March 3, 2024

LAND TUSSLE: Appeal Court Dismisses Case File By Ukhiri Village, Awards N15m In Favour Of Community

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By Simeon OSAJIE

The Appeal Court sitting in Benin City has dismissed case filed before it by the Ukhiri Village, challenging the earlier declarative reliefs judgement delivered by the State High Court in Benin in favour of Ulegun Village, both of Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area of Edo State.

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The Appeal Court also allowed the cross appeal filed by the cross appealants (Ulegun) against the cross respondents (Ukhiri Village) and awarded the sum of Fifteen Million Naira ( N15, 000,000.00) as damages against Ukhiri.

In a unanimous decision read by Justice Biobele Abraham Georgewill, in the main and cross appeal with suit No. CA/B/147/2018 and CA/B/147A, respectively, the court dismissed the Ukhiri’s appeal for lacking in merit.

The Respondents (Ulegun) had on May 25, 2004 approached the trail court (High Court) to seek amongst others a declaration as the owners of the parcel of land measuring 225.47 hectares lying and situated along the Benin-Abraka road, Ulegun village in Ikpoba-Okha local government, Edo state.

Also, a declaration that the act of Ukhir Village entry, selling off, building or doing anything whatsoever on the land amounted to the violation of the ruling against the defendants, Ukhiri Osemwende Village in Suit No: 268/B/76 that was upheld by the Supreme court in Suit No: SC/178/1993 and that such act amounted to trespass.

Delivering her judgment which lasted for about two hours in November 2018, Justice Esther Amenaghawon Edigin (now retired) said: “Judgment is hereby entered in favour of the claimants (Ulegun Dukedom) and against the defendants ( Ukhiri Osemwende Dukedom).

“The claimants are entitled to the declaration of title and it is hereby declared that they are the owners of that whole parcel of land measuring 224. 45 hectares lying and situated at Ulegun Village in the Benin-Abraka Road, Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area of Edo State.

“Any sales by the defendants on the land is hereby nullified. The defendants, their agents, servants are perpetually restrained from selling, erecting building or doing anything on the land.

“And a damage of N2.5 million is hereby awarded against the defendants (Ukhiri ) and in favour of the claimants (Ulegun)”, the court ruled.

Justice Edigin who averred that the court does not have jurisdiction to sit on appeal over the ruling of the Supreme court.

Edigin, maintained that it would amount to judicial rascality and also dismissed the counter claims of the defendants.

However, not satisfied with the judgement of the trial court, Ukhiri approached the appellant court to seek amongst others the up turning of the decision of trail court while Ulegun in a cross appeal also approached the court for possible review of the earlier N2.5 million Naira damages against Ukhiri.

Recall that Ukhiri had on 1976 dragged Ulegun to court alleging encroachment of a portion of its land by Ulegun.

At the lower court, the court observed that the survey plan tendered by Ukhiri as exhibit A was in agreement with that of Ulegun contrary to what they (Ukhiri people) were claiming, hence judgement was entered against Ukhiri and in favour of Ulegun.

The case was again struck out at the Appeal Court for lack of merit along with cost awarded against the appellants over damages and trespass.

Not satisfied with the judgements, Ukhiri village approached the Supreme court on ground that the defendants (Ulegun) only defended their claim in 1976 but did not counter claim.

After hearing, the apex court upheld the decision of the lower courts and extinguished the appellants’ claim to all the parcel of lands situated on the Benin Abraka road, Ikpoba Okha local government area by the Ukhiri community.

This prompted the Ulegun community to seek legal service of Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) and Co. to seek declarative reliefs which were granted by Justice Esther Edigin rtd, in 2018.

Addressing newsmen shortly after the judgements, delivered via Zoom, Counsel to Ulegun Village, Anderson Uwadiae Asemota (Esq), hailed the judgement, declaring that the judiciary remains the last hope of the common man.

He said with the alleged influence wielded by Ukhiri community, Ulegun would have lost the case, describing the judgement as victory for democracy.

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