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INCORPORATED TRUSTEES OF ROH EMPIRE MISSION v. MR. WILFRED O. OPARA

(2017) LPELR-42463(CA)

In The Court of Appeal of Nigeria

On Monday, the 22nd day of May, 2017

CA/OW/106/2013


Before Their Lordships

AYOBODE OLUJIMI LOKULO-SODIPE Justice of The Court of Appeal of Nigeria

ITA GEORGE MBABA Justice of The Court of Appeal of Nigeria

TUNDE OYEBANJI AWOTOYE Justice of The Court of Appeal of Nigeria


Between

INCORPORATED TRUSTEES OF ROH EMPIRE MISSION - Appellant(s)

AND

MR. WILFRED O. OPARA - Respondent(s)


Summary

INTRODUCTION:
This appeal borders on landlord/tenancy agreement.

FACTS:
This is an appeal against the judgment of Imo State High Court wherein the Court dismissed the claims of the Plaintiff, now Appellant.

Appellant had become a tenant of the Defendant and using the premises for religious purposes, but later their relationship suffered friction, leading to accumulation of rents, and attempt to eject the Appellant, forcefully. It became a Police case, and the Appellant claimed the Respondent decided to sell the property to a 3rd party. Appellant said that on getting the information of intention to sell the property, it approached the Respondent and offered to buy it. According to Appellant, the Respondent gave a condition, which was, that Appellant must clear the arrears of rent before being considered to buy the property. Appellant, therefore, raised the sum of Sixty Nine Thousand Naira (N69,000.00) to clear the accumulated arrears of rents covering January 2001 to December 2001 and January 2002 to November 2002.

The Appellant alleged that the parties, eventually, agreed on the purchase of the premises by Appellant, and that the Respondent released photocopy of his title documents to Appellant, to enable it conduct a search at the Lands Registry, Owerri, to confirm the title of the Respondent; Appellant prepared a Power of Attorney for execution by the Respondent. Appellant also wrote a cheque for the sum of 3 Million Naira, in the name of the Respondent, being what it said to be the agreed price of the property. The Respondent, eventually, refused to sign the prepared Power of Attorney or to collect the money.

The Respondent, according to appellant, then renewed his hostility to force the Appellant out of the property. Appellant filed this Suit in the High Court seeking the following reliefs;
"(a) The Sum of N6,809,919.00 (Six Million Eight Hundred and Nine Thousand Nine Hundred and Nineteen Naira) for unlawfully breaking into the premises in peaceful possession of the Plaintiff and maliciously destroyed and carting away the Plaintiff%u2019s property.
(b) An Order of specific performance, compelling the Defendant to sell or transfer all his interest in the premises to the Plaintiff, and execute all necessary documents of title in respect of same for the consideration of N3 Million as agreed by the parties.
IN THE ALTERNATIVE TO (b) ABOVE:
(c) The sum of N100,000,000 (One Hundred Million Naira) as damages for the breach of the said agreement to sell and transfer his interest in the said property, Plots 192/200 Ikenegbu Layout Extension, Owerri to the Plaintiff."

The Respondent%u2019s case was that Appellant, through one Evangelist Dr. Kabiru K. De-Gaya, rented the premises, but breached the terms of the tenancy and erected permanent structures on the land using steel and blocks, refused to pay the rent of N2000.00 per month, despite series of demands; he said that he gave Appellant ample time to give up possession of the premises to the Respondent, but  the Appellant refused to comply with the demands; the Respondent instructed his lawyer to issue appropriate statutory Notices to the said Dr. De-Gaya, which was done and yet he refused to vacate the premises. The Respondent filed a case of recovery of possession against the said Dr. De-Gaya at the Magistrate%u2019s Court, and while that case was still pending, Dr. De-Gaya, through the Claimant, instituted this Suit at the High Court alleging all sorts of unfounded claims; that the said Dr. De-Gaya and his church went to the extent of applying to the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Urban Planning, Owerri, for a grant of statutory right of occupancy over the said land; that on hearing this, the Respondent entered a caveat against the application, and this annoyed the said Dr. De-Gaya and his church, who proceeded to make malicious complaints to the Police against him, which complaints were discovered to be false by the Police. The Respondent said he had always dealt with the said Dr. De-Gaya, as his tenant, and not with Appellant, who is unknown to him. He said he visited Dr. De-Gaya in September 2002, and told him (De-Gaya) of his (Respondent%u2019s) intention to develop the premises. He stated that he did not and does not intend to sell his property; he never advertised the property for sale and never discussed any sale of the property with Dr. De-Gaya, his church and/or with any of his agents. He added that Power of Attorney and Cheque were mere fabrications of the Appellant, for the purpose of the Suit. He never applied any form of violence to recover the property.

After hearing the case, and considering the addresses of Counsel, the trial Court dismissed the claim of the Claimant (Appellant), holding that the case was frivolous, vexatious and an attempt by the Appellant to deprive the Respondent of the right to taking back his land. The Court also held that Appellant had no locus standi to institute the action. Dissatisfied with the decision, the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.


ISSUES:
The Appellant formulated the following issues for the consideration of the appeal:
(1) Whether the trial Court was right when it held that Appellant had no locus standi to bring the Suit and thereby dismissed the Suit.
(2) Whether the trial Court was right when it held that the Appellant failed to prove that the Respondent unlawfully destroyed and carted away the Appellant%u2019s properties.
(3) Whether the trial Court was right when it held that there was no enforceable/binding contract between the Appellant and the Respondent for the sale of the land, and therefore none was breached by the Respondent to entitle the Appellant to an Order for specific performance or for specific damages.

The Respondent adopted the 3 issues distilled by the Appellant, for the determination of the Appeal. The Court determined the appeal on the issues formulated by the Appellant.


DECISION/HELD:
On the whole, the Court found no merit in the appeal, it was accordingly dismissed with cost assessed at Forty Thousand Naira (N40,000.00) only to the Respondent.


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