In an era where virtually every Nigerian, both working class and peasants have some certain vested interest in landed property in the country, it is hard to avoid incidence of disputes over properties in which they have such interests.
The Nigerian courts are swamped almost daily with numerous processes filed by aggrieved property owners spanning issues of trespass to land and sundry issues claiming certain declaratory reliefs for these grievances.
Now, it is a well-known and expected fact that an aggrieved person MUST not take the law into his or her own hands by resorting to self-help but must rather initiate the process of accessing the appropriate courts for redress.
How Title to Land is Proved in Nigerian Courts
According to the Supreme Court in the celebrated case of IDUNDUN & ORS v. OKUMAGBA & ORS (1976) 9-10 SC 227 @ Pp. 246-250, there are 5 (Five) ways by which a person may prove or establish his title to property in Nigeria. They include;
By traditional Evidence
By production of a document of grant or title
By proving acts of possession and ownership extending over a sufficient length of time and are numerous and positive enough to warrant the inference that the plaintiff is an exclusive owner
By proving acts of long possession and enjoyment of the land; but this only raises the presumption of ownership
By proof of possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances which make it probable that the owner of such adjacent or connected land is probably the owner of the land in dispute.
See the case of THOMPSON & ANOR v. AROWOLO (2003) LPELR-3240 (SC) for further emphasis.
In another case, the court also itemised in another form the five ways by which a person may prove his title to a property in Nigeria. The court has this to say in this respect;
“They are five (5) ways of proving title to land as enumerated in the cases of DABO v. ABDULLAHI (2005) 5 MJSC P. 57 @ 68; IDUNDUN v. OKUMAGBA (1976) MC 227 and AYOOLA v. ODOFIN (1984) 2 SC 120. The five (5) ways to prove title to land are:
By traditional evidence;
Production of documents of title duly authenticated and authorized;
Acts of selling, leasing, renting out all or part of the land or farming thereon or part of it;
Acts of long possession and enjoyment of the land, or
Proof of possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances rendering it probable that that the owner of such connected or adjacent land would in addition, be the owner of the land in dispute.”
It should be noted that it is very much possible for a person to go ahead and prove his title using more than one (1) of the ways enumerated above but must bear in mind that each way of proof has its own set of rules to be followed in order to achieve success on trial by discharging the burden of proof placed on him by the law.
Unlike criminal burden of proof which is “proof beyond reasonable doubt”, the nature of the burden of proof placed upon a litigant in the case of proof of title, being a civil suit is nothing but “a balance of probability” which always tilts from one party to another until the balance tilts favourably upon the successful party after satisfying the court of his interest in the property.
Finally, the general implication of the afore-mentioned ways of proving title to property is that a person is able to pull together the positive results of resting on a particular means of proof to establish his case in order to obtain judgment in his favour.