Federal Commissioner For Works And Housing V. R. Labedi And 15 Ors (1977)
LawGlobal-Hub Lead Judgment Report
A. O. OBASEKI, J.S.C
Following the receipt of claims for compensation by 16 claimants in respect of land situate at Yaba East, Lagos Mainland acquired by the Federal Government by Notice Nos. 2444 of 22nd December, 1962 and 131 of 10th January, 1964 under the Public Lands Acquisition Act Cap 167, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, the Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing took out an Originating Summons in the High Court of Justice of Lagos State on the 14th day of July, 1970 for the determination by the court of the questions to wit:
‘The person or persons entitled to the land situate at Yaba East Lagos Mainland and described in Government Notice Nos. 2444 and 131 dated 22nd December, 1962 and 10th January 1964 respectively.’
This parcel of land acquired is the land on which the buildings of Lagos University at Akoka now stand and it was acquired specifically for that public purpose ” the establishment of Lagos University.”
Pursuant to an order made by the court, each claimant filed his statement of interest in the land acquired and it turned out, from a close study of the schedule of claims filed by the applicants that the 14th claimant who is the appellant herein and the 16th claimant who is the 2nd respondent herein made conflicting claims to substantially the same parcel of land; more particularly the 16th claimant was claiming to be entitled to compensation in respect of 65.4 acres comprising parcel number 57 while the 14th claimant claimed to be entitled to compensation in respect of 70.598 acres comprising parcel number 82.
Apart from the interests of the 16th claimant/respondent, the interests of the other claimants did not conflict with the interests of the 14th claimant/appellant. The 14th claimant traced his root of title to the 1st Oloto and pleaded acts of ownership in paragraphs 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10 which read as follows:
‘2. The claimant avers that the land being claimed by him and edged blue in the Claims Plan formed portion of a large tract of land at Yaba East on the main land of Lagos which belonged to the Suenu Chieftancy family of Lagos.
- The claimant further avers that the Oloto Chieftaincy family gave absolutely over 200 years ago the large tracts of land consisting of the villages known as Igbari including the land within the present acquisition (area), Bada, Oke Ogbe, Akoka and Abebe to one Fayemi, a grand daughter of the 1st Chief Oloto, Chief Akinjufe and who was married to Orishadara, first Chief Suenu of Lagos for whom she begat Fasinro who later became a Chief Suenu of Lagos.
- The claimant also states that since the said grant the Suenu Chieftaincy family have been in uninterrupted continuous and peaceful possession of the said large tracts of land including land within the present acquisition exercising all rights of ownership thereon without let or hindrance from anyone.
- The claimant says that in exercise of their right of ownership of the said large piece of land, the Suenu Chieftaincy family have:
(i) several years ago let under customary law some portions thereof at Akoka, Bada, Oke Ogbe and Igbari Villages to some tenants who have built thereon and some of whom have lodged their claims in respect of their several holdings and buildings in the present acquisition.
(ii) Sold portions at
(a) Igbari village to Yesufu Ajayi under and by virtue of a Deed of Conveyance dated 11th January, 1916 and registered as No. 16 at page 48 in Vol. 100 of the Lagos Lands Registry.
(b) Akoka village to the Government of Nigeria under and by virtue of a Deed of Conveyance dated 19th January, 1957 and registered as No. 4 at page 4 in vol. 107 of the Lagos Lands Registry;
(iii) Many years ago started to demise portions at Igbari village to several tenants who have erected substantial buildings thereon;
(iv) In 1925 buried Chief Suenu Oyero I at Akoka Village.
- The claimant also states that he caused the land which falls within the present acquisition to be surveyed without let or hindrance.
- The claimant will contend at the trial that Oloto Chieftaincy family have for over 200 years ceased to have any title, right or interest in the land at Yaba East which included the land being claimed by the Suenu Chieftaincy family in the acquisition.
- In the foregoing circumstances, the claimant states that he as the head of the Suenu Chieftaincy family is the person entitled to be paid compensation for the area verged blue in the claims plan and numbered 82 therein.’
The 16th claimant on the other hand, while giving as his root of title the Oloto Chieftancy family, pleaded (that he acquired his interest only in 1957 from that family and has since been in peaceful continuous and physical possession of the said land) in paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of his statement of interest as follows:
‘2. The land the subject matter of this claim hereinafter, referred to as the land is verged blue and numbered 57 in the plan filed by the applicant.
- The claimant avers that the said land forms portion of a large area of land originally owned by Oloto Chieftaincy family.
- The claimant avers that in the year 1957 he acquired the said land for industrial purposes.
- That the acquisition referred to in paragraph 4 supra was confirmed by a purchase receipt dated 6th February, 1957 from Oloto Chieftaincy family to the claimant.
- The claimant avers that since 1957, he has been in possession of the said land.
