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CASE OF THE WEEK:
UMEADI & ORS V. CHIBUNZE & ANOR (2020) LPELR-49566(SC)
The Respondents, descendants of one Chibunze, are a lineage of Umuofuonye larger family. The Appellants are also members of the said Umuofuonye family. The dispute was largely an intra family dispute – over piece of land known and called Isi-Ekpe land.
In 1940, a dispute over the said Isi-Ekpe land arose between the Umuofuonye family and Umuogbocha family both of Egbeagu Village. The Egbeagu Village intervened and successfully arbitrated in the dispute. The parties submitted to the arbitration and oath taking procedure was adopted. The Umu-Ogbocha argreed that if the Umuofuonye family successfully took the traditional oath the land became theirs. The Umuogbocha proceeded to place the “Ngene Olineru” juju on the land. Within the Umuofuonye family, only Chibunze agreed to take the oath. He eventually took the oath and survived. Thereafter the said Chibunze and his descendants laid claim to the ownership of the Isi-Ekpe land to the exclusion of other members of Umuofuonye family (represented by the Appellants) who insist that the land remained the joint property of the entire Umuofuonye family.
At the trial, the Appellants relied on traditional history, against the direct evidence of the Respondents. The trial Court, in its judgment, found for the Respondents. Dissatisfied, Appellants approached the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, which dismissed their appeal and affirmed the decision of the trial Court. Further dissatisfied the Appellants appealed to the Supreme Court.
Position of the law where parties who believe in juju resort to oath-taking to settle a dispute.
The Supreme Court held on the above issue that oath-taking is a valid process under customary law arbitration and it is one of the methods known to customary law for establishing the truth of a matter. Therefore, where parties who believe in the efficacy of a juju resort to oath-taking to settle a dispute they are bound by the result and so the common law principles in respect of proof of title to land no longer apply since the proof of ownership of title to land will be based on the rules set out by the traditional arbitration resulting to oath-taking.
This means that where parties willfully submit themselves to oath-taking and the process is carried out, they cannot withdraw or refuse to adhere to the outcome of the exercise.