Court refuses to jail governor, police chief for contempt over Otodo Gbame demolitions
A Lagos State High Court, Igbosere, has dismissed an application by thousands of displaced residents of several Lagos waterfront settlements seeking the committal to prison of Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, Commissioner of Police (CP) Fatai Owoseni and two others for contempt.
Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo ruled yesterday that according to Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) the governor, who was the third respondent, had constitutional immunity from prosecution and imprisonment. This, he added, meant that the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the application against him.
Attorney-General of Lagos and Commissioner for Justice, Kazeem Adeniji, Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, and the Commissioner of Police are the first, second and fourth respondents respectively.
The judge ruled further that the other respondents, having acted under the clear order and direct supervision of the governor, they could not be said to be the contemnors.
The court added that following the concession by the applicants’ counsel, Friday Oteiku, and defence counsel, S. A. Quadri, that mediation between the parties had broken down, he would go ahead and deliver judgment in the substantive suit on April 25.
The displaced citizens, in their hundreds, had besieged the court, claiming that as recently as January 26, the respondents further disobeyed the court’s order that “parties shall maintain the status quo pending the final resolution of issues between them either upon conclusion of mediation as directed by the court or the final determination of this suit.”
The application was instituted by 33 persons suing on behalf of themselves and other residents of settlements including Otodo Gbame, Tomaro, Otumara, Orisunmibare, Oko Agbon, Itun Atan, Sogunro, the Ikorodu communities of Ofin, Bayeku and Olufunke Majidun and the Bariga communities of Ago Egun and Ebute-Ilaje.
However, Justice Onigbanjo expressed grave concern if it was true that the governor deliberately disobeyed a court order, saying the government and its lawyers had a higher moral burden in this instance.
He asked: “Are you saying that because a child is rolling in sand, you, an adult, will also roll in the sand? This court will expect a higher level of compliance from this (government’s) side than from the other side.”
The displaced residents after the court proceedings marched to the Governor’s Office, Alausa, where they camped outside the Lagos House, holding green leaves and chanting ‘Ambode, shelter us.’