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Limitation of action in recovery of customary land in Lagos State, Nigeria.

Introduction:

There are a lot of problems associated with land or property acquisition in Lagos State. Land owners and prospective land owners sometimes purchase lands which are subject matter of litigation even without having knowledge of it. It becomes more expedient that concrete steps be taken to conduct necessary search at the land registry and with appropriate government agencies for the determination of the status of the land before purchase.

But in the event that such an error have already occurred that an individual bought a land that is a subject matter of litigation, this article is to analyze the limitation period to recover land or make any claim arising from a customary land in Lagos State.

What is Limitation Law?

The term “limitation” in the context of Limitation Law means a period after which an action can no longer be brought in a court of law to enforce a wrong. Statute of Limitation is a law that bars claims after a specified period. The objective of such law is to require diligent prosecution of claims so as to provide finality or predictability in legal matters and to ensure that claims will be resolved while evidence is still available and fresh.

Limitation laws, where applicable void a person’s right to seek redress for a wrong and the plaintiff is regrettably but unavoidably left with a bare and unenforceable cause of action. See the case of Egbe v. Adefarasin (No. 2) (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 47) 1 at 4; Elabanjo v. Dawodu (2006) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1001) 76 at 132 F.

Statute Barred and Statute of Limitation to recover land:

In Aremo v. Adesanya (2004) LPELR- 544 (SC) the Supreme Court held that:

“Where an action is statute barred, a plaintiff who might otherwise have had a cause of action loses the right to enforce it by judicial process because the period of time laid down by the limitation for instituting such an action has lapsed.”

As held by the same Supreme Court in A-G Federation & Ors. v. Sode & Ors (1990) LPELR- 601 (SC), it was stated that:

“A court can only exercise jurisdiction with respect to a right of action and cannot assume jurisdiction unless the plaintiff who has brought the action before it has a right of action.” See also Per Agim, J.C.A. (p. 21, paras. A-D) in Nwiboeke & Ors v. Nwokpuru (2016) LPELR-41524(CA).

Statute of limitation usually restricts the time within which legal proceedings may be brought. It requires that an action must be commenced within a specific period of time, failing which the right of action becomes extinguished.

Limitation laws are strict liability laws, their provisions therefore are stringent. Thus, where an action is statute barred, the proper order to make by the court is one of dismissal and not striking out. This is because a statute barred action cannot be amendable in any manner to give it life. See the cases of Eboigbe v. NNPC (1994) 5 NWLR (Pt. 347) 649 and Anukwu v. Eze (2012) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1310) 56-57.

Essence of limitation law:

The objective of such law is to require diligent prosecution of claims so as to provide finality or predictability in legal matters and to ensure that claims will be resolved while evidence is still available and fresh. Limitation laws, where applicable void a person’s right to seek redress for a wrong and the plaintiff is regrettably but unavoidably left with a bare and unenforceable cause of action. See the case of Egbe v. Adefarasin (No. 2) (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 47) 1 at 4; Elabanjo v. Dawodu (2006) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1001) 76 at 132.

In the case of Mercantile Bank of Nig. Plc. v. FETECO (Nig) Ltd. (1998) 2 NWLR (PT. 540) 143 at 156-157, Tobi JCA explained the matter lucidly thus:

“A Statute on Limitation of action is designed to stop or avoid situations where a plaintiff can commence action any time he feels like doing so, even when human memory would have normally faded and therefore failed. Putting it in another language, by the Statutes of limitation, a plaintiff has not the freedom of the air to sleep or slumber and wake up at his own time to commence an action against a defendant. The different Statutes of Limitation which are essentially founded on the principles of equity and fair play will not avail such a sleeping or slumbering plaintiff. He will be stopped from commencing the action and that is a just and fair situation. A plaintiff who suddenly wakes up from a very deep sleep only to remember that the defendant had wronged him, can, I think, be rightly ‘greeted’ by the defendant with the appropriate limitation statute, waving same to him as a basis for redress…….”

