Case: ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF ANAMBRA STATE vs. ANUEYIAGU & ORS.(2022)LCN/15929(CA)

ISSUE: GRANT OF LAND-Whether the grant of land can fail if the land is put to a different purpose other than which was mutually agreed(Issue is mine)

PRINCIPLE:

“…the parties are ad idem that the purpose of the grant of the land in dispute was for “developing and managing and as/for Awka College of Education.” A holistic read of Exhibit P1 reveals that the purpose for the grant of the land in dispute was for the development of Awka College of Education simpliciter. This being the case, the vital question to ask is whether the land is being used as or for developing and managing the Awka College of Education or public purpose?

There is evidence on record that the College of Education was relocated to Nsugbe. Part of the land earlier donated to the Government of Anambra State for the development and management of the Awka College of Education is now occupied by the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, some other parts are in use as temporary Government House. It is clear that the Respondents are not concerned with those parts of the land being used for temporary Government House and Nnamdi Azikiwe University; perhaps because these are perceived to be for public purpose.

However, the subject matter of this appeal is the part of the land being used for private and commercial purposes.

The law is trite that where a land is compulsorily acquired for public purpose, the land cannot be used other for any other purpose other than for public purpose. Where at any point in time the land is used for any purpose other than for public purpose the acquisition would fail and the land would automatically revert to the original owners. 

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In OLATUNJI V. MILITARY GOVERNOR OF OYO STATE (1995) 5 NWLR, PT. 397, 586 AT 602, PARAS. F-G, this Court followed the decisions in A.O. OSHO V. FOREIGN FINANCE CORPORATION (1991) 4 NWLR, PT. 184, 157; CHIEF A.O. LAWSON V. CHIEF A. A. AJIBULU (1991) 6 NWLR, PT. 195, 44 and CHIEF EREKU V. THE MILITARY GOVERNOR, MID-WESTERN STATE OF NIGERIA (1974) 10 SC 59, (1974) 1 ALL NLR (PT.2) 163 and reiterated that: “If a property is ostensibly acquired for public purpose and it is subsequently discovered that it has directly or indirectly been diverted to serve private need the acquisition can be vitiated.

The acquiring authority cannot rob Peter to pay Paul by divesting one citizen of his interest in a property by vesting same in another: Dzungwe v. Gbishe (Supra). If the acquiring authority can no longer find a public purpose for the land so acquired the only avenue open to it is to deacquire it and let the same revert to the person in whom it was already vested. And in all cases where public purpose failed, the land reverted to original owner: Ajad & Another v. Sole Administrator for Ibadan City Council (1971) 1 NMLR 74.”

​In the instant case, the lower Court was right when it found that the purpose of the said grant has failed partly.

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This finding relates to the portion of the land now in use for private and commercial purposes. The lower Court was right to have closed its eyes to the clear and specific provisions of the Edict No. 1 of 1991. The Edict is not the primary instrument of acquisition of the land in dispute. The appropriate document is Exhibit P1.

Assuming Edict No. 1 of 1991 vested in the Government of Anambra State all assets of the then Awka College of Education, the Edict cannot detract from the primary purpose for which the land in dispute was donated to the government.

After hearing this appeal and embarking on the usual conference on this case, we thought it necessary to visit the locus in quo to ascertain the current state of the land in dispute. This visit took place on the 3rd of March, 2022. By this time too, the panel had changed necessitating the new panel to rehear the appeal. This rehearing took place on the 8th of March, 2022.

​At the locus in quo, the Court found that the place has been massively developed into private residential and commercial properties. This situation presented us with a dire dilemma: do we follow the strict letters of the law or do we close our eyes to that and be persuaded only by the justice of the situation?

In resolving this dilemma, we are not oblivious to the guiding legal land law principle of “quic quid plantatur solo solo cedit”. This doctrine which is still good law today simply means that whosoever owns the land also owns what is on the land, attached to the land, fixed to the land or found on the land: NEPA V. AMUSA & ANOR. (1976) 12 SC (REPRINT), 65; IKYAAWAN V. AJIVAH (1997) 4 NWLR, PT. 499, 365 and ANYI & ORS. V. AKANDE & ORS. (2017) LPELR-41973 (CA).

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This will be the normal legal effect of dismissing this appeal and affirming the decision of the lower Court. However, being alive to our responsibilities, we realise that this is one instance where we should shed our legal cap for our justice cap. Having visited the locus in quo and seen the level and nature of development on the land in dispute, we have no doubt in our minds as to the kind of monumental problems that will be the fall out of such a decision.

It is also difficult to allow the order reverting the disputed land to the original owners because of the manifest untold hardships it would bring upon the innocent parties who have acquired titles to the land and committed huge funds in developing it. It is my firm belief therefore that the interest of justice would better be served if the order of the lower Court is substituted with an order to the Government of Anambra State to acquire an alternative land in the state and allocate same to the Respondents in place of the land in dispute.” Per MAHMOUD, JCA.