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    1 year, 7 months ago
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    1 year, 7 months ago

    An Appraisal of the Decision of the Supreme Court in UMEADI v. CHIBUNZE (2020)10 NWLR (Pt.1733) 405

    Right to own and acquire land in any part of Nigeria is one of the fundamental rights of every citizen guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). According to Niki Tobi, ownership connotes the totality of or the bundle of the rights of the owner over and above every other person on a thing. It connotes a complete and total right over a property. The owner of the property is not subject to the right of another person because he is the owner, he has the full and final right of alienation or disposition without seeking the consent of another party because as a matter of law and fact, there is no other party’s right over the property that is higher than that of his, he has the inalienable right to sell the property at any price, even at a give away price. He can give it out gratis, that is for no consideration …The property begins with him and also ends with him. Unless, he transfers his ownership over the property to a third party he remains the allodial owner. ABRAHAM v. OLORUNFUNMI (1991)1 NWLR(Pt.165) 53 per Niki Tobi JCA (as he then was).
    Ownership of land entails and covers incidents such as ; the right to exclusive possession, the right to personal use and enjoyment, the right to income for use by others, the right to unfettered capital value and alienation, the right to security or immunity from exculpation, the power to transfer by gift, device or decent, the residue or reversionary right.
    It is however regrettable to state here that these rights have been curtailed and reduced to a mere right of occupancy by the Land Use Act 1978. And as such before any person can alienate or dispose of any interest in land, the consent of the Governor of the state where the land is situate must be sought and obtained, thereby making it very difficult for people to own and acquire land in Nigeria.- SAVANNAH BANK v. AJILO (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt. 97) 305.
    it is against this background that it becomes imperative for anyone who claims ownership over any piece of land in Nigeria have to show proof of how he come to be the owner. of such land.

    It is trite law that he who alleges or asserts the existence of a fact or thing must prove as expressed in the Latin maxim ‘actori incumbit onus probandi’ meaning, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff or ‘affirmanti non neganti incumbit probatio’ which means the proof is incumbent on the one who affirms, not on the one who denies. Thus the burden of proving ownership of land rests on the party who claims to be the owner – SECTION 132 EVIDENCE ACT 2011.
    In the case of IDUNDUM v. OKUMAGBA (1976) 1 NWLR 200, the Supreme Court of Nigeria established five (5) methods of proving ownership of land in Nigeria such as;
    By Traditional Evidence,
    By Production of Document of Title,
    By acts of the person claiming land such as selling, leasing, etc,
    By acts of long possession,
    By proof of connected or adjacent land.
    In addition, Umezulike in his book ‘ABC of Contemporary Land Law’ added two other means of proving ownership of land in Nigeria which include;
    Graves of family members on the land,
    Adverse possession of the land for twelve (12) years or more.
    In this Article, our emphases shall be on oath taking as a means of proving ownership of land in Nigeria.


    The decision in UMEADI v. CHIBUNZE is one of the recent and lofty decisions of the Supreme Court giving credence to Customary Law practices particularly in the aspect of oath taking as a means of proving title or ownership of land.

    Sometime in 1940, there was a dispute between the Respondents’ family and that of the Appellants’ over a piece of land known as ‘Ise-Ekpe’. The dispute led to a traditional arbitration where both parties resorted to oath taking as a means of proving ownership of the said land. One Chibunze, a member of the Respondents’ family took the oath and thereafter the land was given to them having survived the oath. Years later, the Appellants laid claim over the same piece of land that was settled in the traditional arbitration which led to oath taken and this time, the matter went to court.
    At the trial court the Appellants relied on traditional history against the direct evidence of the Respondents. The trial court in its judgement ruled in favour of the Respondents. Dissatisfied, the Appellants approached the Court of Appeal which dismissed their appeal and affirmed the decision of the lower court. Further dissatisfied,the Appellants appealed to the Supreme Court.

    What is the position of the law where parties who believe in juju resort to oath taking to settle a dispute.

    The Supreme Court held that oath taking is a valid process under Customary Law for establishing the truth of a matter. Therefore, where parties who believe in the efficacy of a juju resort to oath taking to settle a dispute, they are bound by the result and so the Common Law principles in respect of proof of ownership of title to land no longer apply since the proof of ownership will be based on the rules set out by the traditional arbitration resulting to oath taking.

    The effect of this decision is that where parties willfully submit their selves to oath taking as a way of proving ownership to land and the oath is taken neither of the parties can withdraw or refuse to honour or adhere to the outcome of such oath. Thus oath taking remains a valid means of proving ownership or title to land.

About Me


Barrister and Solicitor of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

PRINCEWILL C. AMADI (LLB, BL, LLM in view) is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A Specialist in Maritime Law. He is a native of Ubima in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, Nigeria.



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