Purpose of limitation period: 

The main purpose of the limitation period is to protect a defendant from the injustice of having to face a stale claim. Put in another way a claim which he never expected to have to deal. For example, if a claim is brought a long time after the events in question, there is a strong likelihood that evidence which was available earlier may have been lost, and the memories of witnesses may have faded. See the case of Chief Yakubu Sanni v. Okene Local Government & Anor. (2005) LPELR-CA/A/148/2002. per Rhodes-Vivour, J.C.A. (P. 13, paras. A-C).

The purport of a Limitation law is that where the statute prescribes a time within which an action should be brought legal proceedings cannot be properly or validly be instituted after the expiration of the period so limited. Any action instituted after the period so limited is said to be statute barred. When an action is statute barred, it is generally said that the right of action has expired and the party cannot enforce the cause of action by judicial process even when the cause of action is still in existence. See the case of Chief Dr. Felix Amadi & Anor v. Independent National Electoral Commission & Ors (2012) LPELR-7831 (SC) and Araka v. Ejeagwu (2000) 12 S.C. (PT. 1) 99.

In the end, the effect of a limitation law is that legal proceedings cannot be properly or validly instituted after the expiration of the prescribed period, as was held per Adekeye, J.S.C. in the case of Congress for Progressive Change & Ors v. Mallam Isa Yuguda & Ors. (2012) LPELR-SC.34/2012.

Aim and object of statute of limitation: 

Generally, it is the belief of the law that where there is a wrong there is a remedy and when it comes to dispensing of the remedy the Law cannot be helpless. This, notwithstanding, the law expects that everyone who has a right to claim must be alive to his responsibilities in claiming such right as and when due. The law does not encourage anyone to sleep on his right, possibly snore, and saunter into dreamland and slumber. Then come out when everyone in the community has moved on to begin the agitation for his stale right. That is why the law brings up statutory and equitable defences to aid the vigilant against the indolent.

It is also meant to safeguard the society which is covered by the well crafted public policy that there should be an end to litigation. This had earlier on been expressed by this Court in the case of Mercantile Bank (Nig.) Ltd. v. FETECO (1998) 3 NWLR (PT. 540) 143, 156 where Tobi JCA (as he then was) held:

“A statute of limitation is designed to stop or avoid situations where a Plaintiff can commence an action anytime he feels like doing so even when human memory would have normally faded and therefore failed. Putting it in another language by the statute of limitation, a Plaintiff has not the freedom of the air to sleep or slumber and wake up at his own time to commence an action against a Defendant. The different statutes of limitation which are essentially founded on the principles of equity and fair play will not avail such a sleeping or slumbering Plaintiff.”

That aptly captures the philosophy of the Limitation Statutes. See the case of
Mr. Semiu Sobowale & Ors. v. The Governor of Ogun State & Ors. (2018) LPELR-CA/IB/276/2016.

Implication of limitation period:

On this issue of limitation, the fundamental principle that has been ironed out from a plethora of authorities is the fact that where a statute of limitation prescribes period within which an action must be commenced, legal proceedings cannot be properly or validly instituted or prosecuted after the expiration of the prescribed period. Capacity to take legal proceedings in Court over the matter is foreclosed if the step is not taken within the time set by the law.

The implication or effect of limitation law is that where an action is statute barred a Claimant who might otherwise have had a valid cause of action loses the right to enforce it by judicial process because of the lapse of time. See the cases of Aremo II v. Adekanye (2004) 13 NWLR (Pt. 891) 572; Sanda v. Kukawa Local Govt. & Anor. (1991) 2 NWLR (PT. 174) 379, 381, 389; NPA Plc. v Lotus Plastics Ltd. (2005) 19 NWLR (Pt. 959) 158; P. N. Udoh Trading Co. LTD. v. Abere (2007) 11 NWLR (Pt. 723) 114; Ibrahim v. JSC (1998) 14 NWLR (Pt. 584) 1.

The limitation so called must be limitation imposed by a statute. That is why such statutes are known as Statutes of Limitation. They limit time to take action. Failure to comply has fatal consequences to any action that is filed in Court after the expiration of time. The good thing about it is the fact that limitation period can never exist in obscurity. Everybody must see it as specific as it is in the language of the statute concerned.

When does limitation period begin to run?

