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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nigeria: Forceful Eviction - Alaba Traders May Go to Jail

allAfrica.com
18 Jan 2010
By Emmanuel Edom


For allegedly resorting to self help and rule of the jungle in evicting its members from their shops, over 10 members of the Fancy and Furniture Dealers Association (FFDA) of the popular Alaba International Market, Ojo Lagos may go to jail.

This is sequel to an alleged disregard of court orders, acts of vandalism and jungle justice meted out against some of its members, who were forcefully evicted from their shops contrary to rule of law.

Already the victims have initiated a legal process aimed at committing the offending union leaders to prison.

A Lagos magistrate court had restrained the Fancy and Furniture Dealers Association (FFDA) section, of the Market, from illegally evicting their aggrieved members.

Others, restrained by the court, are the Association Chairman, Mr. Wilson Eze, his task force officer, Mr. Ndubuisi Chukwuezi, Estate Agency, John Bros Continental Agencies, property Developers, Mr. Christopher Nwaneri and Chief Samuel Ogunbiyi.

The order issued by a grade one magistrate, Mr. G. L. Hotepo, sitting at the Badagry magisterial District, was at the instance of the displaced traders, who had filed a suit on September 4th, 2009, delineated as MISC/ MCB/28/2009.

In the suit filed by their lawyer, Hon. P. C. P Ezeani, the complainants who sued as plaintiffs and were represented in court by Messr: Ikechukwu Anachusi, Peter Ilogbene and Emmanuel Abasili, had approached the court seeking legal protection against an alleged unlawful act of assault, obstruction, dispossession, intimidation, interference and forceful ejection by the defendants.

According to their 23 paragraph affidavit in support of the motion Ex-parte under the magistrates courts of Lagos State civil procedure Rules 1994, deposed by Anachusi, the plaintiffs told the court how in the year 2001, they rented their shops from BCN properties through John Bros Continental Agencies, whereby they provided the money for the construction of the said shops.

Exhibiting various receipts as evidence of rent payment to BCN properties for seven years, the plaintiffs said they were shocked that in June, 2009, Ogunbiyi and Nwaneri, who were Estate agents to their Landlord, approached them demanding that they pay directly to them which they rejected.

Upon this objection by the plaintiffs, Ogunbiyi and Nwaneri were said to have resorted to self help by employing the service of the Association through Eze and Chukwuezi, who then gave the plaintiffs ultimatum to vacate their shops before September 2009.

Further narrating their ordeal to the court, Anachusi said the plaintiffs now live in fear due to the incessant harassment, intimidation and threat to their lives by the defendants.

"In their bid to carry out their threat of forcible ejection, the defendants have placed thugs, hoodlums and other faceless individuals with dangerous weapon such as Knives, axes, and machetes around our shops," Anachusi said.

Praying for justice, the plaintiffs noted that their fundamental rights have flagrantly been violated, abused and trampled upon and their source of livelihood obstructed.

Countering the plaintiffs, the defendants in their notice of preliminary objection, urged the court to stay further proceedings in the suit, on the ground that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the case.

Further urging the court to set aside all orders made in the suit, the defendants argued that the substantial issue involved in the matter relates to title and ownership of the shops.

However, in a 38 paragraph affidavit deposed by Nwaneri, he affirmed that he entered into an agreement with Chief Michael Olu Ogunjimi and Chief Samuel Ogunbiyi to erect shops on a parcel of land purportedly belonging to Ogunjimi.

According to him, Ogunjimi fell out of favour with the owner of the land, the Sabo- Oniba Family, upon which Nwaneri said he re-purchased the land from the said land owners, which he averred led to series of on going litigations in the various courts.

Acting on the motion Ex-parte and upon hearing Ezeani's argument, the magistrate ordered an interim injunction restraining the defendants and its agents from forcefully ejecting, Obstructing and interfering with the plaintiffs use and occupation of their shops marked Nos: A70A, A70B, A70C, A70D, A70E, A70G A71B, A71F, A71K, and A71L, formally known as shops A70 and A71, pending the determination of the motion on notice.

Hotepo, also granted an order stopping the defendants and its servants from leasing, assigning, letting out or mortgaging the shops while the tenancy of the plaintiffs are still subsisting.

"An interim order is hereby granted restraining the defendants whether by themselves or through their cohorts, servants, agents and privies or any other person however called, from harassing, intimidating and or assaulting the plaintiffs or generally disturbing their quiet enjoyment of the tenancies of their shops..."

However, despite the court directives, the defendant were alleged to have locked up the shops in dispute, this was after setting up a three man committee in disobedience of the order.

Following this development, Ezeani has filed a notice of consequence of disobedience of the court order, otherwise called form 48 and 49, praying the magistrate to commit the defendants to prison for contempt of court.

According to the court, the content motion will be entertained on January 27th, 2010, which is the next day of adjournment.

Outside the court, the plaintiffs alleged that they paid N2, 500 before their shops were temporary unlocked last week by the defendants. They also accused the Divisional Police Officer (D.P.O), Ojo Police Division, Mr. Isaac Ogbogbo of conniving with the defendants to intimidate and dispossess them of their shops.

"Despite the court order, they locked up our shops and ejected Mr. Paul Onwuejekwa. When we reported their unlawful actions at Ojo police Division, the D.P.O. who already had the phone numbers of the defendants, summoned them to the station and threatened us to pay our rent into an account supplied by the defendants within one week, which is contrary to the court order.

"He further warned that our failure to pay into an Access Bank Account NO: 0680230003356, Alaba Branch, belonging to Fancy and Furniture Dealers Association, who are not legal owners of the disputed shops. One week after the shops were temporary unlocked, they would relock our shops and forcefully evicted us. And this is exactly what the defendants boasted, that they would use the Ojo police Division against us. What kind of injustice and disregard of rule of law is this?" Anachusi queried.

Meanwhile, when this reporter contacted the D.P.O, he denied knowledge of the case, but a visit to the market on January 13, 2010, showed all the disputed shops sealed with the Associations padlocks.