BY ABDULWAHAB ABDULAH
LAGOS — After 17 years of fierce legal battle between the Lagos State government and one of its famous retired Permanent Secretaries, late Chief J. O. Adeyemi–Bero, the Supreme Court has ceded the ownership of Plot 177, Victoria Island (now known as Eko Court Towers, Victoria Island) and No.25 Cooper Road Ikoyi to the state.
In a unanimous judgement by the apex court, it held that the ownership of the disputed properties rested with the Lagos State Government in view of the promulgated Decree 21 of 1996 and the Court of Appeal’s judgment which set aside the judgment of the High Court, granting ownership of the properties to the late permanent secretary.
The appeal filed by the estate of late Chief Adeyemi–Bero against the state government, asking that the properties known as Plot 177, Victoria Island, Lagos and No.25, Cooper Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, be reverted to him as owner, was set aside, while the court granted ownership to the government.
Bero, was the permanent secretary who the main auditorium in the state secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja was named after.
The properties which were the subject of litigation were forfeited to the Lagos State Government by virtue of the Determination of Interests in State Land No.1, Order LSLN No.9 of 1976 made pursuant to Section 1 of the Determination of Certain Interests in Land Edict No.3 of 1976 and Public Officers and Other Persons (Forfeiture of Assets) Order 1976 made pursuant to Investigation of Assets (Public Officers and Other Persons) Decree 1968 respectively.
In 1993, the Federal Military Government of General Ibrahim Babangida promulgated the Forfeiture of Assets (Release of Certain Forfeited Properties etc.) Decree No. 54 of 1993 in which the name of Mr. J.O. Adeyemi-Bero was listed and the properties in dispute were returned to him.
The State Government, however, refused to release the properties, which made the appellant to file a suit No. M/415/95 against the state government.
However on June, 11, 1996, the appellant obtained judgment at the High Court, which ordered the release of the properties to him.
Sequel to this, the Lagos State Government petitioned the then Federal Military Government on the release of the properties to the appellant.
However, sequel to the delivery of the judgment, the Federal Military Government of General Sanni Abacha on July 3, 1996 promulgated the Forfeiture of Assets (Release of Certain Forfeited Properties etc.) Amendment Decree No. 21 of 1996 deleting the name of Mr. Adeyemi-Bero and the properties in dispute from the schedule to the Decree.
The Decree which amended Decree No.54 of 1993 has a retrospective commencement date of June 6, 1995, which was applied on the properties.
The State Government then commenced a fresh action in suit No. M/249/97 to have the judgment granted to Mr. Adeyemi-Bero in suit No. M/415/95 set aside.
However, the High Court refused, but on appeal, the Court of Appeal set aside the judgment of the High Court and thereby returned the properties to Lagos State Government.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal, Mr. Adeyemi-Bero, through his counsel, Prof. A. B. Kasumu, SAN, appealed to the Supreme Court in SC. Case No. 179/05.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the submission of Lagos State Government represented by the state Solicitor General, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN that the properties were validly returned to Lagos State Government by Decree 21 of 1996 and the Court of Appeal’s judgment which set aside the judgment of the High Court cannot be faulted.