It has been held in a plethora of cases in this country that ordinarily the period of limitation begins to run from the date the cause of action arose, so long as the claimant is under no legal disability which may postpone the running of the statutory period, and that the mere fact that negotiations are still going on between the parties will not stop the statutory period from running. See the case of Mark Amachere & Anor. v. The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (2011) LPELR-CA/PH/173/2009.

How to calculate the period of limitation applicable in a matter: 

In Amusan v. Obideyi (2005) 31 WRN 1 at 6; Kutigi JSC in the lead judgment explained how to calculate the period of limitation applicable in a matter this way:

“The court will look at the writ and statement of claim which alleges when the wrong suffered by the plaintiff was committed and placing it side by side with the date on which the writ was issued. If the writ was issued beyond the time allowed by the applicable limitation law, then the action can be said to be statute barred.”

See also Jallico Ltd v. Owoniboys Tech. Services Ltd. (1995) 4 NWLR (PT. 391) 534 at 538 and Osun State Government v. Dalemi Nigeria Ltd (2003) All FWLR (PT. 365) 438.

In the case of Egbe v. Adefarasin (No. 2) (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 47) 1 at 4, the Supreme Court held:

“…..the period of limitation in any limitation statute is determined by looking at the writ of summons and the statement of claim alleging when the wrong was committed which gave rise to the cause of action and by comparing that date with the date on which the writ of summons was filed. If the time on the writ of summons is beyond the period allowed by the Limitation Law, the action is statute-barred.”

See the Case of Liverpool and London Steamship Protection and Indemnity Association Ltd v. M.T. Tuma & Ors. (2011) LPELR-8979(CA).

How to determine if an action is statute barred and the period of limitation:

In INEC v. Ogbadibo Local Government & Ors (2015) LPELR-24839 (SC), the Supreme Court set out the yardstick for determining whether an action is statute-barred thus:

The basis for the application of a limitation of action law is that the period prescribed by law, within which an action should be brought, reckoned from the date the cause for the action accrued, has expired. Therefore, to determine if the action was commenced within or after the limited time, it is necessary to determine when the cause of action accrued.

Exception to the Law of Limitation of action: 

It is true as explained by Edozie JSC in Aremo Ii v. Adehenye (2004) 42 WRN 1 at 21, that:

“Legal principles are not always inflexible. Sometime they admit of certain exceptions. The Law of Limitation of action recognizes some exception, Thus where there has been continuance of the damage, a fresh case of action arises from time to time as often as damage is caused Battishill v. Reed (1856) 18 CB 696 at 714.”

The most common exceptions to the limitation periods are:

When then is the position or effect of finding that an action is statute barred?

In the case of Eboigbe v. N.N.P.C (1994) 5 NWLR (Pt. 347) 649 at p.659, the court held:

“Where an action is statute-barred a plaintiff who might have had a cause of action loses the right to enforce the cause of action by judicial process because the period of limitation laid down by the limitation law for instituting such an action has elapsed.” See Odubeko v. Fowler (1993) 7 NWLR (Pt. 308) 637.

An action commenced after the expiration of the period, within which an action must be brought, stipulated in statute of limitation is not maintainable. See the case of Ekeogu v. Aliri (1991) 3 NWLR (Pt. 179) 258. In short when the statute of limitation in question prescribes a period, within which an action must be brought, legal proceedings cannot be properly or validly instituted after the expiration of the prescribed period. See the case of Sanda v. Kukawa Local Govt. (1991) 2 NWLR (Pt. 174) 379.

How the court decides whether the statute of limitation has barred or taken away a right of action:

“…in deciding whether the statute of limitation has barred or taken away the right of action the court has to critically look at the writ of summons and the statement of claim to see whether it has jurisdiction to entertain the matter. The period of limitation is determined by looking at these processes. The date the alleged wrong was committed, as averred in the writ of summons and the statement of claim, will be compared with the date the writ of summons in the matter was taken out in order to ascertain whether the writ of summons founded on the cause of action was taken out timeously.”

How to plead that a case is statute barred:

All that is necessary for the pleading of the defence of statute of limitation is to plead facts enabling the court to hold that the action is statute-barred. Otherwise, the statement of defence will be pleading evidence contrary to the rules of pleading. See the case of Peenok Investments Ltd. v. Hotel Presidential Ltd. (1982) 12 SC.

