From Magnus Eze, Enugu
Efforts by Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to attract investors to the state recently received a devastating blow following the mindless destruction of a paint factory, Legacy Paints Limited, located in Emene, Enugu State, by hoodlums.
At least 200 persons and families whose livelihood depended on the factory are in a quandary, agonizing over the incident.
Thugs suspected to have been hired by someone laying claim to the land on which the factory was built had, in the wee hours of Sunday, January 24, 2021, razed the factory. The management of the company alleged that more than 40 armed thugs stormed the factory in the company of two uniformed men who came along with two bulldozers.
Investments worth over N300 million were destroyed during the mayhem. Among the vandalised items were perimeter fence, finished products, raw materials, machines and the production building, which were wrecked after they had overpowered the security men.
A director of the company, located at Plot M4, Cattle Lairage, Emene, Obasi Enekwa, decried the wanton destruction of their property even though the land was lawfully acquired from the Enugu State government.
Community leaders, workers, distributors and other well-meaning Nigerians who thronged the site of the destruction that fateful Sunday morning decried the audacious act.
Condemning the wilful destruction, Chief Obiora Okolie called on the state government and Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu to urgently institute a panel to investigate the immediate and remote causes of what he described as “the dastard and barbaric mayhem” and bring the perpetrators to book. He further wondered how such monumental destruction could happen without the intervention of the security agencies.
Enekwa explained that the land in contention with Mrs. Uju Ohanenye was lawfully acquired from the Enugu State government by Dezern Nigeria Limited but used by its sister company; Legacy Paints Limited. They accused Ohanenye of being responsible for the destruction of the company in a bid to possess the land, but with the alleged collusion of the police.
Genesis of dispute
Daily Sun investigation showed that the Enugu State government had, in September 2012, revoked ownership of a large area of land for non-development, one of which was owned by Kenuj Investment Limited.
In 2013, the state government allocated the undeveloped area of land to Dezern Nigeria and issued it the C of O of Plot M4, Cattle Lairage, Emene Enugu. Dezern developed the property soon after getting the necessary approvals and was producing paint there through its sister company, Legacy Paints Limited.
Trouble started on February 6, 2018, when one Mrs. Ohanenye reportedly visited the premises of Plot M4, Cattle Lairage, and the adjoining Plot M5, owned by another company; Latest Business Options. In that escapade, the company’s perimeter fence, part of the production hall, bungalow, plants and equipment and gate house were destroyed.
Ohanenye was purportedly executing a court judgment, which neither the paint factory nor its neighbour, Latest Business Options, was aware of or made party to. The intruders stormed the place again on February 8.
It was gathered that the said judgment actually emanated from a suit between her company, Kenuj Investment Limited, and Enugu State Government, through the Ministry of Lands.
Dezern Nigeria Limited was neither a party to the suit nor was the said court judgment directed at the company.
In fact, the judgment specifically asked the Government of Enugu State to follow the procedure laid down in the Land Use Act before it could revoke the plaintiff’s interest in the land. Lawyers said it was a declaratory and not an executory judgment and was never intended to be executed against a non-party to the suit.
Following repeated harassment of Legacy Paints workers by the Inspector-General of Police Monitoring Unit on the instructions of Ohanenye, including detaining them twice in Abuja under inhumane conditions before their eventual release, the company, on February 18, 2018, petitioned the IGP.
Their lawyer, Tagbo Ike, had complained of the destruction of the company’s property and harassment of its workers and asked the IGP to investigate the matter.
But the matter was not investigated until last year; when the IGP instructed the then Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 13 command, Danmallam Mohammed, to investigate the complaint.
Report of the investigation dated December 31, 2020, which is in possession of Daily Sun, showed that the team collated and consolidated all records and documentary evidence, including the certified true copy of the court judgment and the certificate of occupancy (C of O) issued by the Enugu State government in favour of Dezern and Latest Business Options, earlier submitted to the Police at Enugu State command and the IGP Monitoring Unit, Abuja.
It then visited the scene of the incident for further assessment of malicious damage to existing structures as alleged by the petitioner, Ndubueze Enekwa, against the suspect, Ohanenye.
According to the report signed by Deputy Commissioner of Police Echeng Echeng, the principal suspect, Uju Ohanenye of Kenuj Investment Ltd, was invited in writing and through several phone calls by operatives of the zone but she failed to respond.
Part of the report said “the third party, Uju Ken Ohanenye of Kenuj Investment Limited, who is the suspect, does not have any certificate of occupancy. Records from the Ministry of Lands revealed that she had an irrevocable power of attorney from a company, G-ZED Pharmaceutical Ltd, which was revoked by the Enugu State Government on 17th September, 2012, vide letter No. 164869 of 17th September, 2012.
