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(2018) LPELR-44193(SC)

In The Supreme Court of Nigeria

On Friday, the 13th day of April, 2018


Before Their Lordships

IBRAHIM TANKO MUHAMMAD Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

KUMAI BAYANG AKA'AHS Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria


AMINA ADAMU AUGIE Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria




3. MONSURU ARIJE - Respondent(s)

Other Citations

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This appeal borders on Property Law.

This is an appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal Lagos division.

The respondents in this appeal are some of the children of one Alhaji Garuba Arije (deceased) and beneficiaries of his estate. He died intestate on 15/3/1977. The present appellant and one Alhaji Jimoh Arije were appointed by the family of the deceased to administer his estate on behalf of his children, who were all minors at the time of his death, until at least one of them attained maturity. The Letters of Administration were duly obtained. The children of the deceased however alleged that the administrators failed to live up to their undertaking, as they did not take care of them nor educate them. They also complained that the administrators failed to render account of their administration in spite of repeated demands. They therefore instituted an action against them along with the Probate Registrar before the High Court of Lagos State by way of Originating Summons filed on 9/7/1998. The appellant was the 2nd respondent. Affidavits and counter affidavits were exchanged between the parties. Before the hearing of the Originating summons, there was an effort to resolve the matter amicably. As a result of negotiations between the parties, Terms of Part Settlement were filed, adopted and made the judgment of the Court on 21/9/1999. Pursuant to the said Terms of Part Settlement, the appellant renounced his position as Administrator of the Estate. The respondents acknowledged receipt of original copies of all the title documents in respect of nine landed properties belonging to their late father hitherto in the possession of the Administrators. The properties were listed in a schedule to the Terms. The property at 13 Onayade Street, Ikorodu Road, Igbobi Lagos was a bone of contention and therefore not included in the Terms. Having regard to the controversial nature of the affidavits before the Court, pleadings were ordered, filed and subsequently amended. One of the administrators, Alhaji Jimoh Arije died and his name was struck out. The present appellant became the 1st defendant while the Probate Registrar became the 2nd defendant.

The plaintiffs sought some reliefs before the Court. The 1st defendant/appellant filed a Further Amended Statement of Defence and Counter-Claim also seeking some reliefs with respect to the property in dispute. In reaction, the plaintiffs filed a reply to the 1st defendant's Further Amended Statement of Defence and Defence to Counter Claim on 4/5/2005. They also filed a further Reply on 5/5/2005.

The matter proceeded to trial. In his defence, the appellant contended that the property at 13 Onayade Street, Igbobi, Lagos belonged to him. That he bought the property in his own name but gave the title documents to his late brother for safe keeping. He stated that it was after his brothers' demise that he discovered that the name on the title document had been altered to read Alhaji Garuba Arije in place of his own name. It was also his testimony that when the change was discovered, it was agreed by the elders of the family, on the advice of one Dr. M.A. Yesufa, Alhaji Garuba Arije's solicitor, who had since died, that the property at 13 Onayade Street should remain on the list of properties belonging to the deceased for the purpose of the application for Letters of Administration and that necessary steps to rectify the Proprietorship Register would be taken at a later date.

In a considered judgment delivered on 11/10/2006 the plaintiffs' claims were dismissed while all the reliefs in the 1st defendant's counter claim were granted. Being dissatisfied with the judgment, the respondents herein appealed to the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division. The Court allowed the appeal on 7/7/2010 in the following terms:
"From the entirety of the documentary evidence before this Court, this appeal succeeds in Part. The decision of the learned Trial Judge contained in the Judgment of 11 October 2006 granting the reliefs in the counter-claim of the Respondent is hereby set aside. In its stead I enter judgment for the plaintiff as follows:
1. I declare that property situate at No. 13, Onayade Street, Ikorodu Road, Lagos is owned by ALHAJI GARUBA ARIJE (deceased) to the exclusion of any person(s).
2. I declare that the property situate at Shifawu Street Surulere and listed as No. 5, in the Letter of Administration belongs to the said deceased.
3. I order the 1st respondent to render a comprehensive Statement of Account of the deceased estate prepared by a Chartered Accountant stating income realized from the deceased estate from the period when 1st Respondent took over management and administration of same on appointment in 1977 till 1991.
4. I order possession of the property at 13 Adebiaye Street Yaba, Lagos by the Appellant.
5. Cost is assessed and awarded in the sum of N30,000.00 in favour of the Appellant."

The appellant was aggrieved with the decision and then further appealed to the Supreme Court.

The apex Court determined the appeal on the issues formulated by the Appellant as follows:
(i) Whether in adjudicating upon the competing claims of the parties in respect of property at 13, Onayade Street Ikorodu Road Igbobi, Yaba, the Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right to have set up for the parties a case different from the one set up by the parties in their pleadings.
ii) Whether the Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right to have formulated or raised and decided an issue suo motu without hearing the parties on such issue so formulated in respect of the property at 13, Onayade Stret, Ikorodu Road, Igbobi, Yaba.
iii) Whether the Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were not in error when they held that "the Appellants led evidence with documents tendered before the Court to establish title. The burden shifted unto the Respondent to impugn on the validity of the documents."
iv) Whether the Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were justified in re-evaluating the evidence before the trial Court and substituting their own views in respect of the Appellants credibility.
v) Whether the Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were not in error to have ordered possession of the property at 13, Onayade Street, Ikorodu Road, Igbobi, Yaba, Lagos in favour of the Respondents contrary to the evidence lead by the Parties.
vi) Whether the Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were not in error when they held that "the respondents did not lead evidence in line with the method settled in a catalogue of cases of establishing title to the property at Shifawu Street, Surulere", but proceeded to give judgment in favour of respondents."

In conclusion, the Supreme Court found the appeal devoid of merit. It was thereby dismissed.

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