Compendium of Land Cases and Decisions 3

Whether the provisions of a limitation law applies to actions in respect of title to land or any interest in land held by customary tenure #

SALAJA v. SALAJA & ORS (2013) LPELR-21967(CA)

I have no difficulty in holding that this counterclaim is not statute barred because Section 1(2) of the Limitation Law of Ondo State 1978 provides inter alia as follows:

“Nothing in this law affects actions in respect of the title to land or any interest in land held by customary tenure…” Per DENTON WEST, J.C.A (P. 20, paras. B-D)

Principle/Burden of Proof in a claim for declaration of title to land #

The law is settled that in an action for declaration of title to land the onus is on the claimant to prove his title. The Claimant has to succeed on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defence.


“The well settled principle of law is that in a claim for declaration of title to land, the plaintiff has to succeed on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defence. Where however, evidence from the defendant supports the case of the plaintiff he is entitled to rely on it. This was the principle in Akinola v. Oluwo (1962) 1 SCNLR 352; Kodilinye v. Odu (1935) 2 WACA 336; Omoni v. Tom (1991) 6 NWLR (Pt. 195) 93; Obiaso v. Okoye (1989) 2 NWLR (Pt. 119) 80.” Per Tabai, JSC. (Pp. 19-20, Paras. G-B).

Akinduro v. Alaya (2007) ALL FWLR (Pt. 381)1653 at 1666; Paras D – E (SC)

A plaintiff who claims declaration of title to land has a compelling duty to establish his case by credible evidence to the satisfaction of the court, the weakness of the case of the defendant will not avail him unless it is seen that there are averments in the statement of defence or even the testimonies of the defendant and or his witnesses which support the case of the plaintiff. [Akinolu v. Oluwo (1962) 1 ALL NLR 224; Bello v. Eweka (1981) 1 SC 101″. Per Aderemi JSC.

Guiding principles of law in an action for declaration of title to land #

DASHE & ORS v. JATAU & ORS (2016) LPELR-40180(CA)

“In Okafor vs. Idigo (1984) 15 NSCC 360 Obaseki, JSC held at pages 370-371 as follows:

In actions for declaration of title to land, certain well settled principles of law which have guided the Courts in this country must of necessity be kept constantly in mind. They are:

1. In a claim for a declaration of title, the onus lies on the plaintiff to satisfy the Court that he is entitled on the evidence brought by him to a declaration of title. The plaintiff must rely on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defendant’s case. If this onus is not discharged, the weakness of the defendant’s case will not help him and the proper judgment is for the defendant. Such a judgment decrees no title to the defendant he not having sought the declaration. Lyell vs. Kennedy (1882) 20 Ch.D. 484 at 490 per Brett, L.J.; Kodilinye vs. Mbanefo Odu (1935) 2 WACA 336 per Webber, C.J. at 337; Lee, C.J. in Martin vs. Strachan (1744) 5 Term Rep. 107n at 110n.

2. In a claim for a decree of a declaration of title, the onus is on the plaintiff to prove acts of ownership extending over a sufficient length of time numerous and positive enough to warrant the inference that the plaintiffs were owners. Webbe, J. in Notoe Ekpo Eta Ekpo vs. Eta Eta

Ita 11 NLR 68 at 69. If the evidence of tradition is inconclusive, the case must rest on a question of fact. Webber, J. in Ekpo’s case (supra). See also Adeniyi vs. Aderemi (1961) WNLR 185.

3. The Court should declare a good title where in the opinion of the Court the facts and circumstances of the case are so compelling as to show beyond reasonable doubt that no risk of a successful future incumbrance exists. M.E.G.P. vs. Christian Edwards (1979) 3 WLR 713.

4. Frequent and positive numerous acts within living memory are not essential to justify the inference of exclusive ownership of land under native law and custom where there is conclusive traditional evidence of ownership Stool of Abinabina vs. Eyinmadu (1953) A.C. 207; (1953) 2 WLN 261; (1953) 12 WACA 172.

5. While the plaintiff must succeed on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defendant’s case, the defendant’s case may itself support the plaintiff’s case and contain evidence on which the plaintiff is entitled to rely.

6. Demeanour is not a true test of the truth of the testimony on traditional history. It is little guide to the truth. The best way to test traditional history is by reference to the facts in recent years as established by evidence and by seeing which of two compelling histories are more probable. Kojo II vs. Bonsie (1957) 1 WLR 1225 at 1226 per Lord Denning; Privy Council judgments 1841-1933 by Chukurah, page 668 at 671.

7. The dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim in an action for a declaration of title does not mean that the land belongs to the defendant ( Nwankwo Udegbe vs. Anachuma Nwokafor (1963) 1 All NLR 417; Privy Council judgments by Olisa Chukwurah, page 994; Eboha vs. Anakwenze (1967) NMLR 140.) Unless there is a finding on the evidence that the defendant had established his ownership of the land. Duedu vs. Yiboe (1961) 1 WLR 1040; Amos Ogbesusi Aro v. Salami Fabolude (1983) 2 SC 75.

8. Failure to prove title does not affect any rights of possession acquired over parts of the areas in dispute. Okije vs. Adejobi (1960) 5 FSC 44.

9. Before the plaintiffs can get a declaration of title in their favour they must prove acts of ownership numerous and positive enough and of sufficient duration to warrant the inference that the plaintiffs are exclusive owners. It is not enough to prove that there is a valid and subsisting judgment which had denied title to the defendants as against the plaintiff. Ekpo vs. Ita M.N.L.R. 68; Olisedoze Nwokeleke & 2 Ors. vs. Lesele of Onicha and 10 Others (1955-56) W.R.N.L.R. 87.

10. In question of disputed ownership of lands occupation and possession of portions of the disputed area are not relevant evidence of title for the whole area unless it can be reasonably attributed to a right to the whole area. Omanhene Foli vs. Chief Obeng Akesse (1934) 2 WACA 46 P.C.

Chief Williams, S.A.N. who argued the appeal as Counsel for the appellants made the point and I agree with him that the appeal involves, in the main, questions of fact. He therefore took us through the record of proceedings indicating the findings of facts made by the learned trial Judge and the disturbance of those findings by the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal. He predicated his arguments with 3 propositions. These are:

(1) A judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claim for declaration of title is a bar to any future action by the plaintiff or his privy against the defendant or his privy for the same relief to the same land but such a judgment does not necessarily mean that the defendant is adjudged to have title to such disputed land as against the unsuccessful plaintiff.

(2) To determine whether or not a judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claim for declaration of title means that the defendant is adjudged to have title it is necessary to examine the proceedings and judgment in order to ascertain the reasons for the dismissal.

(3) Where in an action between two communities for declaration of title each of the parties prove acts of ownership to the disputed lands or distinct portions thereof so that the Court is not prepared to draw the inference that either of the communities is the exclusive owner, the action will be dismissed.

These proportions are well founded in law and I approve of them.” Per TUR, J.C.A. (Pp. 65-70, Paras. F-D)

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