$3.5bn suit: Firm’s motion collapses in court

…as CBN denies National Theatre’s handover to banks



Justice Ayokunle Faji of a Federal High Court, Lagos at the weekend struck out an application seeking to reverse an alleged handover of the National Theatre to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and others in a suit challenging the Federal Government’s handover pending before the court.


Besides, CBN in a deposed affidavit said “the alleged hand over of the National Theatre Iganmu and/or its adjourning fallow land to the 5th defendant (CBN) could be as a result of media misinformationand sensationalismastheNationalTheatre was not handed over to the 5th defendant.”


Topwideapeas Limited, initiator of a $3.5billion suit in an ex-parte application brought by its lawyer, Mr. Chijioke Okoli (SAN), argued that the July 12 purported takeover of the contentious National Theatre was a breach of due process as the property and its adjoining fallow land were subject of a pending suit marked FHC/L/ CS/2392/2019 before the trial court.


Topwideapeas Limited is challenging nullification of its concession on the National Theatre Complex in Iganmu, Lagos. It said its consortium had voted $3.5billion to develop the edifice into a world class tourist centre, accusing the Federal Government and its agents of breaching the concession.


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 and two others were sued by Topwideapeas over the alleged handover.


Following the alleged handover of the National Theatre to banks, the court last week ordered the defendants to appear before it and explain why the handover was allegedly carried during  the pendency of the suit.


But the defendants at the weekend told the court that a motion initiated by Topwideapeas was lacking in merit. Inacounterapplicationincludingotherprocesses urged 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) as the 6th and 7th defendants were represented by Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire (SAN). For instance, Orji, who argued that the plaintiff which was unknown to the Federal Government would be compensated in damages should it eventually succeed with the substantive suit while same was not true for the Federal Government.


Specifically, he stated that the alleged concession was not binding on the Federal Government as it was only a “draft agreement” which was eventually revoked as injunctive order would not be granted for a completed action. He urged the court not to grant the plaintiff’s prayers.


To Adegbonmire, relevance of a ‘fallow land’ referred to in the motion was not definitive as it 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.


AjogwustatedthatcallingtheNationalTheatre a ‘fallow land’ was a fallacy as reliefs being sought were vague since there were no beacons or survey plantodelineatethe‘fallowland.’ Accordingtohim, any claim relating to land must be in writing as a draft contract would not be executed. HeaskedforN10millioncostsagainsttheplaintiff.


In an affidavit deposed by a senior manager in the Development Finance Department of Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN), Mr. Daniel Inyang, 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.”


Responding, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Okoli said the defendants were already delving into the substantive suit and its merit, describing the motion as a narrow compass 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 the alleged handover was widely publicized in the media, insisting 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, addingthatwhentheex-parteapplication firstcameup, thecourtorderedthatthedefendants beputonnoticewhilethemotionwasadjournedfor the defendants to appear to show cause.


However, in its ruling, the court held that the plaintiff’s application which ought to have been on notice in view of the contentious nature of the issues was accordingly struck out and awarded N50, 000 costs against the plaintiff. Further hearing in the matter has been for 29th October, 2020.


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