The Kwara State High Court has lifted an interim injunction restraining the state government from constructing anything on the disputed civil service clinic land (alias Ile Arugbo) following repeated failure of counsel to the claimant, Asa Investment Limited, to appear before the court to fully prosecute its case.
Asa Investment Limited, which is purportedly owned by the late Olusola Saraki, had taken Kwara State Government to court after the latter reclaimed the land. The government said the land was unlawfully taken over by the firm without any right of occupancy or payment to the owner, the state government.
The court, presided over by Justice Abiodun Adebara, also awarded a penalty of N200, 000 each in favour of all the four defendants (Kwara State Governor, Attorney-General of the state, House of Assembly, and Bureau of Lands) and another N50,000 to the police on account of the failure of the claimant to allow the case to proceed to hearing on various occasions.
Adebara took the decision after the counsel to the claimant, Akin Onigbinde, SAN, again failed to attend the court session on Thursday. Onigbinde instead sent a letter, accompanied with a medical report, saying he was advised to undergo bed rest between August 3 and 10. After many adjournments at the instance of the claimant, Onigbinde had again on July 8 agreed to an adjournment for July 22, but he later said he could not make the sitting.
That led to the adjournment to August 6, when Onigbinde, again, did not attend, allegedly, on medical grounds.
The judge agreed with the Attorney-General that “the claimants are not diligent in the prosecution of this case, which entitled me to dismiss the case under Order 39 Rule 4 of the Rules of this Court, but having regard to the provision of Order 39 rules 5 and 6, which allow the claimants to apply to set aside the judgement dismissing the case, I consider it better to give the claimants another opportunity. Hence, instead I award the costs of N200,000 against the claimants in favour of the 1st to 4th defendants and the costs of N50,000 in favour of the 5th defendant against the claimants. Furthermore, the exparte order of injunction granted the claimants earlier on in this case is hereby vacated.”
Kwara State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Salman Jawondo, who appeared for the government, said the claimant was “deliberately wasting the time of the court” and urged Adebara to dismiss the case for lack of diligent prosecution and to award N250, 000 penalty each against the claimant and in favour of the defendants.
Jawondo, who insisted that Asa Investment Limited was just buying time with the numerous adjournments, wondered why other counsel to the claimant could not continue with the case in the absence of Onigbinde.
The police, which is the fifth defendant in the case, aligned with the government’s position that the case should be struck out. The court awarded only N200,000 each in favour of the first four defendants and another N50,000 in favour of the police.
Adebara, however, adjourned the matter to September 23 and 24 to allow the claimant’s counsel to continue the case. He warned that he would not grant any other adjournment.
The government had in January reclaimed the land, which it said was originally meant for the construction of the civil service secretariat but was unlawfully gifted out to a private firm in 2005 without any payment or certificate of ownership. Asa Investment Limited, which claims ownership of the land, thereafter challenged the action of the government in the court.