CASE TITLE: OFFIONG & ANOR v. ITA (2024) LPELR-61582(CA)
JUDGMENT DATE: 5TH JANUARY 2024
PRACTICE AREA: LIMITATION LAW
LEAD JUDGMENT: BALKISU BELLO ALIYU, J.C.A.
SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:
This appeal borders on the limitation of action in a land matter.
This appeal is against the ruling of the High Court of Cross River State, sitting at Calabar, delivered on March 4, 2019 by Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme.
The suit was filed by the respondent as the plaintiff against the appellants as the defendants by writ of summons, in which he prayed the trial court for a declaration that the legal title to the property vests in the claimant, and he is thus entitled to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy of the property situated and known as NO. 2B Edibe Edibe Road, Calabar, and registered as NO. 8 in volume 138 of the Lands Registry of Calabar, possession of the disputed property, an order of interlocutory injunction, perpetual injunction, arrears of rent, and damages.
The respondent bought the disputed property from the late Mrs. Mary Essien Eyamba on 1/3/1993, and the second appellant was a sitting tenant on the property. The respondent claimed that she permitted the former owner to continue residing on the property as an elderly person and her friend and to continue collecting rent from the second appellant, who was also a tenant on the property. The Appellant stopped paying rent to the Respondent’s friend and former owner and contrived a plan with the former owner of the property purporting that the Respondent had relinquished ownership and surrendered possession of the property back to the former owner so that the difficult tenant, the 2nd Appellant, could be made to pay rent to the former owner. In pursuance of this connivance, the appellants employed the services of a lawyer, who drafted a letter containing their contrivance and requested the respondent sign it. It was after the demise of Mrs. Mary Essien Eyamba, the former owner, in 1998 that the Respondent applied to the Land’s Registry to register her title to the property, but the husband of Mrs. Eyamba, the 1st Appellant, relied on the letter written by the 2nd Appellant to enter a caveat on the property at the Ministry of Lands Calabar on the ground that since the Respondent wrote that letter, the property reverted back to his late wife and now belongs to him after her demise.
The respondent filed suit No. HC/141/2000 against the 1st Appellant, but the suit was struck out when the issue of the caveat was amicably settled with the intervention of the former counsel, who wrote the letter of revertal of the property to the former owner. The property was then registered in the name of the respondent. The respondent then appointed an attorney who collected rents for the property from the second appellant for many years. However, trouble occurred in 2009, when the respondent sought to eject the second appellant from the property. The second appellant, through his lawyers, claimed that he had bought the property from the first appellant, and the property has been assigned to him. The respondent then filed this suit, no. HC/587/2016, claiming the above-stated reliefs.
In response, the appellants filed a statement of defence and counter-claimed the said property. In addition, the appellants filed a notice of preliminary objection, in which they prayed the trial court for an order dismissing the suit on the ground that the suit is statute-barred and therefore incompetent. The learned trial judge delivered the trial court’s ruling on the appellants’ preliminary objection, relying on the case of Brig. Gen. O. B. OLORUNKUNLE & ANOR. VS. ALHAJI ABAYOMI S. ADIGUN & ORS. (2012) ALL FWLR (PT. 614) 139 at 153, and held that the issue could be tackled as one of the issues for determination after the hearing of the matter and consideration of the peculiar circumstances of the case. It was therefore the ruling of the Court that the issue be tackled after the hearing of the case, along with other issues that may arise.
The appellants, aggrieved with the ruling of the trial court, filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal.
ISSUE(S) FOR DETERMINATION:
The Court determined the appeal based on a sole issue, thus:
“Whether the suit is not statute-barred?”
In the final analysis, the Court dismissed the appeal.
• ACTION-CAUSE(S) OF ACTION: Definition of cause of action
• ACTION: STATUTE BARRED ACTION: What the Court considers when the plea of statute bar is raised
• LIMITATION LAW: LIMITATION OF ACTION: Whether the issue of limitation of action is a jurisdictional issue which is fundamental and must be determined first when raised
• LIMITATION LAW: LIMITATION OF ACTION: Whether the issue of limitation can be raised for the first time on appeal
• LIMITATION LAW: LIMITATION PERIOD: How to determine period of limitation