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AN ACTION IN TRESPASS IS BASED ON EXCLUSIVE POSSESSION

Dictum

An action In trespass Is based on exclusive possession of the land. See Mohammed Ojomu v. Salawu Ajao (1983) 9 S.C. 22; Amakor v. Obiefuna (1974) N.M.L.R. 331; (1974) 3S.C. 66. It lies against the whole world except one who can show a better title. See Aromire & Ors. v. Awoyemi (1972) 2 S.C. 1; Amakor v. Obiefuna (supra) at 77. Trespass is a wrong to possession. It constitutes the slightest disturbance to possession by a person who cannot show a better title. See Abotche Kponugho & Ors. v. Adja Kodadja (1933) 2 WA.C.A. 24 per Lord Alness. In order to succeed, a plaintiff must show that he is the owner of the land or that he had exclusive possession of it. A trespasser does not by the act of trespass secure possession in law from the person against whom he is in trespass. Jimoh Adelakun v. Sabitiyu Oduyele (1972) 6 S.C. 208 at 210. A trespasser without a claim of right is a trespasser ab initio and the onus is on him to prove that he has a better right to possession In order to succeed in the defence. See O. Solomon & Ors. v. A.R. Mogaji & Ors. (1982) 11 S.C. 1. When trespassers knowingly and unlawfully take possession of lands, the defence of laches is not available to them. See Lasupo Akanni & Ors. v. Makanju (1978) 11 & 12 S.C. 13 at 21.

— Obaseki, JSC. Foreign Finance Corp. v Lagos State Devt. & Pty. Corp. & Ors. (1991) – SC. 9/1988

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ONE ALLEGING TRESPASS IS TO PROVE TRESPASS

Accordingly, where one in possession of land is said to be a trespasser, the onus is on the person asserting such an allegation to establish that he has a better title to the land than the person in possession. See Pius Amakor v. Benedict Obiefuna (1974) 3 S.C. 67. (1974) 1 All NLR 119 OR (1974) NMLR 331. It will now be necessary to ascertain whether the appellant was able to prove a better title to the land in dispute than the 1st respondent.

— Iguh, JSC. Kyari v Alkali (2001) – SC.224/1993

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RATIONALE BEHIND TRESPASS TO LAND – WHERE AN ACT NOT SUPPORTED BY LAW

The great end, for which men entered into society, was to secure their property. That right is preserved sacred and incommunicable in all instances, where it has not been taken away or abridged by some public law for the good of the whole. The cases where this right of property is set aside by private law, are various. Distresses, executions, forfeitures, taxes etc are all of this description; wherein every man by common consent gives up that right, for the sake of justice and the general good. By the laws of England, every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is a trespass. No man can set his foot upon my ground without my licence, but he is liable to an action, though the damage be nothing; which is proved by every declaration in trespass, where the defendant is called upon to answer for bruising the grass and even treading upon the soil. If he admits the fact, he is bound to show by way of justification, that some positive law has empowered or excused him. The justification is submitted by the judges, who are to look into the books; and if such a justification can be maintained by the text of the statute law, or by the principles of common law. If no excuse can be found or produced, the silence of the books is an authority against the defendant, and the plaintiff must have judgment.

— Lord Camden in Entick v Carrington [1765] EWHC KB J98

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POSSESSION IS NECESSARY TO SUCCEED FOR ACTION OF TRESPASS

In order to succeed in an action of trespass to land, plaintiff must prove and have present exclusive possessory title i.e. he must be in exclusive occupation.

– Obaseki, JSC. Ekpan v. Agunu (1986)

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NO CONFLICT BETWEEN COMMON LAW “CONTINUING TRESPASS” & LIMITATION LAW

It has been argued that there is conflict between the common law principle and the provision of the limitation law. I respectfully disagree. One complements the other. They are not conflicting. It is not only in Nigeria that there are limitation laws. There is Limitation Act of 1980 which is a British Act of parliament applicable only to England and Wales. The British Act Limits actions in tort to 6 years. Section 2 of the Act reads: “Time limit for actions founded on tort: ‘An action founded on tort shall not be brought after the expiration of six years from the date on which the cause of action accrued.”
In spite of the above provision, it does not apply to continuing trespass. It is therefore in my respectful view an error to argue that the provision of the various Limitation Laws in Nigeria do not allow for the doctrine of continuing trespass.’”

Per Awotoye, JCA. Chikere & Ors. v Chevron Nigeria Ltd. (2018) LPELR-44123 (CA).

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TRESPASS COULD BE PREVENTED WITH REASONABLE FORCE

I agree with the submission of the Chief Legal Officer that the proposition that extra-judicial measure cannot be used to recover possession of land is not an inflexible rule. I find to be particularly apposite the decisions in Umeobi v. Otukoya (supra), and Awojugbagbe v. Chinukwe (supra), which the learned counsel cited in buttress of his argument and which in principle do not rule out the use of reasonable force to protect and repel a clear act of trespass.

– Olagunju JCA. Ofodile v. COP (2000)

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TRESPASS IS UNWARRANTED & UNJUSTIFIABLE ENTRY

Now, trespass is an unwarranted or unjustifiable entry or intrusion by one person upon land in possession of another. It does not depend on the intention of the trespasser. Nor can he plead ignorance as to true owner or that he thought the land belonged to him. It is enough that the right of the owner or person in exclusive possession was invaded. It is a settled principle of law that where a person who initially entered upon land lawfully or pursuant to an authority given by the true owner, or person in possession subsequently abuses his position or that authority, he becomes a trespasser ab initio, his conduct relating back so as to make his initial entry trespass.

– Katsina-Alu, JSC. Dantsoho v. Mohammed (2003)

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