“That on 1st January, 2013, the Enugu State Government allocated and issued a certificate of occupancy in favour of Ndubueze Enekwa and Benson Uzoagbara in respect of Plots M4 and M5, and, consequently, the suspect, Uju Ohanenye, filed a suit with No. E/86M/2013 against the Enugu State Government and obtained a judgment in her favour.
“That the judgment of the court was simply to the effect that the Government of Enugu State should, in accordance with the provision of the Land Use Act, pay adequate compensation to the suspect, Uju Ohanenye, who was the plaintiff in the suit.
“That this judgment of the court, being a declaratory judgment, is merely advisory and enforceable only at the discretion of the executive governor of Enugu State to whom the judgment was exclusively addressed. In other words, only the state governor can comply with the judgment given to the suspect.”
In addition, the report said the invasion of the paint factory and wilful destruction of its property valued at over N100 million by the suspect in connivance with some bailiffs of court, contrary to the content of the judgment, were against all known legal practice and procedures.
Emphasising that the judgment neither awarded possession of the disputed land to Ohanenye nor revoked the existing rights of the present allotees, the report recommended that she be prosecuted for criminal damage, among others, for the demolition of the paint factory in 2018.
“The reliance on a court judgment to perpetrate such heinous crime is untenable and unjustifiable, as the judgment never authorised such demolition or possessory action in favour of the suspect. The suspect merely acted brazenly, rascally and unlawfully in destroying the complainant’s property,” the police report stated.
Another demolition and alleged police complicity
While action was being awaited on the outcome of the report of the police Zone 13, submitted to the IGP, Ohanenye, again, allegedly stormed Legacy Paints’ factory on December 29, 2020, with more than 30 thugs, this time purporting to execute a court order from an Enugu magistrate’s court.
It was alleged that the attackers, after breaking the iron gate of the factory, held the security guards hostage, dispossessed them of their cell phones, and also assaulted them. Many of them were injured and required hospitalisation, just as the wife of the chairman of the company was also physically assaulted and injured by one of the thugs.
“The hoodlums then broke into the administrative block after breaking the window iron protector, ransacked and vandalized the entire office. Tables were overturned and broken, some computers were stolen and others damaged. Office documents were torn and scattered outside the compound. The crime was reported to Abakpa Police Station and a team of policemen was dispatched to the property,” the company’s spokesperson alleged.
Daily Sun was informed that two of the suspects were arrested and taken to Abakpa Police Station, where the Area Commander, ACP Okenia Seyi, the next day, orally ordered that the file be transferred to his office and he promptly released them.
It was at this point that an alleged plot to trample upon and intimidate the staff and management of Legacy Paints began to unravel. The company’s chief security officer, Jonathan Ewoh; a retired Assistant Superintendent of Police, had on December 30, 2020, petitioned the then Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Abdulrahman, asking that the file be transferred from the area command to the State CID, where he believed the case would be investigated without bias.
Though the request was approved, and the matter transferred to the State CID, the area commander still sent his men to arrest the paint firm’s security men and took them to court, where they were charged with contempt of court.
“Soon after, we requested for police protection of our property, because of the serious threat posed by Mrs. Uju Ohanenye. Our request was granted, and some police officers were posted to our premises. On or about 2nd January, 2021, Mrs. Uju Ohanenye petitioned the IG, Mr. Adamu, asking him to withdraw police from our premises. She published the same in some online papers.
“Due to what happened in 2018 and on 29th December, 2020, and our apprehension of leaving our premises unsecured and what Mrs. Uju Ohanenye was capable of, we wrote to the IG, on the 5th of January, 2021, alleging attempt to forcefully take over our company’s property and pleading that the IG stop the withdrawal of the police from our property. Despite our pleading, IGP Adamu instructed Enugu State command to withdraw police from our property,” an embattled director of the company lamented.
It was further gathered that it was at this time that Ohanenye made a request to IGP Adamu for a police team to be sent to Enugu to enforce the court judgment and executions, alleging that the police in Enugu State and the Zone 13 command were already biased.
The IGP, in a letter by his Principal Staff Officer, DCP Idowu Owohunwa, dated January, 12, 2021, directed the Commissioner of Police, legal/prosecution section of the FCID, Abuja, to “harmonise all cases, review the legal issues, authenticate the legal documents attached/presented by the parties and furnish legal opinion to guide informed decision of the IGP.”
Surprisingly, despite the pendency of suits in different courts, including Appeal No. CA/E/87M/2018, in Court of Appeal, Enugu, since February 2018, between Dezern Nigeria Ltd and Kenuj Investment Ltd, the suit No. E/210/2018 in the state high court, where Ohanenye was sued for the destruction of property in 2018, and the recent motion filed at the magistrate’s court asking the court to set aside its judgment of November 2021 in which the court gave the plaintiff possession of the property in question, which was the subject matter in the ourt of Appeal, over 40 men, some of whom were in police uniform, invaded the paint company again at about 1am on January 24, 2021. They came with two bulldozers and left in their trail tales of sorrow.
