The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal against the June 27, 2016 decision of the Court of Appeal, Enugu granting the people of Umuagama village (Ukwulu) and Oranto/Akpu village (Ukpo) in Anambra State the right of ownership over a disputed parcel of land that had pitched them against their neighbours in Okpuloji Abba Town.
A five-man panel of the court, headed by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, resolved all the four issues, identified for determination, in favour of the two sets of respondents – listed as representatives of Umuagama village (Ukwulu) and Oranto/Akpu village (Ukpo).
Court documents revealed that the people of Okpuloji Abba town, Umugama Village Ukwulu and Oranto/Akpu Village (Ukpo) have been locked in dispute over the parcel of land in the area since early 1970. They went before the High Court of Anambra in 1975. In a judgment by then Chief Judge of the court, Justice Obiora Nwazota, delivered on November 12, 1999, the court declared the title of the disputed land in favour of the people of Umuagama Village (Ukwulu) and Oranto/Akpu Village (Ukpo).
Okpuloji Abba town appealed the decision at the Court of Appeal, Enugu. The Court, in its final decision on June 27, 2016 dismissed the substantive appeal on the grounds that the appellants failed to compile and transmit record of appeal within the stipulated period, as provided in Order 8 Rule 4 of the Court of Appeal Rules 2011. Also dismissed was the appellants’ motion seeking to direct the Chief Judge of the High Court of Anambra State to re-assign the consolidated suit for hearing afresh.
Okpuloji Abba town, subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court, in SC: 589/2016. Justice Paul Adamu Galumje, who read the lead judgment of the Supreme Court’s decision, held that the appellants failed to sustain their allegation of denial of fair hearing and miscarriage of justice. Galumje said it was the fault of the appellants that they failed to ensure the compilation and transmission of record of appeal within time, as required under Order 8 Rule 4 of the Court of Appeal Rules 2011.
In upholding the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of the appellants’ motion, Justice Galumje held that the appellants were wrong to have filed their motion, for retrial, at the Court of Appeal. He said the motion ought to be filed at the trial court, since the appellants’ appeal was not yet properly before the Court of Appeal, and because they were yet to compile and transmit the record of appeal then. He however advised parties to the dispute to return to the trial court to have the case re-heard because it may be difficult to enforce a judgment, which record is said to be missing from the trial court.
“In the instant case there is in place what I may call “force major,” an unexpected occurrence, which has the capacity to defeat even the enforcement of the judgment obtained at the trial court in the two consolidated suits. It follows therefore that, if nothing is done, there will be a total failure of justice. The loss of the record of the appeal is a factor that has in my view vitiated and rendered the judgment invalid. Is there a way of enforcing the judgment in the absence of the record of the case? This is what may unfold later. I think it is in the best interest of the parties to go back to the trial court and sort out this mess,” the judge said.
The judge noted that the appellants were not diligent in their handling of the appeal at the Court of Appeal, Enugu On the argument whether the motion for retrial was properly filed, Justice Galumje said: “An appellate court can order as a last resort, for a retrial of a case if part or portion of the record transmitted to it is lost and all effort to trace it failed. Where the parties agree that the portion of the record that is missing is inconsequential, and that the hearing of the appeal cannot result in miscarriage of justice, the court can hear the appeal on incomplete record.
“However where no record is transmitted at all, as in this case, all applications including application for the case to be heard de novo must be made to the trial court where the appeal is domiciled. An appellate court will have no materials upon which it will assume jurisdiction in the appeal. I therefore find nothing wrong with the decision of the lower court in refusing the application for an order of trial de novo and for dismissing the pending appeal before it for failure to compile and transmit the records of appeal after fourteen years of filing the appeal,” he added.