By Lukman Olabiyi, Lagos
Justice Daniel E Osiagor of the Federal High Court, Lagos has given the Lagos Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice and the State’s Special Task Force a seven-day ultimatum to comply with a restraining order issued by the court in the case filed by Admiralty Fleet Limited.
The judge also condemned disregard for the order he made on October 18, warning that such conduct erodes confidence in the system and failure to check it will breed anarchy.
Justice Osiagor stated this in a suit filed by Admiralty Fleet Limited (BICS Garden) and Admiral Festus Porbeni (retd) against the Attorney General, Lagos State, the National Inland Waterways Authority, and the Chairman, Lagos State Special Task Force.
The court had on October 18 restrained the State Attorney General and the State Special Task Force Unit (1st and 3rd defendants) from allocating any portion of a property located at B20, Wole Olateju Crescent, off Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase 1 in Eti-Osa Local Government Area pending the hearing of the substantive suit.
The Lagos State Government has, however, appealed against the order and followed it up by re-deploying the Lagos State Task Force and police officers unto the site in breach of the order of injunction.
The first and third defendants allegedly brought a bulldozer onto the site at about 4 am on October 20, and under the cover of darkness, demolished structures on the site with the Lagos State Task Force policemen providing protection for those flouting the injunction.
Amazed by the conduct of the first and third defendants, the claimants commenced contempt proceedings against the Attorney General of Lagos State.
At the resumed hearing of the suit, Adebayo Haroun, counsel to 1st and 3rd defendants, informed the court that the Attorney General had written a petition to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court complaining that they had no confidence in the judge.
Counsels to the claimants Adetunji Oyeyipo, SAN, Abiodun Olatunji, SAN, and counsel to NIWA (2nd defendants) Adejare Kembi, Esq told the court that they were surprised at the turn of events and complained that the Attorney General did not deem it fit to effect service of the said petition on them.
Justice Osiagor then requested a copy of the petition, as he had also not been served a copy.
After a perusal of the petition, the judge expressed his intention to await the administrative outcome of the petition but insisted that in the meantime his order of October 18 must be fully obeyed until set aside, adding that the integrity of the judiciary must be protected.
The judge also issued a 7 days ultimatum to LASG to comply with the order and vacate the premises or the court may be forced to issue a further order removing any person from the disputed property.
The judge decried disobedience to the court order by the first and third defendants warning that such conduct erodes confidence in the system and that failure to check such acts will breed lawlessness.
The court noted that LASG had been duly served with the contempt proceedings and that they had had enough time to comply with the court order.
Responding, the counsel to LASG, Mr Adebayo Haroun, told the court that he will investigate to see if his clients were on the property.
The lawyer representing a third party interest, Mr Nwanbueze, also said he would investigate to see if his client, Prince Donatus Okonkwo, or his agents were on the property.
Consequently, the judge adjourned the matter until November 12 for a report of compliance while he awaits the administrative decision of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
The plaintiffs had in their statement of claim stated that on December 4, 2008, the second applicant applied to the National Inland Waterways Authority for permits to construct a jetty and boat club at Plot 6 BLK A15 off Admiralty Way, Lekki Lagos, which was approved.
They stated that on September 30 men and officers of the Lagos State Task Force, without prior notice or any valid court order, forcibly entered the disputed premises and began marking its equipment, machinery, structures, and boats for removal within 48 hours.
They urged the court to declare the forceful entry and invasion of the 1st applicant’s premises to amount to trespass and a breach of the applicant’s fundamental right to own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria guaranteed by Section 43 of the Constitution.
The Attorney-General of Lagos State and the Lagos State Task Force in their notice of preliminary objection challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit arguing that the subject matter of this action is not one of the specific matters listed in Section 251 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) that the court is conferred with jurisdiction to entertain.