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

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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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PARTY MUST AS WELL ESTABLISH THE TITLE OF WHO HE TRACES TO

It is well settled that once a party pleads and traces his root of title in an action involving title to land to a particular person or source, and this averment, as in the present case, is disputed or challenged, that party, to succeed, as a plaintiff in the suit must not only establish his own title to such land, he must also satisfy the court on the validity of the title of that particular person or source from whom he claims to have derived his title. See Mogaji v. Cadbury Nigeria Ltd. (1985) 7 SC 59, (1985) 2 NWLR (pt.7) 393 at 431; Elias v. Omo-Bare (1982) 5 SC 25 at 37 – 38.

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

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WAYS TO PROVE OWNERSHIP OF LAND

In a civil claim of title to or ownership of land, for a party to succeed, he must prove his title in one of the five ways laid down in this court’s decision of Idundun vs. Okumagba (1976) 9-10 SC 227 followed by a long line of other decided authorities to the following effect: Proof by traditional evidence Proof by production of documents of title duly authenticated to prove title. Proof by acts of ownership extending over a sufficient length of time, numerous and positive as to warrant the inference that the person is the true owner. Vide Ekpo vs. Ita 11 NLR 68. Proof by acts of long possession and Proof of possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances probable that the owner of such connected or adjacent land would in addition be the owner of the land in dispute.

— Onu, JSC. Ezennah v Atta (2004) – SC.226/2000

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FIVE METHODS OF PROVING TITLE TO LAND

It is now well settled law that in a claim for declaration of title to land, a party claiming title to land must do so by proving with credible evidence one or more of the five methods of proving title to land, namely: A. Evidence of traditional history of title; B. Production of genuine and valid documents of title; C. Acts of Ownership numerous enough; D. Acts of possession over a long period of time and E. Act of possession of adjacent land long enough to make it probable that the owner of the adjacent land is also the owner of the land in dispute. The 1st Appellant and the 1st Respondent, thus had open to them one or more of the above five methods to prove their title to the land in dispute and the law is that proof of any of these methods by credible evidence would be sufficient to ground an action for declaration of title to land.

— B.A. Georgewill, JCA. Anyi & Ors. v. Akande & Ors. (2017) – CA/L/334/2014

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THE WAY TO TEST THE TRUTH IN TRADITIONAL HISTORY WHERE CONFLICT

The treatment of traditional evidence or history has over the years come to be regulated by what I may call the rule in Kojo II v. Bonsie (1957) 1 NMLR 1223. The proposition of law relating to traditional evidence as decided in Kojo II v. Bonsie is that where there is a conflict of traditional history, demeanour by itself, is of little guide to the truth. The best way to test the traditional history is by reference to the facts in recent years as established by evidence and by seeing which of the two competing histories is more probable.

– Aderemi JCA. Irawo v. Adedokun (2004)

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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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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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