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IN A CLAIM FOR DECLARATION TO TITLE TO LAND, THE PLAINTIFF MUST SUCCEED ON THE STRENGTH OF HIS CASE

Dictum

It is now well settled that in a claim for declaration of title to land, a plaintiff has the burden of proving his case on his own evidence and cannot rely on the weakness of the defendant’s case. If that burden is not discharged, the weakness of the defendant’s case will not help him and proper judgment will be for the defendant. See Kodilinye v. Odu (1935) 2 WACA 336 at 337; Odusanya v. Ewedemi (1962) 2 SCNLR 23, 1 All NLR 320; Atuanya v. Onyejekwe (1975) 3 SC. 161; Bashua v. Maja 11 SC. 143. However a plaintiff can take advantage of and rely upon evidence By the defence which supports his case. See Akinola v. Oluwa 1 SCNLR 352, (1962) WNLR 133. Realizing this principle of law, the learned counsel for the Appellants submitted in his brief that since both parties to the case agreed that the land in dispute was intimately connected with the Edo goddess, and the Chief Priest of Edo goddess had always come from the Appellant’s family, it necessarily followed that there had been a succession of Chief Priests who held the land in trust for the Appellants’ family which proved the root of their title. I do not think that this submission holds any water here. In the first place, the Appellants, apart from mentioning the names of Chief Priests who held that office in their family over the years, did not prove their ownership of the land or that they lived there without any interference, and in the second place, except the admission in the pleadings that the family of the Appellants produced the Chief Priests, no other evidence was given proving any title or ownership by the respondents at the trial. It is an after thought to bring it at this stage and cannot in my view be accepted to prove any root of title by the Appellants. Therefore the Akintola v. Oluwo case (supra) is not relevant here.

— U.A. Kalgo, JSC. Dike & Ors. V. Francis Okoloedo & Ors. (SC.116/1993, 15 Jul 1999)

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PROOF OF TITLE TO LAND BY TRADITIONAL HISTORY

One of these five methods or ways of proof of title is by traditional history of the land which includes modes of acquisition of same by deforestation of the virgin forest by the first settler and by proof of acts of long possession on and over the land in issue. — J.H. Sankey, JCA. Ibrahim Muli v Sali Akwai (2021) – CA/G/423/2019

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FIVE METHODS BY WHICH TITLE TO LAND MAY BE PROVED

In this regard, it is long settled that there are five methods by which ownership of land may be proved by a claimant. These are as follows: (i) By traditional evidence; (ii) By production of document of title which must be duly authenticated; (iii) By the exercise of numerous and positive acts of ownership over a sufficient length of time to warrant the inference that the person is the true owner of the land; (iv) By acts of long possession and enjoyment of the land; and (v) By proof of possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances rendering it probable that, the owner of such connected or adjacent land would, in addition be the owner of the land in dispute. See Idundun & Ors v. Okumagba and Others (1976) N.S.C.C. 445, (1976) 9-10 SC 227 AT 249 or (1976) 1 NMLR 200.

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

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FIVE WAYS TITLE TO LAND COULD BE PROVED

Idundun v. Okumagba (1976) 9-10 SC 227; (1976) 1 NMLR 200, this court enumerated five ways in which title or ownership of land could be proved. These are: (1) By traditional evidence. (2) By production of documents of title duly authenticated and executed. (3) By acts of ownership extending over a sufficient length of time numerous and positive enough to warrant the inference of true ownership. (4) By acts of long possession and enjoyment, and (5) Proof of possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances rendering it probable that the owner of such connected or adjacent land would, in addition, be the owner of the land in dispute.

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REGISTRABLE INSTRUMENT NOT REGISTERED CANNOT BE RELIED UPON TO PROVE TITLE

The crucial question to be answered in this appeal is what is the effect of the non-registration of Exhibits -E’ and ‘F which are registrable instruments within the provisions of section 2 of the Land Instruments Registration Law. There is a long and impressive judicial authority for the proposition that the non-registration of a registrable instrument renders such instrument inadmissible as evidence in a litigation where such instrument is relied upon as evidence of title. – See Abdallah Jammal v. Said; & Fetuga 11 NLR. 86. Elkali & anor. v. Fawaz 6 WACA. 212 at p. 214. Coker v. Ogunye (1939) 15 NLR. 57; Ogunbambi v. Abowab (1951) 13 WACA. 222. Amankra v. Zankley (1963) 1 All NLR. 364. Section 15 of the Lands Instrument Registration Law provides simply as follows – “No instrument shall be pleaded or given in evidence in any Court as affecting any land unless the same shall have been registered. Provided that a memorandum given in respect of an equitable mortgage affecting land in Eastern Nigeria executed before the 1st day of July, 1944, and not registered under this Law may be pleaded and shall not be inadmissible in evidence by reason only of not being so registered.”

— Karibe-Whyte JSC. Okoye v Dumez & Ors. (1985) – SC.89/1984

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

“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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DUTY OF PARTY CLAIMING LAND THROUGH HISTORY OF OWNERSHIP

The law is clear that it is not enough for a plaintiff seeking a declaration of title to land to lead evidence to trace his title to a particular person. He must go beyond that to establish by credible evidence the root of that person’s title otherwise title will not be declared in him: See Mogaji v. Cadbury Nigeria Ltd. (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt.7) 393; (1985) 7 SC 59; Ogunleye v. Oni (1990) 2 NWLR (Pt.135) 745; Uche v. Eke (1992) 2 NWLR (pt.224) 433.

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

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