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Never Sleep On Your Rights
Published Oct 03, 2020 IN Column, LAW & SOCIETY,
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The Limitation Law is evoked in all civil matters that come before court. The law expects all to be alive to their Rights. Time is precious, and this is espe­cially so in the conduct of the business of court. Hence the popular maxim: ‘Equity aids the vigilant’, a maxim which the court always sets before itself as a guide. Anyone whose right has been trampled upon must take action expeditiously to seek redress; otherwise, they might be adjudged to have slept on their rights and thus given up such rights forever. The Limitation Law exists to ginger litigants up and have them realize that the law abhors indolence. The law does not sympathize with the tardy, and will have no one believe that he or she has eternity to rise up and fight for his or her rights.


The seriousness of the Limitation Law is especially felt in land cases. Section 6 of the Limitation Law, for instance, provides that land can no longer be recovered by court action after 12 years from the date the cause of action first arose. That is to say that a court will cease to have juris­diction to entertain a case of Trespass to Land if within 12 years since the Claimant becomes aware of the Trespass he fails to bring an action to redress it.


Mr. CD bought a piece of land in Fortune Town from an old friend of his, Mr. UZ. He bought the said land measuring 100 feet by 100 feet on the 1st of October, 1988. A Deed of Conveyance was prepared over the land, and was then signed, sealed and delivered. Mr. CD got the land surveyed. With the Survey Plan, he proceeded to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy on the land from the Ministry of Lands, Surveys & Urban Development. Then, to make as­surances doubly sure, as they would say, he put up a dwarf fence around the land. Then in February, 1989, he decided to travel to the United States of America in quest of the Golden Fleece. But before he left, he told Mr. UZ:


‘My good friend, please, keep an eye on my land for me while I’m away. You have my permission to continue to cultivate it till I’ve made enough money from America to come and develop it.’


‘Of course! You don’t have a single thing to worry about,’ Mr. UZ assured him.


And that was the agreement between the two friends: that Mr. UZ could keep cultivating his little garden on the land he had sold to his friend, Mr. CD, till the latter would come home from the US with enough funds to develop the land. However, less than eight months after Mr. CD’s departure, Mr. UZ died in his sleep. He had four sons who, immediately after their father’s burial, called an extended family meeting and declared that they wanted to share the properties that their late father had left behind. Then in the process of sharing their father’s properties, late Mr. UZ’s sons took possession of the landMr. CD had bought from their father.


By the time Mr. CD visited home in De­cember, 1990, he discovered that a struc­ture already at the lintel level was standing on his land! Mr. CD was furious when he learnt that the uncompleted building be­longed to Mr. UZ Junior. He gathered his Title Deeds and went to show them to late Mr. UZ’s family.


‘Those documents don’t prove anything,’ said Mr. UZ Junior. ‘Papa never told me that he sold that land to anyone.’


‘You’re lying through your teeth, young man. Every member of this family knew that I bought that land from your father. Your two uncles, Mike and Gab, signed as witnesses to the transaction; it’s all here in black and white. Or are you suggesting that I forged these land documents?’


‘Anything is possible,’ said Mr. UZ Junior obstinately. ‘When our father died, all the people who had unfinished businesses with him in one form or the other came forward and we settled with them before sharing his properties. How can you now drop from the blue, six whole months after we shared the properties to say that the share that got to me had been purchased by you. I’ll never take that rubbish. I won’t!’


Mr. CD could not believe his ears. He was an urbane gentleman and was well aware that bandying words or exchanging blows with the young man would not be the right way to settle the matter. So he made up his mind to take the matter to court. However, it was just a decision and he failed to consult a lawyer immediately. Instead he decided to go back to the United States first, and then return at a later date to file and pursue the case.


Unfortunately for him, ‘later’ could not come soon enough. By the time he got back to his station in the States, the pressure of work and family concerns kept him so preoccupied that the thought of his land in Fortune Town, Nigeria, got pushed to the farthest corner of his mind. It was when his father died in June 2004 and his relations phoned to tell him about it, that he finally decided to take a long holiday during the period of the funeral of his father and use the opportunity to finally sue Mr. UZ Junior to reclaim his land.


‘I’m gonna get the court to order that rogue to uproot his house from my land. It’s gonna give me great joy to see that brat cry by the time I’m done with him. The court is surely gonna give me judgment because I’ve got all my title documents neat!’ Mr. CD boasted to his friends and family members.


So, almost as soon as he got to Nigeria in October, 2004, he rushed to a lawyer and briefed him to begin legal proceed­ings against Mr. UZ Junior. Nevertheless, the moment the lawyer heard that his cli­ent had become aware of the Defendant’s Trespass to his land since the year 1990, he knew that he had got a bad case on his hands.


By the by, the case went to court. Counsel to Defendant, expectedly, raised a Preliminary Objection, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit on ground that it was ‘Statute-barred’. In his submission, counsel to Defendant ar­gued that since Mr. CD had become aware of the alleged Trespass to his land when he had come to Nigeria in 1990 but waited till 2004 to bring the present action against the Defendant, the case had become caught up by Section 6 of the Limitation Law, since by the said law such a case must be brought to court within 12 years of Plain­tiff becoming aware of the Trespass. Court agreed entirely with the submissions of counsel to Defendant/Applicant.


Thus, in spite of Mr. CD’s excellent Title Deeds, his case against Mr. UZ Junior was dismissed in its entirety. In the opinion of court, the Claimant had slept on his rights and he might as well get on with his slum­ber, for ‘Equity does not aid the indolent’. (Email: umebeiozowa@gmail.com).

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