Madam Helen Obulor & Anor V. Linus Weso Oboro (2001)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
The respondent, Linus Weso Oboro, instituted the suit leading to this matter as plaintiff in the High Court of Rivers State holden at Port Harcourt. He claimed to be legally in possession and entitled to Statutory right of occupancy over the property known and called 18th Alozie Street, Diobu, Port Harcourt. He also prayed for injunction restraining Helen Obulor (1st appellant/defendant) her servants, agents and privies from acts of trespass on the said property if the declaration he claimed as the person entitled to statutory right of occupancy over the land was granted. He claimed also arrears of rent which he estimated at N15,000.00; N3,000.00 general damages for trespass; and finally another N2,000.00 collected by Madam Obulor. This brings the sums claimed to N20,000.00.
Both the present appellants and respondent asserted claim to the house at 18, Alozie Street. The plaintiff/respondent claimed he acquired the property from the original owners, the Obiekwe family of Rebisi and that the transaction was evidenced by a deed of conveyance dated 29/2/78 and registered in the Registry Port Harcourt as No. 133 at pages 133 in volume 5. The plaintiff, now respondent testified strictly in line with his pleadings and tendered Exhibit C, the Deed of Conveyance. He also testified that he had been in possession since he acquired the property in 1978 and put in tenants who paid him rents.
To his dismay, in January 1989, by a letter dated 18/12/87 by Rivers State Housing Authority (the 2nd appellant) which is Exhibit J, the conveyance to respondent was purportedly cancelled. As if this was not enough shock to the respondent, another letter by 2nd appellant, Exhibit N, the property was offered to the 1st appellant to purchase. The contention of the 2nd appellant, Rivers State Housing and Property Authority, is that the property in issue was an abandoned property after the Nigerian Civil War and originally belonged to one Charles Ehirim a native of Mbieri in Imo State; that this Ehirim was paid compensation by Abandoned Property Authority and the property was therefore, offered to her to purchase at N30,000.00. That was the stand of the 1st appellant also during the trial, at least according to her averment in paragraphs 4 – 7 of her statement of defence. But surprisingly enough she never offered any evidence to support the averments in the said paragraphs 4 – 7 which the said plaintiff all along denied. She also failed to tender the first letter she claimed was earlier written to her on 11/10/83 by 2nd appellant offering her the property; neither did she produce the evidence that she accepted the offer or even paid for the property as requested in Exhibit J1. Thus there was no evidence that she bought the property. The mysterious original owner, Charles Ehirim was not called and his absence or even whereabouts was not explained. By the evidence before trial court, there was no proof that the property was an ‘abandoned property’ within the meaning of Abandoned Property Edict of Rivers State. In a curious judgment, with great respect, the trial Judge dismissed the claim of the plaintiff/respondent on a matter totally not in issue and completely not adverted to as follows:-
……………..it is my view that having regard to
(1) the unreliable nature of Exhibit C,
(2) the unresolved conflicts within the case of plaintiff, and
(3) the failure of plaintiff to adduce evidence from his property overlords or vendors the plaintiff cannot be said to have discharged the burden of proof placed on him”.
Exhibit C, the conveyance to the plaintiff was not in dispute and there was no doubt it was duly registered in accordance with the law with no contrary evidence having been adduced by the defendants. Rather the 2nd defendant purported to cancel the deed. The Court of Appeal had no difficulty in disposing of preliminary objection on the competence of the plaintiff’s grounds of appeal. The learned Justices looked at the merit of the appeal and found great favour in it.
The duty of an appellate court is to take a dispassionate look at the real issues based on all the facts of a case and the laws supporting them so as to arrive at the justice of the matter before it. The grounds of appeal before Court of Appeal were perfectly competent as they really touched the kernel of the case and the issues formulated on them were in order. The appellant never proved any right to the property at trial court and it will be a judicial magic if Court of Appeal had allowed the judgment of trial court to stand. The basis of trial court dismissing the plaintiff’s case was not supported by any evidence. The 1st appellant’s case was simply that the property was offered to her by 2nd appellant; nothing more. It was not that Exhibit C was a forgery, or was obtained by fraud. Trial Judge imported fraud into the case. The trial court never explained why Exhibit C was unreliable. There was no evidence before the trial Court to indicate why the deed of conveyance Exhibit C was unreliable. Courts of justice must be wary of coming to conclusion on any point not in evidence. The judgment of a court must be based on all legal evidence before it; that is to say, on all that is pleaded and supported by clear evidence. Anything not pleaded goes to nothing; and anything given in evidence but not pleaded must be rejected as inadmissible evidence. It is surprising how trial judge, after the pleadings before him and the evidence which he carefully reviewed just like a sudden storm brought out an adverse conclusion on matters unpleaded and on matter not in issue between the parties. (Metal Construction (WA) Ltd. v. D.A. Migliore & Ors. (1990) 1 NWLR (Pt. 126) 299, 320. Courts must confine their decisions on matters that are fought upon by the parties and it is wrong and I may also say, it is unjust, to open a new and unexpected new battle field in their judgments. This style may not only spell injustice on the parties but may also erode confidence in administration of justice.
This appeal has no merit for the reasons given above, I dismiss it with N 10,000.00 costs to the plaintiff/respondent against appellant.