IT was 27 years of pains and agonies for members of the Shangisha Landlords Association in Lagos State. Some of them passed on before reprieve came for them at the Supreme Court at the weekend.
For those who are alive, it was the best thing to happen to them, especially at a time they had almost lost hope of reclaiming the plots forcefully seized from them by the state government.
As they narrated their ordeals at the weekend, it was indeed a reclaim of 27-year painful, angonising wait laced with despair and homelessness. But now, they are savouring the victory and also lamenting that some of their colleagues, who started the struggle, had died.
In its ruling, the apex court affirmed the judgments of the Lagos State High Court and the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, which ordered the state government to immediately allocate 549 plots to the landlords under the Shangisha/Magodo Estate Scheme 2.
The Supreme Court held that the Lagos State High Court and the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal came to the right conclusion in 1994 and 2001 when they ordered the state government to re-allocate the same 549 plots to the landlords or allocate plots of their choices to them.
The first plaintiff/respondent – Chief Adebayo Adeyiga now 80 years old, said he would never forget “this memorable day.” But he is not happy that some of the landlords are not alive to reap the dividends of their hard-earned judicial victory as they have since died out of frustration and deprivation.”
Majority of those who are alive, he said, are either suffering from one form of ailment or the other.
In an emotion-laden voice, Adeyiga said: “The government wanted to kill me. They threw me from the last floor of my three-storey building. I virtually lost my sight. They wanted to paralyse me. They kept asking me – are you the only one who schooled in America? You say you are fighting for human rights, your people’s right. God bless this day. It is a day I will never forget. If I die now, I can rest in peace. But I am sad because a lot of us who started this struggle have passed on.”
The five-man panel in a unanimous decision delivered by Justice Olufunlola Oyelola Adekeye held that it could not disturb the concurrent findings of the High Court and Court of Appeal as they were premised on sound legal footings.
“In the instant appeal at this juncture, there are two concurrent findings of the two lower courts. The Supreme Court will not ordinarily disturb concurrent findings of facts made by the High Court and the Court of Appeal unless a substantial error apparent on the face of the record of proceedings is shown or when such findings are perverse. On going through the record, it is my conclusion that the court has no duty to interfere with the decision of the two lower courts,” Justice Adekeye held.
The apex court also dismissed the complaint of the Lagos State government over the lower court’s decision to hear the case of the Shangisha Landlords and even issue a mandatory injunction against the then military government of Lagos State during the Christmas vacation, saying it amounted to no issue as the court had discretion to exercise and did so.
“In this case, the learned trial judge exercised his discretion in considering the trial of this case as a matter deserving urgency and thereby heard same during the Christmas vacation and furthermore acted judicially and judiciously in granting the mandatory injunction. Where the exercise of discretion by the trial court is in issue, an appellate court is usually reluctant to interfere with the decision except where the discretion was exercised in an arbitrary or illegal manner or without due consideration of the issues by the trial court,” he stated.
The court noted that “in the instant case, the Court of Appeal affirmed that the trial court rightly exercised its discretion during the trial of this case. This court has no reason to disagree with that conclusion.”
After reviewing the totality of the submissions made on behalf of the state government by its counsel, Lawal Pedro (SAN), in its appeal and the respondents’ submission marshalled by their lawyer, Olumide Sofowora, the court declared: “In sum, the appeal lacks merit and it is dismissed. The judgments of the two lower courts are affirmed. The cost of this appeal is assessed as N50,000 in favour of the respondents.”
Justices Walter Onnoghen, John Fabiyi, Bode Rhodes Vivour and Mary Peter-Odili agreed with the lead judgment.
Members of the Shangisha Landlords Association had bought various plots of land from different families who owned the entire Shangisha Village and built their houses on the said plots. But without being served with any contravention or demolition notice, the then military government of the state between June 1984 and May 1985 carried out a demolition of those houses, rendering the landlords and their tenants homeless. In remonstration to this development, the association filed a complaint before the governor of Lagos State, who had a series of meeting with it at the Office of Permanent Secretary on Lands, Housing and Development Matters leading to a panel being raised by the government under a Principal Secretary in the Governor’s Office. It did not yield any result.
Finally, the landlords took the state government to the High Court in 1988 to challenge what they believed was an unlawful demolition of their houses and usurpation of their lands by the state government. On December 31, 1993, the trial judge ruled in favour of the plaintiffs/respondents (landlords) thus: “At the trial, the first Plaintiff Witness (PW) gave evidence in great details in support of the plaintiff’s case and his evidence were totally in line with the pleaded case. What is more important is that even during the proceedings and trial in this action, meetings were still held between the plaintiffs and the Lagos State government (defendant) herein to find an amicable settlement out of court to the disputes herein.
Unfortunately, this has not been achieved. As the evidence of the 1st P.W. stood unchallenged and uncontradicted, I accept the same in toto.”
Ruling further, the trial judge held that “from all these exhibits, it stood very clear that the government of Lagos State has committed itself to allocate plots in the scheme involved to members of the Plaintiffs’ Landlords Association and it is therefore bound in law to do so.”
He then issued an order of mandatory injunction compelling the Lagos State government to forthwith allocate 549 plots to the plaintiffs in the said Shangisha Village Scheme.
Dissatisfied with the High Court’s decision, the state government beseeched the Appeal Court, praying it to set it aside. But the Appeal Court “affirmed the declaratory judgment of the trial court, which based on the nature of the claim before the court, amounted to a judicial pronouncement on the legal state of affairs between the parties in the claim of the respondents (landlords) to their right to preferential treatment in allocation of plots of land by the Lagos State government in Shangisha Village.”
Again not satisfied with the decision of the appellate court, the state government approached the Supreme Court vide a notice of appeal filed in 2001, praying it to upturn the verdicts of the two lower courts. But the apex court in a unanimous decision refused its prayer and upheld the judgments of the trial court and the Appeal Court as being well considered and on good legal premise.
However, the apex court while resolving the appeal in favour of the landlords took cognisance of the state government proposal to effect an amicable settlement and urged Sofowora (their counsel) “to advise them properly to give the government their maximum co-operation in the execution of this government.”