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Land Control: Lagos Defeats FG At Supreme Court

-The Supreme Court has dismissed a suit filed by the Federal Government of Nigeria seeking an order to take control and management of its land in Lagos State from the state government.

-It lost the case before the Supreme Court at the preliminary stage.

The dispute between the two parties was about “general control and management of federal land within Lagos State, particularly the re-issuance of certificates of occupancy, granting consent or exercising rights of ownership.”

A five-man panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, on Friday unanimously ruled in favour of Lagos state government.

Justice Dattijo Muhammad, who read the apex court’s lead ruling, agreed with the Lagos State Government that the court lacked the power to exercise its “original jurisdiction” in the suit because the Federal Government had “transferred its title in the land to others”.

Muhammad ruled, “Having transferred its title in the land to others, it is untenable for the plaintiff (the Attorney-General of the Federation representing the Federal Government), herein, to assert that the very title, that ceases to vest in it, is adversely threatened by the defendant’s (the Attorney-General of Lagos State representing Lagos State Government’s) interference.

“The plaintiff who lacks the standing to sue (the learned counsel for the defendant is right) cannot invoke the original jurisdiction of this court to assert a title he no longer has. It will be hypothetical for the court to proceed on the matter. It never does.”

The Attorney-General of the Federation, the plaintiff, had sought to invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under section 232 of the Constitution by filing the suit dated March 3, 2011, against the Attorney-General of Lagos State, the sole defendant in the suit.

The dispute between the Federal and Lagos State governments was about “general control and management of federal lands within Lagos State, particularly the re-issuance of certificates of occupancy and granting consent or exercising rights of ownership.”

A property at 10, Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, “out of thousands of such land titles” transferred to others by the Federal Government, was used in the suit as a test-case of Lagos State Government’s alleged interference in the control and management of federal lands in the state.

The plaintiff, through its lawyer, Mr. Ogungbamila, had alleged that the President, in his capacity as “the head of the federation” was by virtue of Sections 1, 49 and 51(2) of the Land Use Act, 1978, a trustee, and could exercise powers, over “federal lands” within the territory of any state of Nigeria, including Lagos State.

It contended that, therefore, the control and management of the federal lands in Lagos by the state government was in breach of sections 49 and 59(2) of the Land Use Act.

Responding to the dispute, the Lagos State Government, on October 10, 2016 filed a notice of preliminary objection, contending the court should not proceed to hear the suit, on among other grounds, that the case was “purely on ownership of land”, an issue the apex court could not invoke its original jurisdiction to hear.

Mrs S.Y Kolawole, the state government also contended that the Federal Government having divested its interest in the affected federal lands, it (Federal Government) lacked the locus standi to institute the suit.

Ruling on Friday, Justice Muhammad struck down one of the grounds of Lagos State’s objection in which the objector had argued that the case was a dispute over land ownership, an issue which did not fall under the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction.

The apex court, however, held that that was not the only requirement to hear the case on its merit.

While upholding the other leg of Lagos’ objection which formed the basis for striking out the Federal Government’s suit on Friday, Justice Muhammad held that the plaintiff (FG) was unable to prove that it was a proper party with “a standing” to institute the suit.

Other members of the panel, Justices Rhodes-Vivour (presiding), Mary Peter-Odili, Chima Nweze, Olukayode Ariwoola, Clara Ogunbiyi and Amiru Sanusi, agreed with the lead ruling.

 

Culled from: Punch

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