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Yardi v. Saibaru

SIMON YARDI & 2 ORS.

V

ALHAJI ARDO SAIBARU & 3 ORS.

COURT OF APPEAL

( JOS DIVISION )

JOSEPH JEREMIAH UMOREH, JCA ( Presided )

CHRISTOPHER MITCHELL CHUKWUMA-ENEH, JCA

ISA ABUBAKAR MANGAJI JCA ( Read the Lead Judgment )

CA/J/116/94

MONDAY, 10TH JULY, 2000

APPEAL - Issues in dispute not narrowed down to question of inferences that could be drawn from proved facts on the record of appeal Failure of trial court to properly evaluate the evidence - Option open to appellate court in such instance

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Section 258 (1) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1979 - Interpretation of - Essence of Section 258 (5) as amended

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Section 258 (1) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1979 - Judgment delivered in violation of - When appellate court will set it aside

COURT - Evaluation of evidence and ascription of probative value thereto -  Primary duty of trial court in respect thereof

COURT - Trial judge’s use of the expression: “I believe” or “I do not believe” a witness without stating reason(s) - Effect

EVIDENCE - Proof - Standard of proof in civil cases - How determined EVIDENCE - Witnesses - Use of expressions: “I believe” or “I do not believe” a witness by a trial judge without giving reason for so saying -  Effect

JUDGMENT AND ORDERS - Judgment - Trial judge saying he believes or disbelieves evidence of a party without giving reason for so saying -  Effect

JUDGMENT AND ORDERS - Judgment delivered in contravention of Section 258 (1) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1979 - When appellate court will set it aside

JUDGMENT AND ORDERS - Judgment of court delivered outside the statutory period provided under Section 258 (1) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1979 - Effect of Section 258 (5) of the Constitution of 1979  as amended

LAND LAW - Title to land - Plaintiffs claiming that they founded the land Whether required to further show how they came to own same

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE - Evaluation of evidence and ascription of probative value to evidence - Duty of trial court

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE - Failure by trial court to properly evaluate evidence of a party - Judgment delivered outside the statutory period under Section 258 (1) of the 1979 Constitution - Consequence of and inference  therefrom

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE - Failure of trial court to properly evaluate and ascribe probative value to evidence - Issues in dispute not narrowed down to question of inferences that could be drawn from proved facts - Option open to appellate court

Issues:

  1. Whether the judgment delivered by the learned trial judge outside the constitutionally fixed period has not occasioned miscarriage of justice.
  2. Whether the trial judge adopted the correct procedure in writing his judgment when he minutely evaluated the evidence of the Appellants but failed to do same with the evidence of the Respondents.
  3. Whether the Appellants, upon the pleadings and evidence adduced, were entitled to judgment at the trial court.

Facts:

The Appellants, as Plaintiffs in the High Court, claimed that they were born and brought up on the land in dispute, but that in the 1960s, they migrated to Lugdira, Kwabalya and Danlohi villages, all within three kilometres from the land in dispute but continued to farm on the land and were thus in actual possession of it at all material times.

Misunderstanding began to manifest in 1971, when the Respondents, who were the Defendants at the High Court, planted tree seedlings on the land in dispute to show their commitment to the Federal Government’s launch of its afforestation programme.  The Appellants from Lugdira village did not take it kindly for they took it to be an affront to their title and possessory right over the land.  The Appellants uprooted all the tree seedlings planted by the Respondents on the land in dispute.  In order to forestall breach of the peace, the Mubi Local Government, within whose domain the two “warring” villages and parties belong, stepped into the dispute and declared the whole of the land in dispute a forest/Grazing reserve with the name Kochambi.

Not happy with the Local Government in taking over the land belonging to them, Appellants, whose title they said was by virtue of their being the first settlers on the land, between 1984 and 1988 went into the land and planted crops therein.  The Respondents from Pakka village drove their cattle into the land to graze whatever was on the land.  Intermittent clashes occurred and things came to a climax when the Respondents’ cattle went into the Appellants’ farms and destroyed their crops.  As a result, on 1 /6/89, the Appellants took out a writ of summons against the Respondents, claiming a declaration of title to customary right of occupancy to the land in dispute, a declaration that the purported acquisition of the land in dispute by Mubi Local Government and its consequent conversation into a Forest/ Grazing reserve is unlawful, null and void, and special damages of N55,510.00.

Pleadings were filed and exchanged and issues having been joined, the matter proceeded to trial.  After trial, judgment was reserved till 17th November, 1992 for delivery.  Judgment was not delivered on that day or on 7th December, 1992 and 17th February, 1993 to which dates it was further adjourned and no reason for the failure was given.  Judgment was eventually delivered on 16th March, 1993, exactly five months and twenty four days after the date of final addresses, and no reason was proffered why the judgment could not be delivered within the statutory period of three months.  In his judgment, the learned trial judge dismissed the Appellants’ claims in their entirety.

Dissatisfied with the judgment of the trial court, the Appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal.