A Lagos High Court in Ikeja ruled that Nigerian women are joint owners of their husbands’ properties because males hold them in “constructive trust” for the family.
The court concluded that “indirect contributions of a wife to the marital property should not be quantified in monetary terms in order to entitle her to a share of the property”.
“Constructive Trust,” the court said, quoting the English Master of Rolls, Lord Denning, “is a trust imposed by law wherever justice and good conscience require a remedy by which the court can enable an aggrieved spouse or party to obtain restitution and the success of the party’s case does not depend on his or her direct physical or monetary contribution to the building or acquisition of the property.”
Justice Dorcas T. Olatokun made this ruling in a case between Mr. Pius Aina and his wife, Caroline, over a Festac Town, Lagos, house the husband bought while working for the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) in the early 1980s.
The 35-year-married couple and their three children have lived in the house for almost 30 years.
In 2018, the husband retired and sold the property for N20 million.
However, his wife objected to the transaction, arguing that as joint owners, they must agree.
She sued her spouse to nullify the sale.
Her husband, Mr. Pius Aina, Michael Oluwaseun Da-Silva, Albert Sanyaolu, Joe Vincent, and Femi Adeniyi are defendants.
The property buyer and his father, who oversees it, are the second and third defendants. The sale agents are the other defendants.
Ademola Adesina, the claimant’s lawyer, maintained that his client is lawfully married to the first defendant for 35 years under the Marriage Act and has three children. The first defendant worked for FHA and lived with his family in a two-bedroom cottage in House 6, N Close, 3rd Avenue, Festac Town.
In 1989, FHA wrongfully fired the first defendant and 69 other employees and ordered them to leave the house.
On November 24, 1997, FHA staff were reinstated after suing.
Five years after reinstatement, her husband was forced to retire on July 4, 2001.
FHA allowed him first refusal to buy the property for N400,000. The wife paid N200,000 and the husband N200,000 for this offer.
In 2006, her husband took a N30,000 Cooperative Bank loan without her knowledge, the wife said.
By the time she knew, the loan had accrued N150,000 in interest. When they lost the house, the woman claimed she had to pay off the loan because the husband used it as security.
Another instance, FHA tried to withdraw the husband’s right of first refusal since he had sold another allotment at the authority’s Ipaja, Lagos development.
FHA believed the husband was entitled to one allocation. She said her spouse defeated FHA in court.
She said she paid Chief M.O.B Omolemen of Messrs Gab-Anna Chambers N1.5 million as lawsuit costs.
She added that on December 8, 2018, while travelling abroad, she discovered that her husband had sold the family house to the second and third defendants without her agreement.
She claimed the sale was made with phoney documents because she had the house’s original documents. She said her husband’s attempts to reverse the sale or provide accounts failed. She asked the court to nullify the sale.
In his defence, the husband claimed that the property at issue was a private transaction between him and the FHA.
He maintained that the wife is not a party to the contract and cannot challenge his authority to transfer the property to the second and third defendants, particularly in the absence of evidence showing she is an assignee to the contract and property.
He further claimed that his statutory marriage with his wife was contracted in 2001 during the subsistence of a legitimate customary marriage with his first wife from December 22, 1980.
He claims his wife knows this and cannot use their marriage to shortchange him and his first wife.
He said he consulted both wives before selling the house and retiring to Ondo State.
The husband bought a three-bedroom property in Block 147, property 2, Amuwo Odofin Low-Cost Housing Estate, Mile 2, Lagos for the claimant and his children as part of the resettlement plan.
He spent N6.5 million on Lotogbe Family Layout, Ago Itunu, Ondo-Akure Road.
He said that since the second defendant and the claimant benefited from the sale, it would be inequitable to deprive the second defendant of his right to peaceable possession of the property as an innocent third party without notice of disagreement between husband and wife at the time of sale.
He denied that the property was sold for N20 million using phoney paperwork because the second defendant received the original documents at the time of sale.
He said he didn’t have to ask his wife before selling his house, but he did out of courtesy and she didn’t disagree.
The spouse received the house since he subscribed to the housing scheme as part of his employer’s benefits. A letter dated October 23, 2017, confirmed the allocation.
He alleged the allotment paperwork did not mention his wife or three children as joint proprietors. He said he paid N3.750 million, deducted from his terminal benefit, for the property, not N400,000:00 as his wife claimed.
He denied that his wife financed his lawyer’s legal fees, which he said he paid in full. He said he hired Gab-Anna Chambers and paid the law firm N7.5 million.
Justice Olatokun ruled that the claimant and first defendant had a legal marriage and contributed to it.
“When each contributes financially to the purchase price or mortgage installment, this inference of trust is readily apparent. Direct cash contributions to the price or installments are possible. Indirectly, both work and one pays for housekeeping and the other for mortgage payments. As long as there is a significant financial contribution to family expenses, trust is implied. Money should not trump social justice”.
Justice Olatokun stated: “Where joint ownership of property exists, it means that each party has an equal proprietary right of ownership in the said land, notwithstanding the weight of contribution made by each party and can jointly exercise such right in respect of the property. The law requires consent before selling jointly owned property.
The court ruled that the defendant must get the claimant’s consent before selling the property.
The claimant is entitled to court protection to ensure that the property in issue is not alienated without her agreement, thus the first defendant’s sale to the second defendant is set aside.