Barristers & Solicitors
Appeal Court decides case on Epe land

Court of Appeal in Lagos has set aside judgment of High Court restricting Oloja of Epe, Kamorudeen Animashaun, from adjudicating over a land in Alakaba area of Epe.

Justice A. Bashua, in suit: EPD/017LM/2016 on September 22, 2021, held the claimants are entitled to the Certificate of Occupancy on the land in Ijebu-Ode Road, at Ita-Marun, Epe, covered by survey plan of November 7, 1927.

The claimants, Olayiwola Kaka, Habeebullahi Kaka and Abdullahi Kaka, initiated the action for themselves and for Kaka family against the monarch, his chief; Dada Yesiru, and Unknown Persons, to stop trespassing on their ancestral land.

Justice Bashua also restrained the defendants, either by themselves or agents, from selling, transferring, building upon or continuing to build upon the land at Ita-Marun, Epe.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, the monarch, and the Agbon of Epe approached an Appeal Court.

In a unanimous decision by the three-man panel presided over by Justice Abdulai Bayero, the Appeal Court set aside the lower court’s decision.

“The respondents, Kakas, are stopped from asserting any right over the land having stood by and watched the appellants sell, alienate and develop the land in dispute,” it  held.

It held it is settled that if a court is shown to have no jurisdiction to entertain a matter before it, the result will be that its proceedings on the matter, however well conducted, are a nullity and any decision thereon by is void ab initio and of no effect.

The Court of Appeal held: “The long-established principle of law is that the Courts, in Seeking to determine its jurisdiction, look solely at the Claimant’s claims as contained in his originating processes.

“However, in a case like this, where the issue of statute of limitation is being raised on appeal for the first time, this Court is not confined to look at the originating processes alone.

“The Court should consider the pleadings of both parties in arriving at the question of when the cause of action arose.

“From Paragraphs 11, 12 and 13 of the Respondents’ statement of claim they did not state when they first discovered that the 3 Defendant (Unknown Persons) was encroaching on the land; the letter purportedly written by the Respondents were not written to the Appellants but to some unknown person and even the said letters never referenced the actual date or period they became aware of the encroachment, At Paragraph 14 of the statement of Claim the Respondents stated that the “Defendants have been selling, alienating and building on the Claimants’ family land without the consent of the Claimants’ family.”

“The appellants, however, in their statement of defence not only denied the claim of the Respondents but also went further to state that the land in dispute has been in exclusive possession of the Ebode Community from time immemorial; that the Appellants have been in occupation of the land in dispute to the knowledge of the Respondents.

“At Paragraphs 11 and 12 of the statement of defence, it was stated that the land in dispute is not only a prayer ground for Ijebu Epe Muslims but also houses the traditional shrine wherein the original indigenes of Epe worship their deities.

“The respondents never offered any rebuttal to these facts in their reply to the statement of defence except the generalised and bare denial which is not denial in law.

“What then is the cause of action and when does it arise? Cause of action has been defined by courts to mean a combination of facts and circumstances giving rise to the right to file a claim in court for remedy.

“It includes all those things which are necessary to give a right of action and every material fact which has to be proved to entitle the plaintiff to succeed.

“The cause of action arises as soon as the combination of the circumstances mentioned above accrued or happened and it is the act on the part of the defendant which gives the plaintiff his cause of complaint.

“In determining when a cause of action has accrued that the intending plaintiff shall have surveyed and or availed himself of all the facts that would support his claim if eventually, the matter goes to court.

“This is a situation which to my mind calls for the plugging of all possible loopholes in the facts leading to the case of the plaintiff.

“The Limitation Law, Cap L 67, Laws of Lagos State provides for 20 years within which a claimant may sue in trespass and declaration of title to land.

“The appellants have been in possession of the land in dispute from time immemorial while the instant suit was filed on 22″ February 2016 more than 20 years since the Appellants have been in occupation of the land to the knowledge of the Respondents.

“It is therefore too late for the Respondents to wake after these several years to claim that some unknown persons encroached on their land. The claims of the Respondents having become statute-barred are bound to be dismissed.

“In the case of Emmanuel Oseloka Araka vs. Ambrose Nwankwo Ejeagwu (2000) LPELR-533(SC), the Supreme Court held thus: ‘It is a basic principle of law that a Limitation Law or Act removes the right of action, the right of enforcement and the right to judicial relief and leaves the plaintiff with a bare and empty cause of action which he cannot enforce if the such cause of action is statute-barred.’

“Accordingly, where the law provides for the bringing of an action within a prescribed period in respect of a cause of action accruing to the plaintiff, proceedings shall not be brought after the time prescribed by such a statute.

“The Respondents admitted that they migrated from Lagos to the land in dispute. Not being the original founders of the land in dispute, they cannot claim ignorance of the occupation of the land by the Ijebu Epe people represented by the Appellants.

“They cannot also claim ignorance of the facts in the Appellants’ statement of defence which evidence various acts of possession of the land in dispute by the Ebode Community.

“Having watched the Appellants’ community exercise acts of ownership on the land, the Respondents cannot wake up in 2016 to start laying claim to the land.”