By Demola Akinyemi – Ilorin
Kwara State Government on Tuesday got a legal green light to proceed with the building of the state secretariat on the controversial Ile Arugbo land in Ilorin, with the court striking out the case instituted by the former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, challenging the government’s take over of the land.
Justice Abiodun Adewara of the Ilorin High Court struck out the Saraki’s case for “lack of diligent prosecution.”
The judge struck out the case after the appellants — Saraki’s Asa Investment Ltd — again failed to call any witnesses to support their claim that the choice land belonged to the firm said to be owned by the late Olusola Saraki.
After many years of using the land to host their political followers in the heart of the capital city, the government reclaimed the land from the Sarakis in December 2019 and went ahead to clear the land ahead of its use for the construction of another government secretariat.
The government had said the land originally belonged to the public but was controversially transferred to a firm owned by Saraki without any payment made to the government or document issued for that purpose, in one of the most vivid examples of abuse of power and annexation of public properties for private use.
The Sarakis in turn challenged the government’s decision by filing a court case to keep ownership of the land, claiming they have documents to prove ownership of the property.
After many months of legal back-and-forth, Justice Adewara on Tuesday struck out the case after the claimants again failed to call their witness or tender documents to prove ownership of the land.
Earlier on Monday when the case came up for hearing, Counsel to the claimants Abdulazeez Ibrahim had told the court that a joinder to the case Alhaji Sanusi Babaeleku has suddenly died, leading to the court striking out the name of the deceased.
When the case resumed on Tuesday, Ibrahim said they were replacing Alhaji Babaeleku with one Alhaji Abubakar Oluwatoyin, a request that the court granted, and then asked them to proceed with their case by calling their other witnesses.
The counsel however said they were not prepared to proceed because their lead counsel Dr Akin Onigbinde (SAN), who he claimed has the relevant documents to proceed with the case, had just lost his mother and was preparing for the burial.
Counsel to the Kwara State Government Barrister Salman Jawondo however drew the attention of the court to what he called a deliberate attempt to delay the hearing and dispensation of the case after more than one year of judicial filibustering, urging the court to dismiss the case for lack of diligent prosecution.
He cited the previous failings of the claimants to prosecute their case, an observation that the judge said was valid and therefore struck out the case “for lack of diligent prosecution by the claimants.”
Jawondo meanwhile has said the government is willing to press counter claims of ownership of the land against the Asa Investment Limited.
The court has adjourned to 17 March 2021 to hear the counterclaims.