Legal representatives to First Lady, Patience Jonathan, and her immediate predecessor, Turai Yar’Adua, say they will pursue an out-of-court resolution for the disputed Abuja land they both are laying claim to, in what appears a swift attempt by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to curtail the embarrassing standoff between the two women.
The property, located in the central business district of Abuja, has pitted the two women against each other, after the federal capital territory revoked its earlier allocation to an NGO belonging to Mrs. Yar’adua, and reassigned same to Mrs. Jonathan, sparking a legal contest.
Officials say hours of negotiations were held on Monday between representatives of the two sides, the federal capital territory, and the Attorney General of the federation; and all the parties agreed that the case, before an Abuja High court, be suspended.
As the matter came up for consideration on Tuesday, Justice Peter Affen of Bwari court, approved it be deferred while the parties try to settle out of court.
“Like I had advised, the nature of this matter is such that if all parties reached an amicable settlement, it will be better for both sides,” the judge said.
A report of the progress of settlement is expected to be filed on September 24 when courts resume from recess.
The confrontation between the women provides a glimpse into the subtle feud between Mrs. Jonathan and Mrs. Yar’Adua that preceded the scandalous power transfer to Mr Jonathan in 2010 after President Umaru Yar’Adua died.
It also underlines the lack of transparency in land administration in the FCT.
Allocated to Mrs. Yar’Adua’s Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation (WAYEF) in February 2010, the contentious land was revoked by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bala Mohammed, in November 2011 and reallocated to Mrs. Jonathan-led African First Ladies’ Peace Mission after Mr. Yar’Adua’s passing.
Mrs. Jonathan will, this his week host wives of other African leaders in Abuja during which a foundation laying ceremony would be performed on the land.
With the new development, it is not clear whether the ceremony will go ahead.
The minister, Mr. Mohammed, said the revocation was in public interest.
On November 23, 2011, Mrs. Yar’Adua’s WAYEF sued the FCT minister, his ministry and the Attorney General of the Federation challenging the reassignment of the plot.
Justice Affen on March 5, 2012 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 Federal Ministry of Justice, seeking a discharge of the order on the land, or at worst, a stay of execution.
One of Mrs. Jonathan’s representatives, Ballah Ali, said in a court affidavit the president’s wife on learning of the previous allocation, reached out to Mrs. Yar’Adua “who conceded to a revocation as the Minister of the FCT was prepared to give her another allocation.”
Matters became complicated 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.
Mrs. Yar’Adua’s NGO reportedly insist that it remained the current and bonafide owner of the land and that the minister has no power to retrospectively revoke a right of occupancy.
Its lawyers claimed that WAYEF obtained the requisite approvals, and paid the statutory N184million to the Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS) for the right of occupancy.
A ruling on the application by the Attorney General for the discharge of the injunction was set for Tuesday, July 24.
Innocent Lagi, representing Mrs. Yar’adua confirmed the former First Lady’s team had been approached for an out-of-court settlement although he said the proposals were not made known to them.
“The proposals were never made known to us, but we have been communicated,” he said.
An official informed of the meeting however told PREMIUM TIMES the first lady was assured of a new plot of land within the same Central Business District.
“They promised to comb everywhere and come up with something, and specifically assured that it must be satisfactory to us,” the source said.
Mr. Lagi said they had earlier been approached by the FCT minister’s office for an out-of-court, but that did not materialize.
This time, the offer is coming from the office of the Attorney General, on the instruction of the president, a source familiar with the matter, said.