burden is on the defendants to establish the custom they rely upon for their defence. Balogun v Labiran (1988) 3 NWLR (Part 80) 66. Indeed only a single decision, sufficiently cogent and authoritative would be sufficient – Larinde v Afiko (1940) 6 WACA 108, but see Cole v Akinyele (1960) 5 FSC 84; (1960) SCNLR 192; Folami & others v Cole & others (1990) 2 NWLR (Part 133) 445.

– Karibe-Whyte JSC. Agbai v. Okogbue (1991) – SC 104/1989

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PATERNITY ACKNOWLEDGED CHILD WILL SHARE IN ESTATE

Alake v. Pratt (1955) 15 W.A.C.A. 20, to the effect that if paternity of children is acknowledged by a man during his lifetime they are to be regarded as legitimate and entitled to share in his estate with his children born of a marriage contracted under the Marriage Ordinance.

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NATIVE LAW AND CUSTOM MUST BE PLEADED

The burden of proof of customary law is on the party asserting its existence. See Usibiafo v. Usibiafo (2005) 3 NWLR (Pt.913) 665 at 684; Sokwo v. Kpongbo (supra). It has been established through plethora of cases that it is extremely important that native law and custom must be pleaded and strictly proved by credible evidence. This case is not predicated on proof by the mode of judicial notice, but by proof of evidence.

— T. Akomolafe-Wilson, JCA. Alabi v Audu (2017) – CA/A/494/2014

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IN CUSTOMARY LAW, PAYMENT OF PURCHASE PRICE PASSES TITLE

It is settled law that it is for a party to a contract to take all necessary precautions in order to avoid a bad bargain. See Owo v. Kasumu (1932) 11 NLR 116; the maxim is caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). It is the vendor’s duty, however, to disclose defects in his title. The law is that in a transaction of sale of land under customary law, once there is payment of the purchase price of the land to the purchaser in the presence of witnesses, title in the land passes to the purchaser. See Ogunbambi v. Abowaba 13 WACA. 222; Cole v. Folami (1956) SCNLR 180; (1956)1 FSC 66 and Ashaye v. Akerele (1968) NMLR. 190. In the instant case, no such customary sale did indeed take place and the trial court rightly so found. This is because the respondent did not pay the full price for the 4 plots of land he purported to purchase from the appellants for 950pounds with a balance of 250pounds left unpaid. The attributes of a void sale being therefore absent from the purported sale to the respondent, title thereto not having passed, the court below seriously erred when it held that under customary law the legal representatives of Jemi-Alade transferred the ownership of the land in dispute on the part-payment of the purchase price thereof.

— Onu, JSC. Odusoga v Ricketts (1997) – SC.57/1990

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WHAT JUDGE MAY DO WHEN CUSTOMARY LAW IS NOT PLEADED

When the learned trial Judge felt convinced that the fact of the customary law of Enugu-Ukwu relevant and material to the case ought to have been pleaded and proved, but was not, he could not have suggested to the respondents (plaintiffs before the court) to amend their pleadings. To have done so would have meant that he was aiding them to establish their case. But he could have advised himself that unless pleadings were duly amended, he could not raise the lack of proof of the fact, material as it was, suo motu, and proceeded to make an order of striking out on that ground. He could have properly called on counsel on both sides at the address stage of the proceedings to address him on the propriety of a non-suit as, unlike in Lagos State, for which see Anyakwo v. A.C.B. Ltd. (1976) 2 S.C. 41, pp. 55-65; Lawal v. National Electric Power Authority (1976) 3 S.C. 109, p.135, a decree of non-suit is still available in Anambra.

— Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Ugo v Obiekwe (1989) – SC.207/1985

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