By Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has ordered the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to vacate the premises of a multi-billion modern market and mall operated by Blue Boulevard Limited, located within the NAF Base in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
The presiding judge, Justice Hillary Oshomah, gave the order in his judgment in an application for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the applicant in suit number: FHC/PH/FHR/71/2017.
Blue Boulevard Limited and its Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Peter-Kings Osunde, had dragged the Nigerian Air Force Properties Limited, to court in suit number: FHC/PH/FHR/71/2017, challenging the invasion of its market and mall and forceful barricading of its main entrance at Market Junction, Rumuomasi, Port Harcourt, by personnel of the 115 Special Operation Group, Nigerian Air Force, Port Harcourt on April 11.
Even while the matter was in court, the presiding judge, Oshomah, had on April 21, 2017, directed counsel to both parties and the registrar of the court to visit the market to confirm if personnel of the Air Force actually invaded and barricaded the market valued at over N11 billion.
On getting there, the armed personnel refused the court officials entry, citing orders from their boss.
The presiding judge said after the counsel and the court registrar reported their findings, â€œThe report of all the parties confirms that res of this suit is under invasion by fierce and weird military personnel who would not allow the court official and even their own counsel access into the premises even though their own counsel duly introduced himself.
â€œIt is beyond any iota of doubt that the defendant has taken laws into its hand by resorting to self-help. This conduct of the defendant is most condemnable and highly deprecated and should not be tolerated in any civilised society.â€
Delivering judgment on the matter, Oshomah issued a perpetual injunction restraining the Nigerian Air Force Properties Limited and its agents and officers from further barricading the gate and within the premises of the firm.
He said in the judgment order: â€œIt is hereby declared by the order of this honourable court, that the continuous stay of the armed men of the 115 Special Operation Group, Nigerian Air Force, Port Harcourt at the main entrance of the second applicantâ€™s gate and within its premises on the order of the respondent is ultra vires, null and void and beyond the statutory duties of the respondent.
â€œThat the continuous stay of the armed men of the respondent is wrongful, unlawful and unconstitutional as it violates the applicantsâ€™ fundamental right of freedom of movement, right to own property and right to personal liberty guaranteed by Section 34, 35 and 44 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
â€œThe respondent is hereby directed to immediately withdraw its men stationed at the main gate and within the premises of the second applicant at NAF Base, Market Junction, Rumuomasi, Aba Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
â€œAn order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondent by itself, through its agents, officers and privies from further barricading the gate and within the premises of the second applicant at the aforementioned place.
â€œBy way of consequential order of this honourable court, the respondent, itâ€™s agents, servants, privies and or anybody of whatsoever either acting on its behalf or stead is by order of this honourable court restrained from indulging in any act or conduct which is likely or capable of undermining, frustrating, stifling or calculated or capable of rendering nugatory the attainment and/or benefits of prayers 1, 2, 3 and 4 granted the applicants by this honourable court.â€
Speaking to newsmen later, counsel to the applicants, James Akaro Okanje, expressed happiness over the decision of the court on the matter, saying the court has demonstrated its primary assignment of ensuring that justice is dispensed without fear or favour.
Okanje said: â€œTo my mind, I have again seen the Court demonstrating its primary assignment of ensuring that justice is dispensed without fear or favour.
â€œPrior to April 11, 2017, the Nigerian Air Force granted us leave to use their property to build our shops. So we had a good rapport with them. All of a sudden, on April 11, they brought in their men and armoured tanks and restrained us from entering.
â€œWhat we have lost as a result of the action of the Nigerian Air Force is unquantifiable. It runs into millions of naira on daily basis. All the commercial activities within that premises have been paralysed. With this judgment now, we get a roll out order as soon as possible, serve it on them. So that they can order their men, as directed by the Court to leave our premises.â€
Speaking to journalists also, counsel to the Nigerian Air Force, Mathew Onwukwe, said they will study the judgment of the court and advise their client appropriately.
â€œThe only thing I can say is that the court has given its judgment and it is our duty to study it and properly advise our client,â€ he said.