Whether a party who had an opportunity of being heard but did not utilize it can bring an action for breach of fair hearing as defence to statute of limitation:

The Supreme Court in INEC v. Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt. 806) 72 held as follows:

“Fair hearing in essence, means giving equal opportunity to the parties to be heard in the litigation before the Court. Where parties are given equal opportunity to be heard, they cannot complaint of breach of the fair hearing principles.” See also the case Emmanuel Ebong Akpadiaha v. Usoro Harry Uko (2017) LPELR-CA/C/98/2014.

Whether a party can take advantage of limitation law, where there is compelling evidence of disability, mistake, fraud, personal injury or death: 

A party would not be allowed to take advantage of the limitation law, where there is compelling evidence of disability, mistake, fraud, and in certain cases involving personal injury, death. See Anwadike v. Administrator General of Anambra State (1996) 7 NWLR (Pt.460) p. 315; Arowolo v. Ifabiyi (1995) 8 NWLR (Pt. 414) p. 496; Ibrahim v. Gaye (2002) 13 NWLR (Pt. 784) p. 267.

What should be examined by a trial judge in determining if the suit was instituted on or before the expiration of the limitation period: 

Limitation is a procedural defence, a complete defence where a plaintiff’s action was filed outside the time allowed by the limitation law, the plaintiff would still have a cause of action on but sadly one that cannot be enforced. In order to determine if the suit was not instituted before the expiration of the limitation period, the trial Judge is enjoined to examine the originating process to see when the cause of action arose and compare that date with when the originating process was filed. If the time on the originating process is beyond the period allowed by the Limitation Law the action is statute-barred. See the case of Egbe v. Adefarasin (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt. 3) at 549; Eboigbe v. NNPC (1994) 3 NWLR (Pt. 347) p. 649; Utih V. Egorr (1990) 5 NWLR (Pt.153) p.771.

Whether a defence of statute of limitation must be specifically pleaded; effect of failure to plead same:

It must be emphasized at this point however, that for a Defendant to benefit or deploy the statutory and the equitable defences, such a Defendant must plead specifically the defences. See the case of Ojiogu v. Ojiogu (2010) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1198) 1; Alex O. Onwuchekwa v. NDIC (2002) 2 SC (Pt. 11) 28, 34; and Sulgrave Holdings Int. v. FGN (2012) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1329) 309. It follows therefore that a party relying on a plea of limitation must plead with sufficient particulars facts necessary to justify the plea of limitation.

Position of the law where a plea of statute bar is raised at the trial of an action:

In the case of a P. N, Udoh Trading Company Ltd. v. Abere (2001) 11 NWLR (Pt.723) 114, the Supreme Court per Karibi – Whyte, JSC held:

“It seems to me therefore that all that is necessary for the pleading of the defence of statute of limitation is to plead facts enabling the Court to hold that the action is statute – barred. Otherwise, the statement of defence will be pleading evidence contrary to the rules of pleading. What is to be pleaded are facts and not the law relied upon.”

What is the limitation period for instituting an action for recovery of land in Lagos State of Nigeria? 

Sections 16 of the Limitation Law of Lagos State Ch. L84, 2015 provides as follows:

“16 – Subject to the provisions of subsection (2) and (3) of this section, no action will be brought by a State authority to recover any land after the expiration of twenty (20) years from the date on which the right of action accrued to the State authority, or if it first accrued to some person through whom the State authority claims, to that person,

(2) – The following provisions will apply to an action by a person to recover land –

(a)      subject to paragraph (b) of this subsection, no such action will be brought after the expiration of twelve (12) years from the date on which the right of action accrued to the person brining it or, if it first accrued to some person through whom there are claims, to that person,

(b)     If the right of action first accrued to a State authority, the action may be brought at any time before the expiration of the period during which the action could have been brought by the State authority, or of twelve (12) years from the date on which the right of action accrued to some person other than the State authority, whichever period first expires,

(3)    For the purposes of this Law, a right of action to recover any land which accrued to the Republic or to the Lagos State before the commencement of this Law will be deemed to have been exercisable by an appropriate State authority on the date on which it first accrued to the Republic or to the Lagos State, as the case may be.”

