by ‘Jola Sotubo
Two of Nigeria’s most prominent businessmen are to have a face-off in court after a disagreement relating to property.
The suit is slated for hearing on January 21 and was filed by Oba Otudeko against Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man.
The subject in contention is the ownership of a parcel of land measuring 10.841 square metres located within the Lagos Ports Complex known as 5th Apapa Wharf Extension.
Daily Independent reports:
While Otudeko, through his company, Honeywell Group Limited, wants the court to adjudge him as the valid owner of the land by virtue of a lease agreement between the firm and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Dangote is insisting that the agreement was neither turned into a deed nor registered in any Lands Registry.
Otudeko is alleging in the suit that Dangote and his company actually procured and induced the NPA to break the initial agreements and legal relations in respect of the disputed land.
The case was initially handled by Justice Ramat Mohammed but was later transferred to Justice Okechukwu Okeke following Mohammed’s transfer out of Lagos.
However, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, has re-assigned the matter to Justice Okon Abang.
The latest development was occasioned by Okeke’s retirement from the bench of the court.
The matter is to start de-novo (afresh) before Abang on January 21.
Honeywell Group had in the suit listed NPA, Bureau of Public Enterprises (PBE), Dangote Industries Limited, Aliko Dangote and Greenview Development Nigeria Limited as co-defendants.
According to the statement of claim, Honeywell Group averred that by an agreement, NPA leased the said land to it for five years for the purpose of setting up a bulk food handling facility for a consideration of N2.168 million per annum, adding that in keeping with the agreement, it paid the aforesaid amount and also paid N290,000 for the survey of the land.
The plaintiff (Honeywell Group) noted that it took possession of the land to the knowledge of the defendants and began the required technical investigations and expenditures necessary for the setting up of the bulk food handling facility, which was to cost about $100 million.
The plaintiff added that despite being aware of its massive development plans on the land, the BPE suddenly suspended the pre-existing rights by concessioning NPA’s Apapa Ports Complex, including the 5th Apapa Wharf Extension, to Greenview Development Limited, a company related to Dangote.
Honeywell Group added that NPA and BPE later asked it to vacate the facility to ensure smooth transfer to new operator, alleging that Dangote and his company actually procured and induced the NPA to break the initial agreements and legal relations.
The plaintiff alleged that Dangote, through his agents, harassed, threatened and ordered its officials to vacate the land.
Besides, the plaintiff argued that BPE lacked the power under its so called port reforms, to take over and alienate NPA’s assets when the NPA Act has neither been amended nor did any valid resolution of the appropriate body supports such action.
By the eventual forceful eviction from the land, the plaintiff submitted that it lost the profit it would have made and was greatly injured in its business. Even, the plaintiff stressed that by virtue of the action of the defendants, the cost of putting up the contemplated structure had risen from $100 million to $148 million.
The plaintiff is, therefore, urging the court to declare it as the exclusive legal occupier of the land and to restrain the defendants from treating it as stranger or trespasser on the land.
It also wants $48 million damages, being the additional expenses required to build the bulk food handling facility.
But Dangote, in his statement of defence, is arguing that that the suit was frivolous, vexatious and that it constituted an abuse of court process, adding that the suit was aimed at truncating the approved policy of the concessionaire of seaports of the Federal Government and to deter the progress of works and development being carried out by Greenview Development on the land.
He argued that no Presidential consent was sought nor obtained before the lease agreement was granted to Honeywell Group in respect of the land, and that as part of the privatisation and commercialisation policy of the Federal Government, notices were given to the general public in 2003 for the concessioning of all the Nigerian Seaports/Complexes by the BPE.
Under the policy, Dangote explained that all existing leases/licences of land at Nigeria’s seaports were affected, and that fresh bids were required for the concessioning of all the various seaports in Nigeria.
The defendants added that Greenview was eventually granted the concessionaire approval by the Federal Government of Terminal ‘E’ of Apapa Ports covering an area of 19.091 hectares, and that it was untrue that the plaintiff had ever been in occupation of the land known as the 5th Apapa Wharf Extension.