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Presidential panel dragged to court over illegal take over of property
Okoi Obono Obla, Head of the panel

Presidential panel dragged to court over illegal take over of property

From Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja

The Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP) has been dragged before a Federal High Court in Abuja over an alleged take over a multi million naira property belonging to a private investor.

The panel was sued by D. B. Mangal Ltd., praying for an order of the court to stop the panel from sealing off its property and forcefully ejecting, harassing and intimidating the occupants of the building.

In an originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/570/2019, D.B. Mangal Ltd is urging the court to determine whether going by the provisions of the Public Property (Special Provisions) Act Cap. R4 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2005, the Okoi Obono-Oblah led panel is empowered to investigate issues bothering on ownership title and which had been adjudicated upon and determined by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Also joined in the suit as defendants are the Petroleum Financial Corporate Ltd; the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA).

It would recalled that both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal had in their judgments held that the panel lacked the power to prosecute crimes bordering on non-declaration of assets.

Specifically, the Court of Appeal in a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Hussein Muhktar, also held that the panel lacked the constitutional power to seize property of alleged offenders without valid court order.

The decision of the appellate court was in respect of an appeal filed by Tijani Tumsah to challenge an order of interim forfeiture made by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja in respect of some 86 cars linked to Tijani and his brother, Ibrahim Tumsah.

The five-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal held that no provision of the Recovery of Public Property Act Cap R 4, LFN 2004 empowers the panel to initiate court proceedings pursuant to its investigative powers for the purpose of obtaining an interim order for forfeiture of property.

It added that “the panel cannot clothe itself with the clothes not donated to it by the Act that established it”.

In the instant suit filed by Shehu Wada, the plaintiff prayed the court for an order directing the panel to immediately vacate and cause to be removed the inscription “SPIP Under Investigation” pasted and inscribed on various places on its property described as Plot 1405, Cadastral Zone AO5, Maitama, Abuja.

Attached to the suit as exhibits include title documents including a Certificate of Occupancy (Cof O) no: 1951W-14fz-64cbr-10220-20 registered as No. 18125 in volume 90 of the Certificate of Occupancy Register in the Lands Registry Office, at Abuja, dated October 31, 2006 and undersigned by the then FCT Minister, Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai.

Also attached to the originating summons is Certified True Copy of the judgment of Justice Ugochukwu Ogakwu of the FCT High in suit FCT/HC/238/2006 between the plaintiff and the defendants delivered on February 2, 2012, which held that the title to Plot 1405 Cadastral Zone AO5, Maitama, Abuja validly belong to the plaintiff.

The Obla panel had on Wednesday last week handed over the said property to the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) in a controversial circumstances despite the pendency of the suit.

Before the hand over, the panel had last month placed the property housing the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) under investigation.

The property, Murjanatu House, which is being managed by Zamani Estate Agency and Property Ltd, also houses branches of First Bank Nigeria Ltd and Standard Chartered Bank, among others.

Making the presentation to the Executive Secretary of NBTE, Dr. Masaudu Kazaure, chairman of the Panel, Obono-Obla explained that the property, was originally allocated to NBTE before a spurious claim of a revocation of the title of NBTE, by Messrs. D.B. Mangal Limited, which was obviously in total disregard of the extant laws of the country in that respect.”

Obla said the property became a subject of investigation following a petition to the panel on December 12, 2018 by one Ambassador Abdullah Alifa, the chairman of Petroleum Financial Corporate Ltd (PFC).

The petitioner said the encroachment happened after his company had paid N24million to the Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS) in 2005 for the recertification of the certificate of occupancy of the NBTE property, which he said was handed over to PFC on behalf of the NBTE.

However, in the instant suit, the plaintiff has equally exhibited a motion on notice in suit No. FHC/HC/CV/238/2006 filed by the National Board for Technical Education which claimed that the property did not belong to it and prayed the court for “an order striking out its name as a party to the suit”.

In the said motion dated May 31, 2007, counsel to NBTE and former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abdullahi Ibrahim (SAN), had informed the court that his client “never instructed or consented to the institution/initiation and /or continuation of this suit.”

In his ruling on the said motion, Justice Ogakwu accordingly struck out the name of NBTE from the suit as a plaintiff on record.

Meanwhile, no date has yet been fixed for hearing of the suit.

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