Law

Row over FG’s handover of National Theatre to banks

Days after the federal government officially handed over National Arts Theatre Complex at Iganmu in Lagos to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Banks under the aegis of Bankers’ Committee for renovation of the facility, parties in a suit before the Lagos division of the Federal High Court has protested against the handover.

 

The parties had asked the court to invalidate the federal government’s handover of the National Arts Theatre to the Central Bank and the Bankers’ Committee pending the final disposition of the substantive case initiated by Topwideapeas Limited.

 

The party, Topwideapeas Limited which had sued the National Theatre, National Troupe of Nigeria Board, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Central Bank Of Nigeria and others at the weekend returned to court where it secured an order compelling Justice Minister and Attorney-General, Malam Abubakar Malami (SAN) to appear before the court over the federal government’s handover of the National Theatre.

 

Also to appear before the court are Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC); Minister, Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture & National Orientation, and Central Bank of Nigeria as second, third and fifth defendants, National Theatre & The National Troupe of Nigeria Board.

 

They are to explain why the National Theatre in the case initiated before the court by Topwideapeas was handed over to a party in the matter-Central Bank of Nigeria during pendency of the suit.

 

However, Justice Ayokunle Faaji made the order after hearing Mr. Chijioke Okoli (SAN), lead lawyer for Topwideapeas who had argued a motion ex-parte seeking an injunction to overturn the alleged handover.

 

The order followed an ex-parte application by the plaintiff seeking “an order suspending/ staying the purported handover on or about July 12, 2020 by the 1st and 3rd defendant/respondents to the 5th-7th defendant/respondents of the National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos and the adjoining lands thereto, pending the hearing and determination of the Applicant’s motion for interlocutory injunction (by Notice filed on December 31, 2019).”

 

Also, the plaintiff, Topwideapeas, sought “an order of mandatory injunction for a return of all the parties to the present suit, especially the defendants/respondents, their agents/privies or contractors, to the status quo ante lite concerning the subject-matter of the present suit, pending the hearing and determination of the Applicant’s motion for interlocutory injunction (by Notice filed on December 31, 2019).

 

It also sought “an order of mandatory injunction reversing all the practical effects of the purported handover on or about July 12, 2020 by the 1st & 3rd defendant/respondents to the 5th-7th defendant/Respondents of the National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos and the adjoining lands thereto, including the removal from the premises of any/all architects, and other construction professionals and/or contractors and their plants/equipment and binding all the Defendants/Respondents and their contractors/agents/privies from doing anything/continuing with any act whatsoever in furtherance of the purported handover, pending the hearing and determination of the Applicant’s motion for interlocutory injunction (by Notice filed on December 31, 2019).”

 

The application was supported by an 8-paragraph affidavit of urgency and 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion for mandatory injunction, both deposed to by one Collins Ibukunola Akinade, a legal practitioner in the law firm of Delphi Law Advisory LP, counsel to the plaintiff.

 

However, the defendants were being summoned to show cause why the alleged handover should not be reversed by the court given the fact that the court had at the last adjourned date set down all pending applications in the matter to October 29 for hearing. Mr. C. Opara represented the 4th Defendant at that hearing while Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire (SAN) appeared for the 6th and 7th defendants.

 

Topwideapeas Limited in a N1.26 trillion suit sought an interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants from interfering with the plaintiff’s rights as concessionaire of the fallow land adjoining the National Theatre. Topwideapeas’ case listed as FHC/L/ CS/2392/2019, Topwideapeas Ltd v. National Theatre & National Troupe of Nigeria Board & 6 others in the ex-parte motion to stop the defendants from dissipating the subject matter of the case even while the court is yet to determine the substantive suit. Theplaintiff hadalsosoughtadeclarationthat the plaintiff had a valid and binding contract for the concession of the fallow land surrounding the National Theatre Complex in terms of the updateddraftconcessionagreementbetweenthe Federal Government represented by the first and third defendants and the plaintiff, the approval of the Federal Executive Council being a mere formality in the circumstances.

 

Specifically, Topwideapeas sought a declaration that it was unlawful for the fifth to seventh defendants to purport to truncate and nullify the plaintiff’s right as the concessionaire of the fallow land in and about the National Theatre Complex Iganmu, Lagos, by inducing the breach of the plaintiff’s contract with the first to third defendants or by any other means.

 

It, however, urged the court to declare that it was contrary to public policy and constituted a misappropriation of scarce public funds for the fifth defendant (CBN) to divert public funds towards any project concerning the National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos, when the plaintiff and its partners and privies had already mobilised local and foreign private investment into developing the complex and surrounding land into a grand mini-city on a scale entirely beyond the legitimate capacity of the fifth defendant.

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