Land dispute: Court grants accused bail




John Chikezie


An Ikeja division of the Lagos High Court has granted Prince Adeniran Owen Alao and three others bail over an alleged stealing of 101 acres of land located at P&T Ipaja Akinyele area of the state. Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo, who in her ruling dated 8th October, 2020 held that the defendants were presumed innocent until the contrary was proved, granted them bail in the sum of N20 million with two sureties in the like sum.


However, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had in charge number ID/12978C/2020 accused the defendants, Prince Adeniran Owen Alao, Owereser Nigeria limited, Kolusade Oluwafemi, Quadro Lookman and Atinuse Albert of conspiracy to commit felony and stealing of land contrary to Sections 409 and 410 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.


EFCC had accused the defendants conspired among themselves sometimes in 2014 to steal 101acresof land at P&TIpajaAkinyele, Lagos property of the federal government. But the lawyer, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) asked the court to allow them home pending final determination of the substantive matter.


Arguing their bail applications, Ayorinde said that the grant of bail was at the discretion of the court as such discretion should be exercised judicially and judiciously.


According to Ayorinde since bail was a constitutional right and the presumption of innocence lies in favour of the defendants and that being responsible individuals, they will not jump bail as they would submit themselves to the courts until the matter was finally disposed of.


He urged the court to use its discretion in favour of the defendants and grant them bail accordingly. Opposing the application, EFCC counsel, AyanfeoluwaOgunsinasubmittedthat the offences against which the defendants were being charged related to economic sabotage, hence their bail applications should be refused.


But Justice Taiwo held that while granting a bail application, a court must take into consideration the nature of the charge, the evidence by which it was supported, the    sentence which may be passed in the event of conviction, the probability that the applicant would appear to take his trial and also whether the release of the defendants on bail will interfere with trial of the case. She went on: “In a case of an offence ordinarily bailable, it is the duty of the prosecution to show why the applicant should not be admitted to bail.


It is not expected to oppose bail for the sake of opposing, there should be factual grounds for opposing bail and these facts have to be put before the court. Also, the applicant has corresponding duty to show that he is entitled to bail. “Although the prosecution has urged the court to consider the seriousness of the offence, the applicants are alleged to have committed and has contended that if the applicants are admitted to bail they would interfere with trial.


From the counter affidavit the prosecution has failed to give material facts to show that the applicants will indeed interfere with trial if admitted to bail.’’ Adeniran and five others had in suit number ID/5764/14 filed before Justice Ganiyu Safari of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja division    had sued the Honourable Minister of Land and the Honourable Minister for Communication over the disputed land.


Other claimants in the suit are Chief Abibu Ajibawo, Chief Sikiru Odede, Mr. Ayinla Falola, Mr. Babatunde Abiola, Chief Ajike Ogunbiyi for themselves and on behalf of members of Oguntoyinbo, Abiola, Falola and Ilo families.


They, however, urged the court to declare that the purpose for which the one hundred and one (101) acres of land located at P&T Ipaja Akinyele, Lagos was acquired by the federal government has failed.


Besides, they claimed that the land was compulsorily acquired from their families vide Government Notice 1881 published in the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No-60 Vol 61 dated 12th December, 1974 and that no acquisition notice was served personally on the claimant’s families or their customary tenants.


Besides, the claimants told the court that no compensation was paid to their families by the federal government while the specific purpose of the acquisition of the land, which is to be used as International Radio Monitoring Station, was not done.


The claimants further informed the court that the Federal Government rather than convert the acquired land for the original purpose, handed the land to the ministry of land and later to the Ministry of Communication which then occupied the land through the defunct Nigerian Telecommunication Limited (NITEL).


They added that the small portion of the land built on by the defunct NITEL was not in any way connected to the original purpose of the acquisition as the same NITEL had been sold to private investors. However, Justice Safari in his judgement delivered on 19th May, 2015 held that the absolute purpose for which the parcel of land was acquired to wit- International Radio Monitoring Station had completely failed.


Consequently, the court ordered that the claimants should take possession of  all the land situated at Ipaja Lagos more particularly delineated on survey Plan No. PB 401 A&B dated 21/275 prepared by B.P Okuboye. But the court refused to grant the request to demolish all structures erected on the land pending when the claimants shall file a detailed particulars or inventory of such structures before the court.


Following the judgement, some members of the families, namely Chief Abibu Ajibawo, Ayinla Falola and Babatunde Abiola (applicants) headed for court, urging the court to restrain Adeniran, Chief Ajike Ogunbiyi and Chief Sikiru Odede (respondents) from further dealing on the disputed land.


But opposing the application, the respondents in their Notice of Preliminary Objection argued that once a court delivered its judgement in respect of a matter, it had become functus officio and thereby precluded from reviewing or varying such judgement. In his ruling,


Justice Safari noted that both the applicants and the respondents were from the same family and judgement was given in their favour. “It is to be noted that all the parties to these applications argued together were the victorious parties and claimant/judgement creditors in that judgement of the court delivered on May 19, 2015.


The claimants after obtaining judgement have now turned against one another,’’ the court stated. Justice Safari held that having giving judgment in the suit and the judgement having been executed, the court lacked the power to make further orders in the suit as the two parties before the court are judgement creditors in the main suit Number ID/5764/14 and are entitled to the benefits of the said judgement.


Consequently, Justice Safari dismissed the application. Meanwhile, the Minister for Communication has appeal against the judgement and the matter adjourned till 1st December, 2020 for hearing.


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