Alex Enumah in Abuja
Members of the Imiefo Kindred of Kalabar Community, Ukhomunyio, Afokpella-Okpella, Okpella Clan in Etsako East Local Government Area, have asked a High Court of Edo State, to void the purported sale of their lands to Dangote Cement Plc by some alleged impostors.
The aggrieved members of the community in a suit they filed before the state High Court in Auchi, are querying the validity of the said sale and the authority of those Dangote Cement dealt with in relation to the lands described as â€Ogbagu and Afeyemi lands.â€
The suit, marked: HAU/47/2018, was filed on April 24 by the Incorporated Trustees of Imiefo Kindred Union, on behalf of themselves and the Imiefo Kindred of Kalabar Community of Ukhomunyio, Afokpella_Okpella, Okpella Clan, Etsako East Local Government, through the firm of Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN) and Partners.
Those named as defendants in the suit are: Dangote Cement Plc, Xath Resources Limited, its Managing Director, James Abache; Alhaji Moshood O. Aliu (sued for himself and on behalf of the Ukhomunyio Council of Chiefs, Okpella, Edo State) and the Incorporated Trustees of Ukhomunyio Community Development Union.
In addition to the writ of summons issued against the defendants, they also filed a motion ex-parte for interim injunctions, seeking an order restraining Dangote and other defendants from taking any further steps on the lands pending the determination of the substantive suit; and another motion on notice for interlocutory injunctions.
They claimed that by traditional history and native law and custom of Okpella Clan, the Imiefo Kindred â€œis the rightful owner of all the lands situated at and referred to as Ogbagu and Afeyemi lands.â€
They cited a number of incidents that further confirmed their ownership of the lands in question, the most recent, they said, being in 2017 when â€œthe Afokpella Village Heads prevailed on Imiefo Kindred to appease the gods over the encroachment into the Olitsa-Ogbagu deityâ€™s territory, which include the lands in question.
The also recalled when in the 1990s, the Okuokpellagbe of Okpella prevailed on the Imiefo Kindred, as the rightful owners of the lands, to appease the gods, through the Ogbagu Shrine (Olitsa-Ogbagu), which it did before normalcy could be restored when West African Fertilizer Company of Nigeria (WAFERT) recorded some unusual natural disasters while operating on the lands.
The claimants said despite their established ownership of the lands, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th defendants (Xath Resources, James Abache; Alhaji Aliu), in alleged collusion with Ukhomunyio Council of Chiefs, Okpella, without their (claimantsâ€™) consent, â€œwrongfully and unlawfully allocated the entire Ogbagu and Afeyemi lands, belonging to the claimants, to the 1st defendant (Dangote Cement) for mining activities.â€
One of the claimants, Ezekiel Eshiogiemhe said, in a witness statement, that they got information, in August 2016, about the 2nd to 5th defendantsâ€™ alleged plot to unlawfully grant consent to the owners of the 1stdefendant to commence mining activities on the lands.
Eshiogiemhe said the claimants wrote the parties involved in the alleged illegal act and warned them to desist. He referred to a particular letter of February 2017, written to 1stdefendant by the claimantsâ€™ lawyers to warn the 1st defendant to desist from dealing with the 2nd to 5thdefendants on the grounds that they were not the lawful owners of the lands in question.
He said despite the claimantsâ€™ letters and a pending suit they filed challenging the traditional head of Okpella, the Okuokpellagbe of Okpella, Alhaji A. Y. F. Idrisu over the consent he purportedly granted to another mining firm on the same lands, the defendants proceeded with their transaction, allegedly leading to the 1st defendants paying the other defendants N459m.
The claimants said they were not opposed to the 1st defendant acquiring their lands, but that the right thing must first be done, which include obtaining the claimantsâ€™ consent (being the rightful owners of the land) and paying necessary compensations to the owners, who use the lands for farming and other purposes from which they earn their living.
They said their prayer for a restraining order was of urgent importance because, unless restrained by the court, the 1st defendant, who has allegedly moved its machines and other equipment to the disputed lands, has concluded plans to commence operations forthwith.
They therefore want the court to declare that the 2nd to 5thdefendants, not being members of the claimantsâ€™ family, have no power or right to allocate or grant mining consent to the 1st defendant or any other person/agency to carry out mining activities on the lands in question.
They also want the court to declare that, being the owners of the Ogbagu and Afeyemi lands in Okpella under the Okpella native law and custom, the claimants are the only persons entitled to negotiate with the 1stdefendant in respect of the proposed mining operations and other activities it seeks to conduct on the lands.
The claimants seek an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 1stdefendant or its agents from carrying out any mining or other activities on the Ogbagu and Afeyemi lands â€œuntil it has negotiated with and sought the consent of the claimants for the use of the said lands.â€
They equally want the court to perpetually restrain the defendants or their agents from erecting any structure, trespassing or carrying out any activity on the lands.