Circumstances where the period of limitation cannot be said to have started running from the date the cause of action arose:

“…where, in the course of negotiations some admission of liability had been made by the party raising the defence of limitation and all that remains is the fulfillment of the admission, the cause of action is, as it were, revived by the admission. The statutory period is there and then to be computed no longer from the date the cause of action originally arose but from the time of the admission. The revival of the cause of action in the circumstance is by rules of fairness and equity so that the party admitting would not be allowed to resile from his admission to the detriment of the other party.”

See the case of Egbe v. Adefarasin (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt.47) 1; Nwadiaro v. S.P.D.C. Nig. Ltd. (1990) 5 NWLR (Pt.150) 322; R.C.C. (Nig.) Ltd. v. Burato (1993) 8 NWLR (Pt.310) 508; Nigeria Customs Service & Anor v. Bazuaye (2001) 7 NWLR (Pt.712) 357; Yesufu v. A.C.B. Ltd. (1976) 1 – 2 SC 31. Equity, it is said, follows the law, and acts in personam; and therefore would not allow a party do anything unconscionable.

Whether limitation of action is an issue that touches on the jurisdiction of the trial court: 

Limitation of actions is an issue that touches on the jurisdiction the trial court has to entertain a matter, The law is settled that in considering whether a court has jurisdiction to entertain a matter, the court is guided by the claim before it by critically looking at the writ of summons and the statement of claim. See the case of Tukur v. Govt. of Gongola State (1989) 4 NWLR (Pt. 117) 517; Onuorah v. K.R.P.C. (2005) 6 NWLR (Pt.921) 393; Nkuma v. Odili (2006) 6 NWLR (Pt.977); Gafar v. Govt. of Kwara State (2007) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1024) 375.

What is customary law?

Customary law is the ancient regulatory rules or norms which are generally accepted by the people subject to it as binding among them. It is a measure of acceptable way of life of the people.

A.O Obilade in his book, The Nigerian legal system, at page 83 defines customary law as:

“Consisting of customs accepted by members of a community as binding among them”

Also, Bairamian F.J defines Customary Law in his dictum in Owiniyin v. Omotosho (1961) NLR 804 at p.309 as:

“a mirror of accepted usage”.

Hon. Justice Obaseki Jsc Rtd. defined Customary Law in Oyewumi v. Onesan (1990) 3 NR (pt 137) 182 p.207 as:

“an organic or living law of indigenous people of Nigeria, regulating their lives and transactions”. Explaining his definition he said:

“it is organic in that it is not static. It is regulatory in that it controls the lives and transactions of the community subject to it. It is said that custom is a mirror of the culture of the people. I would say that customary law goes further and imports Justice to the lives of those subject to it”.

Thus, customary law is the traditional common rule or practice that has become an intrinsic part of the accepted and expected conduct in a community, profession or trade and is treated as legal requirement.

Customary law is recognized, not because it is backed by the power of some strong individual or institution, but because each individual recognizes the benefits of behaving in accordance with other individuals’ expectations, given that others also behave as he expects. Alternatively, if a minority coercively imposes law from above, then that law will require much more force to maintain social order than is required when law develops from the bottom through mutual recognition and acceptance.

Ownership of customary land:

Customary land is land which is owned by indigenous communities and administered in accordance with their customs, as opposed to statutory tenure usually introduced during the colonial periods and Land Use Act, 1978. Common ownership is the major form of customary land ownership. Since the late 20th century, statutory recognition and protection of indigenous and community land rights continues to be a major challenge.

Nature of Title to Land under Customary Law: (Under what circumstances will a claim to land be said to be under customary law, especially if the land is in an urban area?)

The basic rule under customary law is that land belongs to the  communities or families with the chief or eldest man of the community or family as the ‘overseer’ or ‘trustee’ holding the land in trust for the use and on behalf of the whole community or family. This view is consistent with that of Rayner C.J., in his Report on Customary Land Tenure in 1898. According to him, “land belongs to the community or the family and never to the individual”. This proposition is judicially recognized in the case of Amodu Tijani v. Secretary of Southern Nigeria (1921) AC 399, by the Privy Council, per Lord Viscount Halden.

