Dear Pro bono Partner,
How are you? I am Ndidi Okeke from Abia State. I am a farmer. I reside in Ibadan, Oyo State. I write to seek your opinion on an issue that has plagued my family for some time now. My late mother bequeathed to me a parcel of land which was also bequeathed to her by her late mother. The land has been passed from one generation to another. I have planted crops on this land since I was 12 years old, (I am 33 years old now), even before it was bequeathed to me by my late mother who was also a farmer. Just some months back, a cousin of mine came to claim ownership and possession of the same piece of land my mother gave me, she informed us that her late mother informed and instructed her to take possession and ownership of the land which was given as collateral to her great grandmother by my great grandmother, and was not redeemed by my great grandmother. We have been to the village to present this case before our elders who gave us a brief history of the land and affirmed that the land indeed belongs to me. My cousin has taken the matter to court and asked the court to kick me out of the piece of land.
I want to know how I can counter everything she has said, especially since neither of us has any certificate or proof of ownership. I cannot lose that parcel of land, it is the only gift I inherited from my late mother.
Please advise accordingly.
I am great, Thank you. From all that you have pointed out in your letter, I deduce that the said land is ancestral and is owned by only your direct matrilineal ancestors (not including cousins or any other relative). I advise you not to worry yourself about the absence of any certificate or proof of ownership. There are several other ways one can proof title to land and they include:
- Proof by traditional history or traditional evidence.
- Proof by grant or the production of document of title.
- Proof by acts of ownership extending over a sufficient length of time numerous and positive enough to warrant the inference that the persons exercising such acts are true owners of the land.
- Proof by acts of long possession.
- Proof by possession of connected or adjacent land in circumstances rendering it probable that the owner of such land would in addition be the owner of the land in dispute.
From all you have briefed me on, you can rely on any or all of No 1, 3 and 4 above to prove ownership. You can:
- Call an elder in your village to testify or give traditional history or present any evidence of ownership by your ancestors (This has to be after they have tried one last time for the purpose of avoidance of doubt, traced the root of title).
- You can inform the court that your mother used the farm all her life and you have used the farm for agriculture for a period of 21 years without any hindrance or impediments from anywhere.
- That you and your ancestors have been in possession of the land for as long as you can remember.
If you successfully prove any of these grounds enumerated above, then you will keep your ancestral heritage. I wish you all the best.
Chiemena Nonye- Okoronkwo.