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Land Dispute: S/Court strikes out Lagos suit against FG

The Supreme Court on Friday struck out a land suit filed by the Lagos State Government against the Federal Government.

The disputed land is No. 10 Gerald Road, Ikoyi, which the plaintiff had used as test case for many of such lands in Lagos.

Delivering the judgment, Justice Musa Muhammad held that the plaintiff lacked the standing to sue.

Muhammad also held that the suit lacked the strength to force the invocation of the original jurisdiction of the court to assert a title the plaintiff no longer had.

“It will be academic and hypothetical for the court to proceed on the matter. It never does.

“For the foregoing, defendant’s preliminary objection which is well taken is hereby sustained and the plaintiff’s action accordingly struck out.

“Parties are to bear their respective cost,’’ the Judge said.

The parties are the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF-defendant) and Attorney-General of Lagos State (Plaintiff).

The Plaintiff took out a civil summons dated March 2011, invoking the original jurisdiction of the apex court against the defendant.

On Oct. 10, 2016, the AGF gave a notice of preliminary objection pursuant to Order 2 Rule 29 of the Supreme Court Rules 1999.

It also hinged the objection on Section 232(2) of the Constitution and under the inherent jurisdiction of the court.

The defendant had asked for order striking out the suit as it argued that the court lacked the requisite original jurisdiction to entertain it.

It also sought for an order striking out the suit as the plaintiff allegedly lacked the locus standi to institute the action.

The defendant had argued that the court could not exercise original jurisdiction in causes or matters purely on ownership of land.

The plaintiff having divested its interest in the subject matter of the suit, according to the defendant lacks the locus standi to institute the action.

On its part, the plaintiff sought a declaration that the acts of re-issuing of Certificate of Occupancy, granting of consent or exercising rights of ownership, control and management within Lagos by the defendant was illegal.

It sought for further declaration that defendant’s consent was not required for the plaintiff to convey valid title to persons that acquired title through it.

The plaintiff sought for an order or perpetual injunction restraining the defendant from re-issuing of certificate of occupancy, demanding or granting consent.

It also asked for an order directing the defendant to account for all public revenues it had received from 1967 till date from its dealings with the plaintiff’s lands within its territory.

The plaintiff further sought for an order setting aside all certificates of occupancy and consents issued by the defendant over the plaintiff’s land, including No.10 Gerald Road Ikoyi.

The Lagos government also prayed for an order of rectification of the records of the defendant’s land Registry, by expunging entries in respect of the plaintiff’s land in the defendant’s territory.

“It is evident that the foregoing that the dispute between the plaintiff and the defendant pertains to land.

“I agree with the plaintiff that by the combine effect of sections 1, 40 and 52(2) of the Land Use Act title to Federal and state lands are vested in the Federal and state governments.

“In the case at hand, where the plaintiff asserts interference with the title in lands under its management and controls by the defendant, a dispute between the two appears discernible to warrant invocation of the court’s original jurisdiction.

“But that is not all, for this court has persisted on the principle that when a party’s standing to sue is in issue, as it is in the instant case, caution must be taken.

“ The question is whether the person whose standing is in issue is a proper party to request an adjudication of a particular issue and not whether the issue itself is justiceable.

“The strongest wicket of the defendant is that the plaintiff has failed to show, given the averments in its amended statement of claim that it has a standing to maintain the suit,’’ Muhammad said.

He further said: “Plaintiff’s real grouse, it is contended and rightly too, relates to the regularisation consent.’’

“The defendant insists persons who acquired federal lands must obtain consent from it before title effectively vests in the transferees.

“Having transferred its titles in the lands to others, it is untenable for the plaintiff herein to assert that the very title that ceases to vest in it is adversely threatened by the defendant’s interference,’’ the judge held.

 


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