Group of farmers and landowners have asked the Supreme Court to reject a claim by a prominent Kano businessman, Aminu Baba Nabegu, to an expanse of land lying between Refawa village and Garun Babba town in Kano Sate.
They told the court that they were the original owners and had farmed the land before Nabegu allegedly appropriated it, using his influence among law enforcement agents.
Their prayer is contained in court processes filed by their representatives in reply to an appeal, marked: SC/CV/437/2020 filed by Nabegu against an April 15, 2020 against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna.
The appellate court affirmed the ownership of the disputed land by the farmers, as argued by their lawyer, Magaji Mato Ibrahim.
Nabegu had sued at the Kano State High Court in 2014, alleging trespass on his land and named Gigo Mantu, Kabiru Gigo, Joseph Mazadu and Isiyaku Galadima (children of the original land owners) as defendants.
The plaintiff, in the suit marked: K/373/2014, claimed to have bought some portions of the disputed land from the defendants’ parents and had the other portions allocated to him by authorities of the Rano Local Government Area, which issued him a certificate of occupancy (C of O) over the said land.
On their part, Mantu, Gigo, Mazadu and Galadima argued that they are the rightful owners of the land having inherited it from the original founders – their grandparents and subsequently, their parents – to the exclusion of any other person, adding that their parents never sold the land to anyone.
They added that the part on which Nabegu claimed to have been issued a C of O by Rano LGA was left unutilised by their people for some time in anticipation of a government’s promised project, which never materialised, prompting them to return to the land. They alleged that the C of O and other documents being paraded by Nabegu were fraudulently obtained.
On July 2, 2018, Justice Amina Adamu Aliyu of the Kano State High Court delivered judgment in the case. Justice Aliyu upheld Nabegu’s claims; held among others, that the plaintiff proved his case with sufficient evidence, and rejected the defendants’ counter-clams.
Upon an appeal by Mantu, Gigo, Mazadu and Galadima, a three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division, in a judgment on April 15, 2020, set aside the decision by Justice Aliyu. The judgment was on the appeal marked: CA/K/502/2018.
Justice James Gambo Abundaga, in the lead judgment of the Court of Appeal, found that Justice Aliyu misapplied the law and acted on speculation when she held that Nabegu proved his case with sufficient evidence, and that the defendants failed to provided counter evidence.
“The judgment of the lower court is majorly predicated on the premise that the defendants did not prove their title to the land. This, in my view, is a clear misapplication of the law, which is now settled that a claimant of title to land must succeed on the strength of his case and not depend on the weakness or perceived weakness of the defence,” Justice Abundaga said.
He held that, as against the finding of the trial court, none of the documentary evidence tendered by Nabegu supported his claim that he bought part of the disputed land from the parents of Mantu, Gigo, Mazadu and Galadima.
Justice Abundaga held that, since Nabegu’s claim, as could be gleaned from his pleading, was that he bought several pieces of land from several farmers and from the parents of the appellants, it was incumbent on him to link his documents of title to the appellants through their parents and/or grandparents.
“Having failed so to do, I am at a loss as to how the lower court found Exhibits P, Q, R, S, W & X to be land agreements between the respondent and the grandparents of the appellants. The court clearly acted on speculation.
“The settled position of the law is that court does not act on speculation. The court is entitled to act only on cogent credible and admissible evidence, ”he said.
Justice Abundaga noted that Nabegu claimed that he had been in undisturbed possession for up to 25 years and exercised acts of ownership and possession before the encroachment that precipitated his filing the suit against the appellants at the Kano State High Court.
The judge then held that, since Nabegu failed to prove that he purchased the land from the parents of the appellants, ”he cannot now rely on acts of ownership and possession.”
He added that the settled position of the law is that “it is an established principle in land litigation that where a party pleads a root of title and also pleads acts of ownership, which are dependent on that root of title, he cannot succeed if he fails to prove that root of title to the land.”
Justice Abundaga noted that, while Nabegu pleaded and gave evidence that Rano Local Government made some allocations to him and presented documents, showing the purported allocations, which the court admitted in evidence, he failed to establish his claim that Rano LGA lawfully allocated any portion of the disputed land to him.
The judge found that: “None of them (the documents) was, by credible and clear evidence, linked to lands which hitherto belonged to the parents of the appellants but were revoked by Rano Local Government and allocated to the respondent as claimed by him.
“Therefore, the issue of whether the appellants’ lands were lawfully revoked and allocated to the respondent does not even arise.”
Justice Abundaga proceeded to uphold the counter-claim by Mantu, Gigo, Mazadu and Galadima, which included an order perpetually restraining Nabegu and his agents from further parading himself or themselves as the owner/owners of the land, and awarded N150,000 damages against him.
Other Justices on the panel of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna – Saidu Tanko Hussaini and Oludotun A. Adefope-Okojie – agreed with the lead judgment, a decision Nabegu has now appealed at the Supreme Court, with Mantu, Gigo, Mazadu and Galadima also filing a cross-appeal.
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