A Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos has set aside the judgment of the State High Court, which restricted the Oloja of Epe, Oba Kamorudeen Animashaun from adjudicating over a parcel of land in Alakaba area in Epe Kingdom.
Justice A. J. Bashua of the State High Court had declared in a judgment delivered in a suit delineated EPD/017LM/2016 on September 22, 2021, that the claimants who instituted the suit against the monarch and others are entitled to the Certificate of Occupancy on the land situate and being along Ijebu-Ode Road, at Ita-Marun, Epe covered by survey plan dated the 7th of November 1927.
But in a unanimous decision, the three man panel led by Justice Abdulai Mahmud Bayero ruled that the importance of jurisdiction in all adjudicative exercise cannot be overemphasised and it is well settled that if a court is shown to have no jurisdiction to entertain a matter before it, the result will be that all its proceedings on the matter, however well conducted, are a nullity and any decision reached thereon by the court is void ab initio and of no effect whatsoever.
“The long established principle of law is that the courts, in seeking to determine its jurisdiction, look solely at the claimant’s claims as contained in his originating processes. However, in a case like this, where the issue of statute of limitation is being raised on appeal for the first time, this court is not confined to look at the originating processes alone.
“The Court should consider the pleadings of both parties in arriving at the question of when the cause of action arose. From Paragraphs 11, 12 and 13 of the Respondents’ statement of claim they did not state when they first discovered that the 3 Defendant (Unknown Persons) was encroaching on the land; the letter purportedly written by the Respondents were not written to the Appellants but to some unknown person and even the said letters never referenced the actual date or period they became aware of the encroachment, At Paragraph 14 of the statement of Claim the Respondents stated that the “Defendants have been selling, alienating and building on the Claimants’ family land without the consent of the Claimants’ family.”
“The Appellants however in their statement of defence not only denied the claim of the Respondents but also went further to state that the land in dispute has been in exclusive possession of the Ebode Community from time immemorial; that the Appellants have been in occupation of the land in dispute to the knowledge of the Respondents,” the court held.
“It is therefore too late for the Respondents to wake after these several years to claim that some unknown persons encroached on their land. The claims of the Respondents having become statute barred are bound to be dismissed. They cannot also claim ignorance of the facts in the Appellants’ statement of defence which evidence various acts of possession of the land in dispute by the Ebode Community. Having watched the Appellants’ community exercise acts of ownership on the land, the Respondents cannot wake up in 2016 to start laying claim to the land. The Respondents acknowledged this fact in Paragraph 14 of their statement of claim when they averred that the “Defendants have been selling, alienating and building on the Claimants’ family land without the consent and authority of the Claimants’ family”. When this admission by the Respondents is read together with the unrebutted facts of long possession pleaded in the Appellants’ statement of defence, then the only conclusion to be drawn is that there is an unexplained delay, lapses and acquiescence on the part of the Respondents
The claimants in the suit; Alhaji Olayiwola Kaka, Alhaji Habeebullahi Kaka and Alhaji Imam Abdullahi Kaka had initiated the legal action for themselves and as representatives of the Family of Kaka against the monarch, his chief; Dada Yesiru and Unknown Persons to stop trespassing on their ancestral land.
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