The Court of Appeal, in Lagos, has set aside a judgement by Justice Adeniji Onigbanjo of a Lagos High Court, and affirmed the rights of Taylor Woodrow Nigeria Ltd, and four others, who sue the Ojora of Ijora, HRM Oba Abdual Fatai Aremu Aromire and Prince Olayiwola Oluwa over a disputed land located at No. 10, Abebe Village Road, Iganmu.
The Appellate Court in its lead judgement delivered by Justice Obande Festus Ogbuinya ordered that the case file be remitted back to the Chief Judge of High Court of Lagos State for re-assignment to another judge other than Justice Onigbanjo for rehearing.
The Appellants namely, Taylor Woodrow Nigeria Ltd, Beta Transport Nigeria Ltd, La Vendure Nigeria Ltd, Hamzat Subair and Waheed Enitan Oshodi, had in suit No: LD/8671/ LMW/2019 dragged the Ojora of Ijora, HRM Oba Abdual Fatai Aremu Aromire and Prince Olayiwola Oluwa to the Court, over the disputed land.
They had in a motion on notice dated December 2, 2019 prayed the Court for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the Defendants (HRM Oba Abdual Fatai Aremu Aromire and Prince Olayiwola Oluwa) either by themselves or through their agents, servants or privies from trespassing or further trespassing on their lease registered as 74/74/923 and sublease registered as 49/49/1374 as part of No. 10, Abebe Village Road, Iganmu or any part thereof, pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
The Respondents had on January 16, 2020 filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection, praying the Court to strike out or dismiss the entire suit.
In his ruling, Justice Onigbanjo dismissed the Claimants’ application as an abuse of Court process, stating that the Supreme Court Judgment in a judgement delivered by Justice Adesola Oguntade (retired) had made it clear that the disputed Iganmu land rightly belong to the Defendants/Respondents
The judge premised his decision on the judgment of the Supreme Court in Suit No SC/54/2005, which affirmed the Court of Appeal decision in Suit No. CA/L/86/2018 and which in turn affirmed his (Onigbanjo’s) judgment in Suit No. LD/562/72 and CTC of which were exhibited by parties in this suit and all of which judgments affirmed the objectors as the overlords and rightful owners of all the land in Iganmu, Lagos State from time immemorial.
Dissatisfied, the Claimants in their Notice of Appeal dated March 16, 2020 and filed by their Counsel, Barrister Adedokun Makinde, SAN, prayed the Court to set aside the ruling of the trial judge.
Delivering judgement on the issue, the 3-man panel of Justice Obande Ogbuinya (Presided), Justice Obietonbara Owupele Daniel-Kalo and Justice Fatima Omoro Akinbami in their unanimous decision allowed the appeal and set aside the decision of the lower court.
In his lead judgement, Justice Ogbuinya held that in so far as the Appellants were not parties in the SC /54/2005, which germinated from the land matter instituted by the Respondents, the lower court’s castigation of it as a re-litigation and abuse of Court process flies in the face of the law.
Justice Ogbuinya held that ‘’It follows that the defence of branding the decision in SC/54/2005 as judgment in rem, which the respondents invented, brandished and paraded to abort the issue, is uncharitable and unsustainable in law. It is disabled from its birth. It cannot fly! The net effect is obvious. The respondents were wanting in proof of the presence of parties in the two actions, the appellants’ suit and the decision in SC/54/2005, which is an essential condition for the success of an abuse of Court process in a nutshell, the respondents failed woefully to establish the necessary elements, which are desiderata, of abuse of Court process against the suit as to impregnate their terminal preliminary objection with success.
“Flowing from the summary of an argument on the parties as an ingredient of an abuse of Court process done in total loyalty to the dictate of the law, the lower Court finding which labelled the appellants’ suit with the badge of an abuse of Court process, is out of alignment with the letter and spirit of the law and deserves the reprobation of this Court.
“After due consultation with the law, I resolved issue one in favour of the Appellants and issue two and three against them and vice versa for the Respondents. Alas, the Respondents have only scored a barren victory in the resolution of issue two and three in their favour. The reason is not far-fetched. The issue one, which favoured the appellants, constitutes the heartbeat of the appeal and will, iso facto and by the fact itself, define its destiny as well as shape its verdict.
“On the whole, having resolved the decisive issue one in favour of the Appellants, the fortune of the appeal is obvious. It is imbued with merit. Consequently, I allow the appeal. Accordingly, I set aside the decision (ruling) of the lower court, delivered on 10th March, 2020, and dismiss the Respondents’ preliminary objection. I hereby remit the Appellants’ suit, No. LD/8671/LMW/2019, back to the Chief Judge of the High Court of Lagos State for re-assignment to another Judge, other than S.A. Onigbanjo, J., for hearing on the merit. The parties shall bear their respective costs they incurred in the prosecution and defence of the fruitful appeal”.