- The claimant further avers that he cultivates part of the land and put tenants/farmers on other parts.
- The claimant avers that he and his predecessors in title have been in peaceful continuous and physical possession of the said land fully exercising all overt acts of ownership in or over the land.
The matter proceeded to trial and evidence was adduced by most of the claimants in support of their respective claims. At the conclusion of the hearing, the learned trial Judge gave a considered judgment the relevant portion of which for the purpose of this appeal reads:
‘There is a counter-claim between the 14th and the 16th claimants. Both claimants claimed their root of title from the Oloto Chieftaincy family, the 10th claimant who did not lead any evidence in this case, did not file any statement of interest and was not represented at the trial.
The 14th claimant, the Suenu Chieftaincy family are claiming 70.598 acres while the 16th claimant is claiming 65.4 acres. The 14th claimant relied on history and tendered Exhibit 6, a Photostat copy of the receipt issued to him by the head of the Oloto Chieftaincy family on 6th February, 1957, in respect of 56 acres of land in the area.
The receipt, Exhibit 6 shows only 56 acres. I direct therefore that compensation be paid to the 14th claimant, the Suenu family in respect of 14.59 acres and to the 16th claimant, R. Baboye in respect of 56 acres borne out by Exhibit 6.’
It is against this direction that the 14th claimant has brought this appeal on 5 grounds. But at the hearing, only 3 grounds were argued and they read as follows:
‘1. That the learned trial Judge misdirected himself in law and in fact by failing to consider the historical evidence of the 14th claimant coupled with the numerous acts of ownership such as selling, leasing and building on portions of a large piece of land of which the area of acquisition forms part and thereby came to a wrong decision
- The learned trial Judge erred and misdirected himself in law by accepting and/or relying on Exhibit 6′
(i.) when after its authenticity has been successfully challenged, there was no proof of its due execution by the parties named therein;
(ii.) when there was no evidence that the 56 acres described therein falls within the 65.4 acres claimed by the 16th claimant;
(iii.) when there was no evidence connecting the land described therein with the area of land within the acquisition;
(iv.) in proof of the 16th claimant’s claim when no plan was tendered by him to relate the land described in the Exhibit with the land acquired and being claimed by the 14th claimant;
- The decision is against the weight of evidence.’
The area claimed by the appellant was designated as parcel 82 in the claims plan and that claimed by the 16th claimant as parcel 57 in the claims plan Exhibit C. From Exhibit C it is evident that part of parcel 57 lies within parcel 82 and part of it outside 82. Only about 2/3 of parcel 57 is within parcel 82.
It appears to us that the question for determination was not directly answered by the learned trial Judge despite the fact that evidence was laid before him by both the applicant’s witness and the 14th claimant and his witness and the 16th claimant and his witness. He did not appear to have taken advantage of his having seen and heard the witnesses.
Both the 14th claimant and the 16th claimant traced their title to the same source the Oloto Chieftaincy family an Idejo Chieftaincy acknowledged as a land owning family in Lagos. While the 14th claimant traced his title back to over 200 years, the 16th claimant traced his to less than 20 years. Be it noted that the 14th claimant, the Suenu Chieftaincy family is a Lagos war chieftaincy. The Suenu Chieftaincy has co-existed with the Oloto Chieftaincy in Lagos and the family produced evidence both oral and documentary Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, Exhibits Y and Y1 and Exhibits 2, Z1, Z2 and Z3 in support of their claim. The evidence also shows that the late Chief Oyero, the Suenu of Lagos who died in 1925 was buried on the site (see Exhibit Z and Exhibit Z1) that the family let out portions of the land for farming and received rents covered by receipts from 1930 (see Exhibits Y and Y1); sold and conveyed a portion to Yesufu Ajayi in 1916 (see Exhibit 1) and also on 19th January, 1957 granted a portion of the land to the Governor-General of the Federation of Nigeria for the erection of Saint Finbarr’s College (see Exhibit 2). The evidence of title adduced by the 16th claimant consisted only of oral evidence of purchase of land in the area and payment covered by two photostat receipts; the 1st which was tendered in support of this claim for compensation was dated 10/11/55 for payment for 84 acres of land at Iganke via Abule Eledu in Yaba District (Exhibit 5) and the second which was tendered to show that he bought other lands outside the acquisition area was dated 6th day of February, 1957 for payment for 56 acres of land at Abule Eledu via Akoka (Exhibit 6). These two pieces or parcels of land paid for were never described, never surveyed and were to his detriment never conveyed to the 16th claimant.
This appeal therefore turns naturally on the facts and although the grounds 1 & 3 were couched as errors in law they were argued along with ground 5 as grounds of fact.
