Court affirms jurisdiction in timber dealers suit against Lagos govt


A Lagos division of the Federal High Court on Tuesday ruled that it had jurisdiction over the case filed by Okobaba Timber Dealers, Sawyers, Towing Vessel Owners and other stakeholders against the Lagos State government over the proposed demolition and relocation of their site from the Okobaba Foreshore.

Last year, the timber dealers had filed an action before the court to challenge their forceful eviction by the state government and planned movement to an abandoned and uncompleted location in far away Ijede area of Ikorodu.

They contended that they were being excluded from all negotiations and arrangements in a matter in which their interests were involved.

In the suit filed on their behalf by lawyer and human rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, the timber dealers had sought the court’s declaration that the state government has no authority over any land situate and being within the 100 metres of all declared navigable inland waterways, such as the Lagos Lagoon, which is under the authority and jurisdiction of the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA.

The stakeholders said they had been paying their regular dues and permit licenses to the said NIWA for many years. As a result, they are contending that the Lagos State Government is without legal powers to interfere in their possession and occupation of the Okobaba Street Foreshore, to eject them forcefully and to transfer the land to developers and foreign investors who have no history of any contribution to the development of the area.

Upon being served with the suit, the Lagos State Government filed a preliminary objection, contending that the Federal High Court had no jurisdiction over the case, since it has to do with title to land, physical planning and borders on the executive decision of the state government to relocate the timber dealers.

The timber dealers opposed the application, stating that the relevant laws of the land have vested authority over land abutting inland waterways in the National Inland Waterways Authority.

Delivering his ruling on Tuesday, Justice Abdulazeez Anka said having reviewed all laws covering the subject matter, the court held that by virtue of the Land (Title Vesting) Decree and the National Inland Waterways Authority Act, the federal government has been vested with exclusive power and authority over all land within 100 metres of a declared navigable waterway, including the Okoboba Foreshore in Ebute-Metta.

The court concluded that the case of the timber dealers was not one of title to land but rather the administration of land within the inland waterways.

In dismissing the preliminary objection filed by the Lagos State Government, the court held that since there is no evidence before it to challenge the case of the timber dealers that they were empowered in their location by NIWA, only the federal high court has exclusive jurisdiction to entertain the case of the plaintiffs.

The case was then adjourned to May 15 for hearing.

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