Court okays contempt charges against officials over land dispute in Lagos
Essentially, the court named Lagos’ Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, the Director of Town Planning, Department of Physical Planning and Land Matters, Executive Secretary, Land Use Allocation Committee and one Samuel Olatunde, as those answerable to the criminal allegation of disobeying court’s orders over the land.
The court orders allegedly said to have been abused, and/or disobeyed were in cases No. ID/795/88 and SC/112/2002, where it was said the courts had restrained and also ordered that parties should maintain status quo, which according to the landlords had been ignored by the state government.
Although Justice G.A. Safari, agreed with the landlords to begin the committal process, the Judge, however, ordered that the respondents/judgment creditors “shall be served personally with the order of the court herein granted as well as Forms 48 and 49 issued in this case.”
As at time this report, it was learnt that, the court was yet to fix a date for the take of the motion for contempt.
It has been a long, but victorious legal journey as the courts – High, Appeal and Supreme Court backed the Chairman of Shangisha Resident Association, Pa Adeyiga and others in the bid to reclaim what they said originally belonged to them. Specifically, the apex’s court ordered the Lagos State Government to release of 549 plots of land to the judgment creditors.
The apex’s Court had in its ruling, affirmed the judgments of the Lagos State High Court and the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, which ordered the state government to immediately allocate 549 plots to the landlords under the Shangisha/Magodo Estate Scheme II.
The Supreme Court held that the Lagos State High Court and the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal came to the right conclusion in 1994 and 2001 when they ordered the state government to re-allocate the same 549 plots to the landlords or allocate plots of their choices to them.
The five-man panel in a unanimous decision delivered by Justice Olufunlola Oyelola Adekeye, held that it could not disturb the concurrent findings of the High Court and Court of Appeal as they were premised on sound legal footings.
“In the instant appeal at this juncture, there are two concurrent findings of the two lower courts.
The Supreme Court will not ordinarily disturb concurrent findings of facts made by the High Court and the Court of Appeal unless a substantial error apparent on the face of the record of proceedings is shown or when such findings are perverse.
On going through the record, it is my conclusion that the court has no duty to interfere with the decision of the two lower courts,” Justice Adekeye held.
The apex court also dismissed the complaint of the Lagos State government over the lower court’s decision to hear the case of the Shangisha Landlords and even issue a mandatory injunction against the then military government of Lagos State during the Christmas vacation, saying it amounted to no issue as the court had discretion to exercise and did so.
“In this case, the learned trial judge exercised his discretion in considering the trial of this case as a matter deserving urgency and thereby heard same during the Christmas vacation and furthermore acted judicially and judiciously in granting the mandatory injunction. Where the exercise of discretion by the trial court is in issue, an appellate court is usually reluctant to interfere with the decision except where the discretion was exercised in an arbitrary or illegal manner or without due consideration of the issues by the trial court,” he stated.
The court noted that “in the instant case, the Court of Appeal affirmed that the trial court rightly exercised its discretion during the trial of this case. This court has no reason to disagree with that conclusion.”
After reviewing the totality of the submissions made on behalf of the state government by its counsel, Lawal Pedro, in its appeal and the respondents’ submission marshalled by their lawyer, Olumide Sofowora, the court declared: “In sum, the appeal lacks merit and it is dismissed. The judgments of the two lower courts are affirmed. The cost of this appeal is assessed as N50,000 in favour of the respondents.”
Justices Walter Onnoghen, John Fabiyi, Bode Rhodes Vivour and Mary Peter-Odili agreed with the lead judgment.
Ruling further, the trial judge held that “from all these exhibits, it stood very clear that the government of Lagos State has committed itself to allocate plots in the scheme involved to members of the Plaintiffs’ Landlords Association and it is therefore bound in law to do so.”
He then issued an order of mandatory injunction compelling the Lagos State government to forthwith allocate 549 plots to the plaintiffs in the said Shangisha Village Scheme.
Dissatisfied with the High Court’s decision, the state government beseeched the Appeal Court, praying it to set it aside. But the Appeal Court “affirmed the declaratory judgment of the trial court, which based on the nature of the claim before the court, amounted to a judicial pronouncement on the legal state of affairs between the parties in the claim of the respondents (landlords) to their right to preferential treatment in allocation of plots of land by the Lagos State government in Shangisha Village.”
Again not satisfied with the decision of the appellate court, the state government approached the Supreme Court vide a notice of appeal filed in 2001, praying it to upturn the verdicts of the two lower courts. But the apex court in a unanimous decision refused its prayer and upheld the judgments of the trial court and the Appeal Court as being well considered and on good legal premise.
However, the apex court while resolving the appeal in favour of the landlords took cognisance of the state government proposal to effect an amicable settlement and urged Sofowora (their counsel) “to advise them properly to give the government their maximum co-operation in the execution of this government.”
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