The main complaint of learned counsel for the appellant was that the learned trial Judge failed to assess the evidence properly and so was unable to make any finding. The learned trial Judge, counsel further contended, did not show a proper appreciation of the evidence before him and his direction that the 16th claimant be paid compensation for 56 acres (covered by Exhibit 6) out of the area claimed by the 14th claimant and the 14th claimant to be paid compensation for only 14.596 acres was not supported by the evidence and has no basis in law. Counsel then concluded that the facts are at large for the Supreme Court to deal with.
In appeals on findings of fact, the attitude of the Court of Appeal is one of caution and of reluctance in interfering with facts found by the trial courts. But where there is an obvious error in appraisal of oral evidence and ascription of probative values to such evidence, or where an improper or imperfect use has been made of the opportunity of seeing and hearing the witnesses or where wrong conclusions have been drawn from accepted or proved facts or where the learned trial judge has approached the determination of those facts in a manner which those facts cannot and do not in themselves support, the Court of Appeal in those circumstances is entitled to and indeed has a duty to interfere and set aside the findings.
See Fashanu v. Adekoye (1974) 1 All NLR Part 1 page 35 at page 41. See Ogbero Egri v. Ededho Uperi (1974) Vol. 1 NMLR page 22.
In the case of Chief Shogbon Fabumiyi and Anor v. Fatumo Obaje and Anor (1968) NMLR page 242, the Supreme Court (Coker, JSC., delivering the judgment) said at page 247:
“A court of appeal should not easily disturb the findings of fact of a trial Judge who had the singular opportunity of listening to the witnesses and watching their performances. It is settled law, however that, such findings of facts or the inferences from them may be questioned in certain circumstances. See Benmax v. Austin Motors Co. Ltd. (1955) AC 370; also Akinola & Ors. v. Fatoyinbo Oluwo & Ors: (1962) All NLR 264: Lawal Braimoh Fatoyinbo & Ors. v. Seliatu Abike Williams (1965) 1 FSC 67
The result of the authorities simply is, that where the facts found by the court of trial are wrongly applied to the circumstances of the case, or where the inferences drawn from those facts are erroneous or indeed where the findings of fact are not reasonably justified or supported by the credible evidence given in the case, a Court of Appeal, is in as much a good position to deal with the facts and findings as the court of trial.”
In this case before us, our examination of the evidence shows that the learned trial Judge was in error when:
(1) he held that the 14th claimant tendered Exhibit 6;
(2) he held that the parcel of land comprising 56 acres in Exhibit 6 was within the area claimed by the 14th claimant;
(3) he held that Exhibit 6 was proof of title of the16th claimant to 56 acres out of 65.4 acres in parcel No. 57.
We observe that the 16th claimant supported his claim to the 65.4 acres of the land aquired with Exhibit 5. He tendered Exhibit 6 only to show that he had or paid for other lands. This is borne out by his evidence the relevant portion of which reads:
“I know the land, the subject matter of this acquisition. I own a portion of the land. My portion is the land edged blue and marked parcel 57 in Exhibit C. The original owner of the land is the Oloto Chieftaincy family. I purchased the land from the Oloto Chieftaincy family. I bought the land from the Oloto family over 20 years ago. When I bought the land I was given a purchase receipt. The receipt was stolen with other goods in my house. I took a photocopy of the receipt that was stolen. This is a copy, I seek to tender it, no objection, admitted and marked Exhibit 5. Cross-examined by Mrs. Jinadu:….
Exhibit 5 is not in respect of all my lands. Exhibit 5 covers about fifty something acres. I have other receipts ……….
I bought the land from Oloto. I had no conveyance because I have not completed surveying all the lands. I am claiming 56 acres. I know Saint Finbarr’s College. I do not know that it was sold by Suenu family to Government. I come from Kwara State. (Underlining ours)
Re-examination: I bought 185 acres. I was given several receipts. This is one of the receipts. I seek to tender it. (Only Mrs. Jinadu objected; all other counsel had no objection). Court objection overruled and document admitted as Exhibit.
Exhibit 5 dated 10th of November, 1955 is a photostat copy of purchase receipt and differs from Exhibit 6. It reads:
“Purchase Receipt Received from Raphael Abikoye Shorun Babaoye of 57A Oroyinyin Street, Lagos the sum of 350pounds (three hundred and fifty pounds) being payment for 84 acres of land approximately situate lying and being at Iganke via Abule Eledu, Yaba District.”
Exhibit 6 dated 6th day of February, 1957 on the other hand had reads:
“Received from Raphael Abikoye Shorun Babaoye of 57A Oroyinyin Street, Lagos the sum of 200pounds (two hundred pounds) being an amount paid for land at Abule Eledu via Akoka, Yaba District measuring 56 acres more or less.”
