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Ma’aji Galadima V. Alhaji Adamu Tambai & Ors (2000) LLJR-SC

Ma’aji Galadima V. Alhaji Adamu Tambai & Ors (2000)

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This is a land dispute.The case looked ordinary but on further evidence evolving during the trial a new and fundamental dimension crept into it. The case was initiated by the appellant, Ma’aji Galadima, the son of Galadima Cino (deceased) claiming that a farmland which his late father cleared and later loaned to the respondents had not on demand been returned to him. It was before Area Court No. 1 in Zaria City. The thirteen defendants, now respondents denied any loan of the farmland and claimed that they inherited the land from their various parents. In his evidence in court the plaintiff claimed that he Mato, Kakumi Doki Kakumi, Dan Mallam Kakumi, Wada Kakumi Makarfi and Wada Makeri who were alive were neighbours on the land and that they cleared their portions of land at about the same time with Galadima Cino. The appellant’s claim, in reality is that his father gave the disputed land to Sarkin Gwanki, Haruna, on loan so as to in turn allocate to the thirteen defendants. The Area Courts are not bound by strict procedure peculiar to English Common Law Courts. Thus the complainant before them needs even not lodge his complaint in writing; it is enough for him to verbally tell the court what his grouse is but this must be recorded by the judge or court clerk in writing. There is no strict formula for filing a complaint. The Area Courts are what one may call grassroots courts, with cheap procedure and expeditious hearing of the matters before them thus making them not only the nearest courts to the people (or Common Man) but also cheapest fora for litigants.

The thirteen defendants admit they farm the land and was in their possession, but claimed it was Sarkin Gwanki Haruna that gave them some forty seven years ago when it was bush, and that they cleared it. They disputed the plaintiff’s claim that it was only seventeen years ago Sarkin Gwanki Haruna had died, and it was his son Usman that gave evidence in court as DW1. In the end the Area Court gave judgment for the plaintiff ..

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Against this decision an appeal was lodged at the Upper Area Court, Ikara. It must be explained that the plaintiff had once sued successfully the Sarkin Gwanki, who was the village head, on the same land. This properly influenced the Area Court Grade 1’s decision. The Ikara Upper Area Court set aside the decision of Area Court 1, Zaria City on seven reasons proposed by it including the failure of trial court to allow the defendants’ witnesses to testify. Against this the plaintiff appeal was lodged at the High Court.

Coomassie J. (as he then was) set out admirably the facts of the case in the trial court and what took place at the Upper Area Court, Ikara. Some of the defendants claimed Sarkin Gwanki Haruna gave them the land to clear and farm; Bothers claimed inheritance through their fathers. The High Court came to the conclusion that failure to hear evidence from some witnesses for defendants and the manner of administering oath under Moslem Law which he held was flawed, he therefore ordered retrial An appeal was lodged to Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division. It must however be pointed out that the Upper Area Court at Ikara never adverted to the issue of jurisdiction raised by the respondents Counsel before it but merely set aside the judgment of trial Area Court 1 of Zaria City.

What is obvious is that the land in dispute is not within Zaria City but at Ikara which has its own Local Government and Area Court with jurisdiction to hear and try the case. More confusion crept in when on appeal the parties instead of filing their appeal at the Upper Area Court, Zaria, went before Upper Area Court, Ikara which has no jurisdiction to hear the appeal from Area Court of Zaria City. Right from outset the counsel for the respondents raised the issue of jurisdiction in the Upper Area Court at Ikara. The Area Courts, it must be emphasised, are not bound by procedural technicalities, jurisdiction was a matter raised at Ikara Upper Area Court. Ikara Upper Area Court, though having the land in dispute within its jurisdiction was unlawfully hearing appeal from an area court of trial in whose jurisdiction the land in dispute was not situated.

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Unlike the situation in Jon v. Dom 7 SC 1, 3 the issue of jurisdiction had clearly reared its head at Upper Area Court Ikara before High Court and Court of appeal The form is not of importance, it is the substance. In cases where the matter of jurisdiction is entirely novel the leave of court must be sought in a proper application before it could be argued so that the other side will not be taken by surprise or be embarrassed. Thus when the issue first surfaced at Ikara Upper Area Court that court never adverted to it in its judgment; similarly the appellate High Court which, with great respect raised new issues but not that of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal has the rigidity of superior courts of record as to procedure. The appeal to Upper Area Court, just like filing the suit in the lower Area Court, will not follow any formula; what is important is the litigant or appellant clearly stating his grievance to court either in writing, or orally so that court will record it. The counsel for the appellant at Ikara Upper Area Court raised at the outset the question of jurisdiction. In its judgment that court never adverted to this issue of jurisdiction even though counsel appeared for both sides.

However, on appeal to the High Court of Kaduna State, that court ordered retrial by concluding as follows:

“Failure of the trial Area Court to evaluate the evidence properly and to make findings of facts on these allegation vitiates its judgment and rendered the witnesses called by the appellant unqualified to give evidence in favour of the plaintiff/appellant. Having therefore considered the circumstances of this appeal together with the submissions of both counsel I hold that the transaction between the parties was not a loan transaction and cannot therefore say that the appellant father granted the land in dispute to the respondents on loan. There is no evidence of such transaction. The trial court should have considered the allegations made against the witnesses called by the plaintiff before the trial Area Court with a view of impeaching them as he did the defendants with cases. Judgment of the Upper Area Court Ikara is formidable and therefore upheld pending the outcome of the retrial to be conducted by the Upper Area Court No.1 Zaria. This is done in the interest of justice. The issue of impeachment of the witnesses called by the plaintiff/appellant in the trial Area Court and the decision of the trial Area Court on discrediting the witnesses of the defendants/respondents be thoroughly looked into. Finally the issue of Oath taking canvassed by the trial Area Court shall be the third point to be examined by the Upper Area Court. For the avoidance of any doubt the question of possession does not arise.

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Both parties agreed that the land in dispute is firmly in the possession of the respondents and shall remain so pending the determination of the matter on retrial” ..

Thus the High Court in its appellate jurisdiction never adverted to issue of jurisdiction of the court of trial (Area Court 1, Zaria City) even though it was by way of preliminary objection the issue of jurisdiction was raised. Thus there is no way the appellants were surprised or embarrassed. I find no merit in this appeal and I dismiss it. The only option is to have a trial not a nullity. What took place at Zaria Area Court 1 was a nullity as that court lacked jurisdiction (See Kaduna State Area Courts (Jurisdiction) Notice 1977 and position of the Area Courts and their Areas of jurisdiction).

I therefore find no substance in this appeal and I dismiss it. The decision of Court of Appeal is hereby affIrmed. There will be no order as to costs.


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