By Luqmon Olabiyi
The Aderinola family of Ipele, Owo Local Government Area, Ondo State, is at loggerheads with a telecommunications firm over its mast erected on the family land.
Former editor of Daily Times, Mr. Dapo Aderinola, spokesman for the family, alleged that the company, MTN Nigeria, and its agents were playing a “sinister game” with his family over land rent. The family had served telecom company notice to quit the land on which its mast was built 10 years ago, following a rent row.
Aderinola said he was contacted by a representative of the leasing agent on October 27, 2020, seeking the contact details of Mr. Olu Aderinola, his Ibadan-based brother, who signed the 2011 lease renewal agreement.
“What they did next was to sidestep our lawyers in Lagos and send their lawyers to my brother in Ibadan to sign a document containing an offer of exactly the same paid by MTN in 2011,” he said.
The agent, he said, returned to the negotiating table with the family’s lawyers in Lagos on the lease renewal after that move collapsed. The family, through its lawyers, claimed that MTN was a trespasser in “unlawful occupation” of the land at Aderinola Camp in Ugbonla, Owo LGA, since April 1, 2021.
The tenancy agreement signed between MTN and the Aderinola family in 2011 stipulated that the renewal “shall be for an initial period of 10 years from April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2021, with an option to renew for another term of years to be agreed upon by both parties.
In a July 8, 2021, letter, Mr. Bambo Adesanya, SAN, accused MTN and its leasing agency of “wilful and deliberate refusal to pay the agreed rent while being in continuous occupation of our client’s land since April 1, 2021.”
“Take notice that, if by Monday, July 12, the agreed rent is not paid, we will assume that you do not intend to honour your contract any longer,” Adesanya said. “In that event, our clients would repossess their land and eject any trespasser thereon”, he added.
On March 2, 2021, the project coordinators of the leasing agency allegedly sent a lease renewal form to Ayanlaja, Adesanya & Co, setting out the terms and conditions for renewing the lease of land on which MTN built its base transceiver station (BTS), for 10 years from April 1, 2021.
On March 13, they reportedly followed up with a letter proposing, among others:
·The payment of the same rent MTN paid in 2011, citing the “current economic realities in the country and in the telecom industry”; and
·Withholding tax of 10% from the rent.
On March 17, Adesanya replied that MTN’s site on the Aderinola property was “adjudged as having, among your other sites, the highest telecom signal transmission power to your coverage areas between Benin in Edo State and Akure in Ondo State” and that the situation had remained unchanged ever since.
Adesanya argued that the issue of withholding tax did not arise because one of the two members of the family holding the power of attorney on the property since January 11, 2005, was a retired bank employee while the other was not resident in Nigeria and could, therefore, not logically be taxable locally.
“In effect,” he said, “if tax is withheld on account of both of them, there would be no taxable persons to whom the withholding tax would be applied, just as there would be no tax office to receive the tax. If, however, you insist on deducting withholding tax, our clients would insist on receipts issued by relevant tax authorities in respect of the deductions.”
He pointed out in another letter dated July 9, 2021, that the agent “did not deem it fit to send the draft deed of lease to us until July 8, 2021,” even though his chambers had requested for it as far back as April 30, 2021.
Adesanya alleged that the agent was “stalling for time” by requesting for a further period of 30 days before paying the rent.
“Your client as at now is a trespasser on our client’s land and has been so since April 1, 2021. It has not paid rent for over three months’ occupation”, he added.
Abiodun Akinjayeju spoke to Daily Sun on behalf of the project coordinators of the leasing company: “We have passed that stage. A new agreement has been sent to the Aderinola family through their lawyers.
“They said they were not going to take the old rate in the existing agreement. They eventually agreed for a higher renewal amount, which the leasing company assented to.
“A new agreement was prepared and a bank draft raised in payment to them. But the protocol arrangement is that they have to sign the lease agreement before payment.
“We have drawn this agreement and their lawyers reviewed it. We took it to the leasing company and they amended it.
“We sent it back to their lawyers just today (Monday, July 26, 2021). We are expecting them to sign now and collect their money.”