Justice Mariam Aloma Murkhtar
The Supreme Court yesterday fixed February 14, 2013 to hear the suit instituted by 16 Northern states seeking an order compelling the Federal Government to refund to them a total of N7.3 billion, being outstanding value of the assets of the defunct Northern States Marketing Board (NSMB).
A panel of seven justices headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mariam Aloma Murkhtar, fixed the date after dispensing with applications that could delay the determination of the matter.
The Federal Government had already filed a preliminary objection in which it asked the court to dismiss the suit because it had become statute barred.
The government is contending that the North had slept on its right, the cause of action having arisen 28 years ago and therefore statute barred.
The position of the Federal Government was contained in a preliminary objection filed by the law firm of Ade-Okeaya Inneh (SAN) on behalf of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to the suit.
Sixteen of the 19 states in the North had invoked the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court vide an originating summons asking the apex court to compel the Federal Government to pay them N7billion as outstanding value of the assets of the defunct NSMB.
The board was said to have been taken over by the government in 1977 from the then North-Western, North-Central, Kano, North-Eastern and Central-Western states.
The states as presently constituted comprise Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.
They had named the AGF as the sole defendant in the case.
In the suit before the Supreme Court, the 16 states specifically said that in 1977, the then Federal Military Government forcefully took over the assets of NSMB by virtue of Decree No. 29 of 1977.
They said the then Supreme Military Council stated that the Federal Government would pay for the assets of the NSMB and the assets of any other commodity boards.
According to them, before the assets were transferred to the Federal Government, a valuation was carried out which put the total value of all the assets at N42 million.
They said: “Out of the said N42 million, only N1.1 million was paid to the NSMB by the defendant leaving a balance of N40 million.” They put the cost of immovable assets and produce taken over at N11 million and N18 million respectively.
In the preliminary objection filed in court, Okeaya-Inneh said the northern governors’ statement of claim was statute barred by virtue of section 7(1)(e) of the Limitation Act.
He said the cause of action upon which the plaintiffs’ suit was predicated was a letter dated July 27, 1983 and August 13, 1984 in their statement of claim dated February 17, 2011.
‘’Since the plaintiffs instituted this action by way of civil summons on February 17, 2011 in consequence thereof, the said action is at variance with section 7 (1)( e) of the Limitation Act.
‘’Whenever a party’s action is statute barred, the party would lose his right of action and lose the right of enforcement.
“Besides, the party who slept on his right also irretrievably lose the right to judicial relief and would have an empty cause of action which no court will assist him to enforce.”