Let us first examine the meaning of the term “premises”. From the many learned legal works cited to us by appellant’s counsel Corpus Juris Secondum (supra), Jowitts Dictionary of English Law( supra) and Strouds Judicial Dictionary of English Law (supra), it appears that the term premises’ has a fluid or flexible meaning without a static connotation. It sometimes means bare land and sometimes land with buildings thereon, its meaning at any given. time would be determined according to what the parties so decide, as may be ascertained from the document executed by the parties. On the other hand, from the authorities cited by the respondents Ponsford v. H.M.S. Aerosols, Doe d. Hemming v. Willetes (supra), Cuff v. J & F Store Property Co. Ltd (supra) and Turner v. York Motors Property Ltd the term premises’ under the Recovery of Premises Law, Cap 118, Law of Lagos States, is used in the two senses of buildings with its grounds or appurtenances or simply as land without any building thereon. It may be noted that what can be distilled from the authorities of decided cases cited to us, including a welter of definitions in lexicons is that the term premises’ may connote bare land or the land with the buildings thereon, depending on what the parties intend it to connote, having regard to the circumstances of the case. In the final analysis, there is no doubt whatsoever that the meaning or the definition of the term “premises” is fraught with difficulties and whether it is intended to convey a precise or specific meaning will continue to exercise the courts because the situation in each case will unquestionably depend on the facts of the case thereof.

— Achike, JSC. Unilife v. Adeshigbin (2001) 4 NWLR (Pt.704) 609

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A customary tenant is a tenant from year to year liable under Customary Law to pay rents or tribute to the landlord for the use of the land and barred from alienating the land or disputing the title of the landlord without consent. He cannot be in possession if his landlord is out of possession as the possession he enjoys is that given by the landlord. The landlord is the
holder under the Land Use Act and the tenant does not come within the definition of holder. Where there is a holder, the tenant although an occupier, is not entitled to a customary right of occupancy.

– Obaseki, JSC. Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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Now, a tenancy at sufferance is one in which the original grant by the landlord to the tenant has expired, usually by effluxion of time, but the tenant holds over the premises. In such a case the tenant’s right to occupation of the premises to which he had come in upon a lawful title by grant is at an end but, although he has no more title as such, he continues in possession of the land or premises without any further grant or agreement by the landlord on whom the right to the reversion resides. One necessary pre-condition of such a tenancy is that the tenant must have come upon the land or premises lawfully. Though he no longer, strictly, has an estate, the law will deem his right to possession to have continued on the same terms and conditions as the original grant till possession has been duly and properly wrested from him by the landlord or reversioner. It is a form of tenancy which, as it were, depends upon the law and not the agreement of the parties and can only be determined either by the landlord’s lawful act of forcible entry, where it is still possible, or by a proper action for ejectment after due notices as prescribed by law.

– Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Petroleum v. Owodunni (1991)

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Now before proceeding to analyse the evidence, let me restate the legal consequences on the issue of burden of proof when a claim is founded on customary tenancy. It is settled principle of law that a claim which seeks a declaration that the Defendants are customary tenants of the plaintiff and other consequential reliefs emanating there from postulates that the Defendants are in exclusive possession of the land in dispute, and by the operation of Section 146 of the Evidence Act Cap. E14 of the Laws of the Federation, there is presumption that the Defendants in such exclusive possession are the owners of the land in dispute until the contrary is proved to rebut that presumption. The only way to rebut the presumption is by strict proof of the alleged customary tenancy. That is the danger of a plea founded on the allegation of customary tenancy.

— F.F. Tabai JSC. Tijani Dada v Jacob Bankole (2008) – S.C. 40/2003

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Pan Asian African Co. Ltd. v. National lnsurance Corp. (Nig.) Ltd. (1982) 9 SC 1 at p.13: “Put simply, the statutory tenant is an occupier, who when his contractual tenancy expires, holds over and continues in possession by virtue of special statutory provisions. He has also been described as “that anomalous legal entity,…who holds the land of another contrary to the will of that other person who strongly desires to turn him out. Such a person will not ordinarily be described as a tenant.”

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Now tenancy by estoppel is a well known principle of common law and equity. Under this principle, a landlord cannot question the validity of his own grant, nor can the tenant question it while he is enjoying possession of the land.

– Nnaemeka-agu, JSC. Ude v. Nwara (1993)

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Wheeler v. Mercer (1956) 3 All ER 631, Lord Simonds said at page 634: “A tenancy at will though called a tenancy is unlike any other tenancy except a tenancy at sufferance to which it is next of kin. It has been properly described as a personal relation between the landlord and his tenant; it is determined by the death of either of them or by one of a variety of acts, even by an involuntary alienation, which would not affect the subsistence of any other tenancy.”

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