Justice Ayokunle Faji of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday struck out an application seeking to reverse the alleged handover of the National Theatre to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Access Bank Plc and the Bankers Committee.
The ex-parte application was brought by Topwideapeas Limited through its lawyer, Mr. Chijioke Okoli (SAN), who argued that the July 12, 2020 purported handover of the edifice by the federal government was a breach of due process, given that the property and its adjoining fallow land were subject of a pending lawsuit marked FHC/L/CS/2392/2019.
The firm is challenging the nullification of its concession over the National Theatre Complex in Iganmu, Lagos. The plaintiff said its consortium voted $3.5billion to develop the edifice into a world class tourist centre, adding that the concession was breached by the federal government and its agents.
The National Theatre and the National Troupe of Nigeria Board; Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC); Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation; Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Central Bank of Nigeria; Access Bank of Nigeria Plc and its Group Managing Director, Herbert Wigwe are the defendants in the suit respectively.
Following the order of court for the defendants to show cause why the orders sought by the plaintiff in its ex-parte application should not be granted. they responded by filing several processes in defence and urging the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s motion.
While the 1st to 4th defendants were represented by Mr. Nelson Orji, the 5th defendant was represented by Professor Fabian Ajogwu (SAN) and the 6th and 7th defendants were represented by Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire (SAN).
Orji argued that the plaintiff is unknown to the federal government. He argued that while the plaintiff could be compensated in damages if they eventually succeed with the substantive suit, the same could not be said for the federal government.
He stated that the alleged concession was not binding on the federal government as it was only a “draft agreement” which was eventually revoked. He said injunction could not be granted for a completed action, and urged the court not to grant the plaintiff’s prayers.
Adegbonmire questioned the relevance of the ‘fallow land’ referred to in the motion, saying that it was not definitive and had nothing to link his clients to it.
He urged the court to dismiss the application with substantial cost for having been “deliberately brought” ex-parte.
Ajogwu on his part, stated that calling the National Theatre a ‘fallow land’ was a fallacy, adding that the reliefs sought were vague since there were no beacons or survey plan to delineate the ‘fallow land.’ He added that any claim relating to land must be in writing, and that a draft contract cannot be executed. He asked for N10 million cost against the plaintiff.
In their affidavit deposed to by one Mr. Daniel Inyang, a senior manager in the Development Finance Department of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN stated that “the alleged hand over of the National Theatre Iganmu and/or its adjourning fallow land to the 5th defendant could be as a result of media misinformation and sensationalism, as the National Theatre was not handed over to the 5th defendant, adding that “the 5th defendant’s functions deals with monetary and prove stability and “does not include management or construction of National edifices or the National Theatre Complex, Iganmu Lagos to have warranted the alleged hand over.”
Replying, Okoli said the defendants were delving into the substantive suit and its merit. He said the motion was of a narrow compass and geared at saving the subject matter of the suit and the dignity of the court. He said that parties were in agreement on the identity and extent of the land, adding that all the details were not only before the court but had been deployed by the defendants during the purported handover ceremony.
Okoli argued that alleged handover was widely publicised in the media, adding that there was no “media misinformation” as alleged by the CBN.
He further argued that the defendants had ample notice of the instant application to quash the handover, adding that when the ex-parte application first came up, the court ordered that the defendants be put on notice while the motion was adjourned to today for the defendants to appear to show cause.
In its ruling, the court held that the plaintiff’s application ought to have been predicated upon a motion on notice and was incompetent amongst other grounds. It accordingly struck out the matter and awarded N50,000 cost severally against the plaintiff in favour of the defendants.
The court reinstated the earlier adjourned October 29, 2020 date to hear and determine all pending applications.
Source: Thisday Newspaper, July 25, 2020