Mrs. Yar’Adua’s title to a disputed plot in Abuja was restored by a court Thursday.
Former first lady, Turai Yar’Adua, has vowed a repeat of a thrashing she gave her successor, Patience Jonathan, over a long-standing land dispute, ruled in Mrs. Yar’Adua’s favour, Thursday, assuring the first lady that any appeal against the decision will fail.
An Abuja High Court on Thursday invalidated a purported revocation order on the plot measuring about 1.84 hectares allocated to the former first lady’s organization, Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation, WAYEF, by the Abuja Administration.
The court, presided by Peter Affen, said the claim by the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Minister, Bala Mohammed, that the land was revoked on an overriding public interest was not supported by any of evidence before the court, ordering that the initial offer to Mrs. Yar’Adua’s organization remains valid.
“The defendants failed woefully to adduce any shred of evidence before this court to support their claims that the allocation of the land was revoked on overriding public interest. There is no overriding public interest in this issue,” the judge said. “The allocation made to the plaintiff who is a vocational training centre was in public interest and in line with section 28 (1) of Land Use Act.”
The judge further faulted the Mr. Mohammed’s exercise of powers in revoking the plot, saying it did not come within the confines of the law.
Reacting to the ruling, head of legal unit of the FCT, Imaobong Okpongete, said the ruling will be appealed, and defended the minister whom she said exercised the power of his office accordingly in revoking a plot and reallocating same.
The Turai Yar’Adua team hit back immediately, dismissing the threat of an appeal as bound to fail.
“Let them bring it on. We will love them to appeal,” a lawyer for Mrs. Yar’Adua, Innocent Lagi, said. “This culture of impunity must stop.”
“The issue of impunity in this country cannot continue. We will like the Supreme Court to deliver judgment on this case,” he said.
History of transfer
The long-drawn legal battle dates back to 2010 after the plot, cornered by Mrs. Yar’Adua in February 2010 while she was the First Lady, was revoked by the FCT minister, who was appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan, and re-awarded to Mrs. Jonathan.
While Mrs. Yar’Adua obtained the plot for her pet project, Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation, WAYEF, Mrs. Jonathan got the allocation for her initiative, African First Ladies’ Peace Mission, AFLPM.
The contentious plot is located within the Central Business District, close to the Ministry of Justice in Abuja.
Mr. Mohammed, who approved the transfer, claimed the revocation was in public interest, claim trounced by the judge on Thursday.
After the plot was withdrawn, Mrs. Yar’Adua’s WAYEF sued the FCT minister, the ministry, and the Attorney General of the Federation on November 23, 2011, challenging the decision.
On March 5, 2012, Justice Affen granted an injunction restraining the minister or any other person from affecting the title or interest of WAYEF over the property pending the determination of the case.
In turn, Mrs. Jonathan approached the court, through the Ministry of Justice, seeking a discharge of the order, or at worst, a stay of execution.
A lawyer to Mrs. Jonathan, Ballah Ali, said in a court affidavit that the president’s wife reached out to Mrs. Yar’Adua and assured her of a replacement.
But matters soon degenerated after the first lady’s attention was subsequently drawn to the injunction obtained by her predecessor after she was made to believe that the matter had been resolved.
After preliminary court outings by both sides and the office of the Attorney General, an attempt at negotiated settlement was agreed at the counseling of the judge, Mr. Affen.
But the talks broke down after first offers were made in July 2012, and Mrs. Yar’Adua rejected both.
One offer was for a smaller plot in the same highbrow area of Abuja, while another was for a sizeable plot in an undeveloped part of Abuja, their lawyers said.
A saving grace was expected if Mrs. Jonathan’s team made new acceptable offer ahead of a report of the progress expected to be made to the court on September 24, 2012.
For months, away from the media and public glare, the negotiation continued but failed to provide a resolution as Mrs. Yar’Adua’s team considered all offers unsuitable replacements for the revoked land.
The final ruling by the court was severally adjourned for the two sides to attempt an out of court settlement. None turned out successful.
Part of Mrs. Yar’Adua’s prayers was to be paid N1.5 billion as general damages, N100 Million as exemplary damages, N100 Million as aggravated damages in addition to N261 Million already paid for Certificate of Occupancy as well as N454 Million paid for building designs if the court eventually prove that the revocation was in public interest.
With the court’s ruling, however, she only gets to have her land back.