A delay in asserting ownership of a land over a long, period of time may lead to the loss of such property, a High Court has ruled in Port Harcourt.
Ruling in a land dispute that has lasted for six years between one Benjamin Chuku and six members of Woka family in Rumuowha Eneka in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Justice Boma Diepiri held that a claim by an owner of land can be voided if such owners fails to claim his/her property over a long period of time.
In his words… “the defendants slept on their right to set aside the alleged voidable sale for too long and it’s too late in the day to set aside same.”
Besides, he also declared that, “the law is that where a party seeking declaration of title to land can prove sale of land to him, he is entitled to the declaration sought.”
Mr Chuku had in a suit PHC/1989/2004 sought the court to declare his entitlement to the disputed land at Okporo-Woka Rumuowha in Eneka Town.
A declaration that the defendants entry into the piece of land as trespass and an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants by themselves, agents, servants or whosever from interfering with peaceable and quiet enjoyment of the said piece of land.
He informed the court that he had purchased the piece of land from the Woka family through the 6th defendant, Mr Sunday Woka in 1990.
He claimed that as at the time he bought the land, Mr Woka was head of the family and that there was no protest by the other members even after he fenced and erected beacons on the said property.
However, problem broke out in 2004 when he discovered that the beacons had been destroyed and the crops he planted on the land were uprooted.
The claimant stated that he later discovered that the damage was done by the 1st and 4th defendants and that the 1st defendant boasted in his presence on several occasions that he would sell the land since he did not recognise the claimant ownership.
Following arguments made by the defendants that all of them were not in support of the sale of their family land, Justice Diepiri frowned at their action in resorting to self help rather than seeking to void the transaction.
In the light of the this, the learned judge said it was too late for them to void the ownership of the land, adding “they waited until it is even the claimant himself that decided to come to court. For the avoidance of doubt, I hold that the said sale as evidenced in exhibit A is not voidable. It’s a valid sale under customary land.”
The judge further awarded the sum of N30,000 as general damages for trespass committed on the piece of land by the defendants.