Abia community to appeal court’s verdict on land dispute
Claimants in the suit are Enwerem Chinyereze, Nwankwo Sunday and Innocent Okorie who were suing for themselves and on behalf of the entire members of Ngwu autonomous community in Uzuakoli, while Abia State Government and Trademore International Holding Nigeria Limited are the two defendants.
The dispute started in 2013 when the then governor of Abia State, Theodore Orji (now Senator), approved the revocation of 40 hectares of land in Ngwu autonomous community of Uzuakoli, Abia State, pursuant to section 28 of the Land Use Act of 1977, which empowers the governor to revoke land for “overriding public purpose.”
The community alleged that the State Government did not give it notice, therefore insisting that compensation must be paid for their crops, and other economic trees, in line with Section 44 (1) of the Constitution of Nigeria.
The claimants also argued that out of N20 million the State Government accepted to pay as compensation, for the 39.476 hectares of land revoked, the 2nd defendant, Trademore International Holdings Nigeria Limited, paid N12 million, while N3 million was taken as agency fee.
The claimants also argued that the payment represents nothing because the 2nd defendant was a stranger to the revocation.
The community further alleged that the 1st defendant issued Certificate of Occupancy (C of O), to the 2nd defendant in 2012, whereas it revoked the land in 2013.
They also claimed that the State Government acquired additional 206.324 hectares.
But the trial judge, Adiele Ogbonna, had on August 31, 2021, dismissed the suit for being statute bar and that the claimants have waived their rights to bring the action.
In the judgment delivered after two previous postponements, Justice Ogbonna, said the claimants’ failure to raise an objection to their land being taken and given to a private person during meetings with the defendants in 2015, after the revocation in 2013, is deemed to have waived their right.
But the community through their counsel, Pedro Madukwe, said they would be appealing the verdict because the judge discarded and disregarded the four issues for determination formulated by the claimants and the defendants.
He said it is a trite principle of law practice that the nature and details of the cause of the action of a suit is only to be discovered in the originating processes filed by the claimant, not in what he argues in address or anything filed by the defendant, nor can the judge invent it by any deftness or craft of hand.
The judge, he said, conveniently ignored the fact of the date when the community became aware that their land was being given to the private person.
According to him, it cannot be said the claimants over-delayed and tarried for too long before taking action to protest the monumental, fundamental, unconstitutional and statutorily substantive wrong done against them which they only became aware of in October 2020 and they filed a suit asking for their right to be restored on November 2, 2020.
He told The Guardian that the court formulated a different issue for determination, which it said, far better answer the questions of whether the claimants should not be said to have waived their right to bring this action.
“Although it is the practice that a judge can, on his own, frame or formulate issue or issues for determination, where he thinks that what the parties presented failed to address the real issues in controversy, this right is limited by the sacred principle that he can only do so within the facts pleaded and argued by the parties.
“ The defence of statute bar, waiver, laches and acquiescence are special defences that must first be specifically pleaded before reliance can be sought upon them.
“This is in keeping with the sweeping principle of justice that no party is allowed to ambush the other – you must plead it and thereby allow the opponent to respond to it.
“No party can raise them, for the first time, in his address. The judge, suo motu, sprang the surprise on us.”
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