Again, title to land under customary law is vested in the corporate unit of the family and no individual within the unit can lay claim to any portion of it as the ‘owner’. Ownership of land was held by the community or family. An individual’s right is limited to the use and enjoyment of the land as apportioned to him. An individual cannot alienate the land without the consent of the representatives of the corporate unit recognized as such in law and this is as a general rule of law.

From the foregoing, it is clear that under customary land law, there are two basic systems of land holding: 

The dictum of Lord Viscount Halden in Amodu Tijani v. Secretary of Southern Nigeria (1921) AC 399, is supportive of the above position. According to the Privy Council in that case; it was stated:

“…the notion of individual ownership is quite foreign to native ideas. Land belongs to the family, never to the individual. All members of the community, village or family have an equal right to land ….”

The conclusion in the above case was accepted with such totality that it was raised to the status of a presumption in law, even where there is no evidence to support it. The consequence was that, the burden was now on the person claiming that land is not, or has ceased to be communal property to prove his claim. See the case of Eze v. Igiliegbe (1962) All NLR 619. The presumption of family or communal ownership could therefore be displaced by evidence of individual ownership.

A judicial re-echo of the foregoing position of the law can be found in the case of Chukwueke v. Nwankwo (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt. 6) 195, where the Supreme Court stated that the general principle of communal ownership of land pronounced in Amodu Tijani v. Secretary Southern Nigeria (supra) would not apply where it is established by evidence that individual ownership of land is permitted in a particular area by the relevant customary law or native law and custom. The court further stated that communal ownership, where it previously existed may be determined by partition. Thus, partition signifies an end to communal ownership.

The Supreme Court in Adesanya v. Otuewu (1993) 1 NWLR (Pt. 270) 414, stated that it is trite law that where a family (or community) owns a piece of land communally, title or ownership remains with the family unless and until there is a partition. Such partition, the court stated, if proved, will have the effect of a division of ownership.

The Court of Appeal in Olohonrua v. Eniola (1991) 5 NWLR (Pt. 192) 501, buttressed this point by stating blankly that where land is owned communally either by the family or community, the legal estate in such land is not vested in the chief or family head; but, in the family or community. Indeed, family land that is not partitioned remains family land, the fact that a member of the family has improved upon it notwithstanding. See the case of Sanusi v. Makinde (1994) 5 NWLR (Pt. 343) 214.

Again, while it is conceded that under customary land tenure system, communal or family land ownership is prominent and predominant, it is certainly not correct to say that individual ownership is unknown under native law and custom. An individual may acquire absolute ownership over a piece of land through self help, by grant from traditional authority or by purchase from a previous owner. The land so acquired only becomes family or communal land upon the death of the individual, when it devolves on his children.

Family ownership of land therefore, is sometimes derived from previous individual ownership. The land so inherited is held as family property until partitioned by the individual members of the family. In the light of the forgoing, it may be deduced that ownership of land under customary law was held by the community, family and individual.

Thus, whether a land is in an urban or rural area, the fundamental principle to establish its ownership lies in the person laying claim or entitlement to the land to prove how he inherited the land or the tenure system under which the land is administered.

See http://legalemperors.blogspot.com/2016/01/nature-of-title-to-land-under-customary.html.

Sale of land under customary law:

Under customary law, sale of land is validly completed or entered into when the following steps are taken:

  1. Cole v Folami (1956) SCNLR 180,
  2. Esan v Faro (1947) 12 WACA 135. while any sale by principal members without the derived consent of the head of the family or head of the community is void ab initio. See the case of Ekpendu v Erika (1959) 4 FSC 79. Such consent must as well be derived where a power of attorney is executed in favour of such transaction and such must be executed by the head of the family or head-chiefs as donor notwithstanding that he is one of the donee or the sole donor, else it is void. See the case of Ajamogun v Osunrinde (1990) 4 NWLR (pt.144) 407 at 419,
  3. Taiwo v Ogunsanya (1967) NMLR 375

Whether land under customary tenure is subject to limitation laws:

Section 68 of Limitations Law of Lagos State Ch. L.84, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria provides as follows:

“(1) – Subject to the provisions of subsection (2) of this section, this Law will not apply to actions in respect of any matter which, immediately before the commencement of this Law, was regulated by customary law.