Legacy Paints alleged that one of its security men abducted in the process was yet to be seen even as its property worth over N300 million was destroyed. Since then, the company was said to have witnessed several other attacks by armed men both in the daytime and at night.
For example, while some of the workers tried to rebuild the perimeter fence previously pulled down by hoodlums at about 2pm on January 26, a man later identified as Lewis Eneagu, a police officer attached to the Mobile Police Unit 3, reportedly led thugs in two minibuses and five tricycles (keke) to attack the company’s property.
Some brave workers resisted them and, in the process, nabbed their leader while others escaped. He was subdued and tied up, whereupon he confessed to be a police officer of Mobile Police Unit 3.
According to Ndubuisi Enekwa, urgent call was made to the State CID about the crime and the fact that the suspect was caught at the scene. He said that the State CID responded by sending a team of police officers to the scene, but before they could arrive, another team sent by the Area Commander came in a Hilux pickup and took away the suspect. The team also arrested some of the workers.
He said: “Since then, they have changed the story and we are told by the newly transferred commissioner of police, Mohammad Aliyu, that our workers were arrested for attempted murder of an innocent police officer, Eneagu, who was just going about his business.”
Consequently, CP Aliyu had ordered the company not to enter the property to do business. He made them sign an agreement to leave only their security men and some police officers to guard the place.
However, the Enugu State Police Command would not speak on the issue as repeated attempts for its spokesman, Daniel Ndukwe, to address it were ignored.
Twisted tales from court
Meanwhile, the judgment of the Magistrate Court delivered in November 2020, has raised some issues, as the plaintiff, Uju Ohanenye had sued “unknown persons,” when in actual sense the identity of the defendant was clearly known to her, having been in various courts with them since 2018.
Besides, she was accused of having misrepresented to the court that the ‘unknown’ occupants of the property were her tenants and that they moved into her property in 2020 without her permission.
She also told the court that she owns the property at Plot M4 Cattle Lairage, Emene-Enugu, which she described as one warehouse. But in the actual fact, the property was developed by Dezern Nigeria Limited after getting approval from Enugu State Government.
It was further alleged that Dezern Nigeria Limited was not served any of the statutory notices and therefore was deprived of the opportunity of fair hearing.
The question begging for answer was why the magistrate, C.K.C. Idu did not put on notice any person or company named in the judgement delivered by Justice A. A. Nwobodo in Suit No. E/118M/2018 between Latest Biz Options International Ltd v Kenuj Investment Limited; Attorney General of Enugu State; Commissioner for Lands Enugu State; the Chief Registrar/the Sheriff of the High Court of Justice, after Ohanenye had tendered the judgment in evidence.
Legal experts said that at the point of tendering that judgment in evidence in the magistrate court, the magistrate, ought to have known that the identity of the unknown persons is known to Mrs Ohanenye, and could have ordered that the party (Latest Business Options”) named in that judgment be put on notice.
The PW2 (Ohanenye) confirmed as much in her evidence to the court when she averred that her company in the second quarter of 2020, wanted to renovate the said premises and use it as a branch of its business in Enugu. It was then that she discovered that those she did not know had occupied the premises without her knowledge.
“All my efforts to reach reasonable understanding with them yielded no fruit. All my efforts also at getting the identities of the illegal occupants proved abortive. In order not to take laws into one’s hands, I briefed a lawyer on behalf of the company as the MD/CEO. My instructions to the lawyer were oral and specifically for ejection of the illegal unknown occupants of the premises,” she stated.
Also, the first ground raised by the lawyer to Kenuj Investment Ltd/Ohanenye, against the prayer of Latest Biz Options in the Justice Nwobodo judgement, was that ‘the suit is abusive of Appeal No. CA/E/76M/2018 pending before the Court of Appeal; between the parties and on the same subject matter’. So, the fact that there is an appeal pending in the Court of Appeal, Enugu State was known to the magistrate, the plaintiff (Kenuj Investment Ltd/Ohanenye) and her lawyer.
A director of the paint company cried foul that Ohanenye connived with compromised court officials to obtain judgement at the magistrate court behind their back where in she described them as unknown persons. And using the alleged fraudulent judgement at the magistrate court and with her IGP connections, she has made life very unbearable for the company and its staff.
And since the company’s “title deed (C of O) has not been revoked by the Enugu State Government, nor revoked by any court of law;” she has vowed to press a case of trespass against any unauthorised third party in due course.