The struggle for ownership of land in Nigeria can be tense, against the backdrop of intruders and trespassers who may want to tamper with your peaceful and quiet enjoyment of your land. At such a time, there is the temptation to use self-help in asserting title to land yourself.
In this edition, we shall x-tray the dangers of asserting title to land using self-help and redirect the minds to other legal and more effective sources of warding off or driving away trespassers from the land, instead of using self help which might put you into a bigger trouble.
What is Self Help?
There is the popular saying in Nigeria that goes thus: “God help those who help themselves”. This mentality has driven many to use self-help, out of anger on the sight of intruders to their land.
Self help in this context, is a system where an owner of land instead of using legal means of warding away trespassers, resort to unlawful means or show of strength or might. Some very common acts that constitute self help in this regards:
- Use of Thugs and Area Boys: it is a common trend in Nigeria among some land owners to employ the services of touts and area boys, to disrupt the construction of others, whom they consider as trespassers. These touts would usually confiscate building equipments, pull out the beacon placed by the surveyor, destroy blocks moulded on the land and sometimes, inflict bodily harm on the trespasser and his building contractors.
- Use of Security Agencies: Some persons, who feel they are “connected” in the society, would employ the services of men and officers of either the Nigerian Police or the Nigerian Army, to come and chase away the supposed intruder.
Legal Effect of Use of Self Help in Asserting Title to Land.
As a start point, we submit that the laws of the land, frowns at employment of self-help no matter the provocation, as there abounds in the law plethora of remedies, to ventilate one’s anger where there is a breach of his right. This position has been re-echoed in various decisions of courts in Nigeria.
In Spies .v. Oni, the Supreme Court stated thus: “My noble lords Law is meant to provide peace, security, protection concord and purposeful co-existence amongst citizens. No reasonable society will encourage resort to self-help”
The legal effects therefore are as follows:
- There is No notice of your title to the trespasser: in land law, it is expected that where someone trespasses on your land and you are aware, you must give notice to him of the fact that you are the owner of the property. Such notice must be done legally and not self-help. Where you employ self-help, the law will not view such as notice. So when you temporarily scare him away, the court might still hold that you slept on your right and when the chips are down, you might lose your land.
- Quid quid plantatur solo solo cedit: this translates to mean “whatever is attached to the land belongs to the land”. The meaning of this in law, is that where someone is building on your land and you legally notify him of the fact that you are the owner of the land and he calls the bluff and continues to build. The law is that when the court declares you as owner, the house he has built belongs to you!! However, this may not be the case, when you resorted to self help, as it could be interpreted that you either did not notify him or you merely was intimidating him.
- Criminal Liability: Under the Lagos State Property Protection Law of 2016, it is a criminal offence to use security agencies or use of illegal means to take over any land. Upon conviction, the offender risk a jail term. Besides, it is an offence to assault anybody for any reason and that includes where you employ touts to employ self help in recovering your land or warding off a trespasser.
- There could be reprisal attack which might cause more problems
How to Ward off Trespassers from Your Land:
From what has been said above, does it now mean that a land owner should fold his arms while trespassers invade his land? NO! In fact it is equally risky to do that. Now there are legal ways other than self-help to ward off trespassers from your land.
The first thing you should do is consult a lawyer who would render legal advice and do any or all of the following:
- Write a legal letter to the Trespasser: the lawyer would write to the trespasser to notify him, that you are the rightful owner of the land and that he should desist from further trespass. This letter may also be filed in court as evidence of this notice
- Injunction: The lawyer may also on your behalf apply to the court within that jurisdiction to order an injunction restraining the trespasser from further act of trespass and where he disobeys, he risk going to jail as that would be contempt of court.
Self help is not an option when faced with the situation highlighted above, doing do may be counter-productive in the long run.
This piece might have ‘ministered’ to you in that you are currently being faced with this issue i.e. trespassers are invading your peaceful enjoyment of your land-your sweat. Please and please, do not use self help. You can talk to us for free legal advice and guidance in this regard.
You can make that call now on +2348034869295 or send an email to: email@example.com. Cheers.