(2) – The Executive Council may by order published in the Gazette, apply this Law or any provision or any provision of it to actions in respect of any such matter as aforesaid or to any particular class or classes of such actions specified in the order”

Section 16 of Limitations Law of Lagos State Ch. L.84, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria provides as follows:

 “(1) – Subject to the provisions of subsection (2) and (3) of this section, no action will be brought by a State authority to recover any land after the expiration of twenty (20) years from the date on which the right of action accrued to the State authority, or if it first accrued to some person through whom the State authority claims, to that person,

(2) – The following provisions will apply to an action by a person to recover land –

(a)    subject to paragraph (b) of this subsection, no such action will be brought after the expiration of twelve (12) years from the date on which the right of action accrued to the person brining it or, if it first accrued to some person through whom there are claims, to that person,

(b)    If the right of action first accrued to a State authority, the action may be brought at any time before the expiration of the period during which the action could have been brought by the State authority, or of twelve (12) years from the date on which the right of action accrued to some person other than the State authority, whichever period first expires,

(3)    For the purposes of this Law, a right of action to recover any land which accrued to the Republic or to the Lagos State before the commencement of this Law will be deemed to have been exercisable by an appropriate State authority on the date on which it first accrued to the Republic or to the Lagos State, as the case may be.”

Section 19 of Limitations Law of Lagos State Ch. L.84, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria provides as follows:

“(1) – A right of action to recover land will not be deemed to accrue unless the land is in the possession (in this section there is referred to as adverse possession) of some person in whose favour the period of limitation can run.

(2) – Where –

         (a) under the provisions of this Law a right of action to recover land is deemed to accrue on a certain date; and

         (b) no person is in adverse possession of the land on that date;

The right of action will not be deemed to accrue unless and until adverse possession is taken of the land.

(3) – Where a right of action to recover land has been accrued, after and before the right of action is barred, the land ceases to be in adverse possession, the right of action will no longer be deemed to have accrued and no fresh right of action will be deemed to accrue unless and until the land is again taken into adverse possession.”

In essence, section 68 (1) of Limitations Law of Lagos State Ch. L.84, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria appears to exclude application of limitation law to land held under customary law.

It is a trite rule of interpretation that where a statute expressly lists certain things, it intends that those not listed are excluded. This rule is expressed in the oft quoted maxim that the express mention of certain things excludes those not mentioned. See A-G Bendel State v. Aideyan (1999) 4 NWLR (Pt. 188) 646 at 672, Ports and Cargo Handling Services Co. Ltd & Ors v. Migfo Nig. Ltd & Anor (2012) LPELR-9725(SC).

Conclusion:

The law is now firmly established that for a legal action which by the provisions of a statute or law is required to be initiated, commenced or instituted within a specified and limited period of time, to be valid and competent to be entertained by a Court of law, it must be brought or instituted within the period stipulated and limited in the provisions of the statute or law. A legal action initiated or instituted outside or after the expiration of the period of time prescribed and limited by the provisions of the statute or law will be in contravention of the statutory provisions, invalid and therefore statute barred. See the case of NNPC v. Eshiet (2018) LPELR-CA/L/80M/2011.

By virtue and pursuant to section 68 (1) of Limitations Law of Lagos State, it means that section 16 of Limitations Law of Lagos State will not apply to land held under customary law.

Thus, if the sale were under customary law, the statement of claim would have stated so, that the defendant paid the purchase price, the claimants handed over possession of the said land to the defendant and that the said delivery of possession took place in the presence of witnesses. There can be no valid sale of land and transfer of title to land by such sale unless these requirements are satisfied. See the cases of Folarin vDurojaiye (1988) 1 NSCC 255, (1988) 1 NWLR (Part 70) 371 362, 364 and 366, Obijuru v. Ozims (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt. 6) 66 at 179 and Oniwaya v. Ikumola (1986) 2 NWLR (Pt. 22) 386.

For further information on the article, please contact the authors:

Kingsley E. Izimah, Esq.,

sksolicitors.ng@gmail.com

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