As against this piece of evidence is that of Chief Abudu Lasisi Oyeleye Oyero II, the present Chief Suenu of Lagos, the relevant portions of which read:
“I am prosecuting this action as the titular head of the Suenu Chieftaincy family. I was served with notice of acquisition. I submitted a claim. This is the claims plan which I submitted. Exhibit P identified as the plan. I know the land which the Government acquired. The area is known as Akoka or Oke Ogbe. The land originally belonged to the Oloto family. About 200 years ago, the land was given to Suenu by the first Oloto Akinjufe. Suenu and the 1st Oloto were friends ……….
My family put some people on the land who pay homage to the family annually. ………..
We have been collecting rents from them since the past 40 years. The name of my father was Chief Oyero 1; he is dead. He died in 1925 and was buried in Akoka. In 1967 we instructed our lawyer to write a letter to the Ministry, there was a reply. These are the letters and replies. I seek to tender them ” no objection” admitted and marked Exhibits Z, Z1, Z2 and Z3.
I remember one Yesufu Ajayi, we sold a portion of the land to him. A conveyance was executed in his favour by my family. This a certified copy of the conveyance. I seek to tender it “no objection, admitted and marked Exhibit 1.
In 1957, my family sold part of this land to the Federal Government and we executed a conveyance in favour of the Government. This is the conveyance. I seek to tender it, no objection, admitted and marked Exhibit 2. Saint Finbarr’s College was built on the land.
Cross-examined by Olorunnimbe:
“I agree that the Oloto Chieftaincy family was the original owners of all the lands under the acquisition. I know there are many villages in the area. They are Ogbe, Akoka, Igbari, Bada. All four villages belong to Suenu family.
Exhibit 1 was executed on the 11th day of January, 1916 and Exhibit 2 on the 19th day of January, 1957.
Exhibits Z, Z1, Z2 and Z3 were correspondences between the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and the Suenu family about the expenses of removal of the remains of late Chief Oyero I, the late Suenu of Lagos who died in 1925 from a tomb which is on the land acquired for reburial in the nearby village, Igbari village, also owned by the Suenu family.
It does seem to us that the learned trial Judge failed to appreciate that the traditional evidence of ownership given by Chief Suenu has been supported by cogent documentary evidence of acts of ownership spanning the period 1916 to 1957 to constitute sufficient proof of ownership entitling Suenu Chieftaincy family to compensation for Parcel No. 82. This evidence of title was not dislodged by the evidence of recent purchase by the 16th claimant without conveyance and or the photostat copies of purchase receipts (Exhibit 5 and Exhibit 6) of payments for undefined parcels of land together with the utterly worthless evidence of a palmwine tapper, Olatunji Obafemi called by the 16th claimant to testify. The evidence of Olatunji Obafemi which bears no relevance to and does not advance the claim of the 16th claimant any further, in part reads:
“I know Raphael Babaoye, I have known him for 17years. When he bought a farm he put me in it. I was tapping palmwine in the farm. I was not the only one tapping palmwine in the farm. I was paying monthly rents.”
Cross examined by Mrs. Jinadu:
“I do not tap any more in the farm. I come from Kwara State. I cannot read or write. Babaoye and I were from the same place. The place where I tap wine is called Abule Eledu. Many people live there.”
The Oloto family did not appear before the trial Judge to confirm and corroborate the story of sale by the Oloto Chieftaincy family to the 16th claimant, the payment by him and the issue by them of the receipts Exhibits 5 and 6. The Oloto Chieftaincy family did not also appear in court to give evidence to the identity of the parcels of land alleged sold with parcel No. 57 in Exhibit C and he, the 16th claimant did not testify as to the description of the land sold for which payments covered by Exhibits 5 and 6 were made. Finally, we think that the admission by the 16th claimant that he had no conveyance because he had not completed surveying the lands allegedly sold to him is fatal to his claim. We therefore see no justification whatsoever for the learned trial Judge’s excision of 56 acres from the area claimed by the Suenu Chieftaincy family. The grounds of appeal argued are therefore made out. The appeal succeeds and it is allowed. We accordingly set aside that part of the judgment affecting the 14th and the 16th claimants and substitute the following:
“The 14th claimant has proved his title and is entitled to be paid compensation in respect of 70.598 acres comprising Parcel No. 82 in the claims Plan Exhibit C.
The 16th claimant has not proved his title to parcel No. 57 on the claims plan Exhibit C. He not only admitted that no conveyance has been executed in his favour, but he also failed to describe the parcel of land alleged sold to him by the Oloto family. Finally, he failed to produce the Oloto family to testify and corroborate his evidence as to sale and issue of the receipts Exhibit 5 and Exhibit 6 and also to identify the parcel covered by these receipts, Exhibits 5 and 6. His claim which is in conflict with that of the 14th claimant should not have been entertained and must be and is hereby dismissed.”
Costs in favour of the appellant to be paid by the 16th claimant/respondent are assessed at N320.00 (three hundred and twenty Naira) only.