***The claimants are demanding N50 million as general damages for the harassment, molestation and injury to their businesses, mental torture.
Over 400 residents of Abuja have sued the Miniter of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the Inspector-General of Police concerning the forcible ejection from their shops.
The complainants who are 439 are equally suing the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Abuja Markets Management Limited, Urban Shelter Limited and Obinna Okolie, for throwing them out of their respective shops at the popular Area 7 Shopping Complex in Abuja.
In the suit marked: CV/2734/2021, Ahmed Suleiman and four others are suing the respondents on behalf of their co-tenenatsJ
In an impassioned letter to the FCT minister, Muhammad Bello, the distraught traders who are mostly low-income earners, urge the minister to immediately halt the ongoing construction work at the disputed property.
Writing on behalf of the 439 complainants, Chukwuma-Umachukwu Ume, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said most of his clients are the breadwinners of their families.
In the letter dated November 19, 2021, the 439 embattled occupiers at the Area 7 Shopping Complex popularly known as UTC in Abuja, said they had been at the property since 1992; “duly paying rents and service charges up to date.”
“That your 439 tenants/occupiers are low-income earners is not a reason to treat them like animals … ignoring respect for the rule of law and the dignity of the court.”
The shop owners further urged the FCT minister to rise above the “inordinate selfish interest of private investors whose ongoing construction work is a big insult to the court.”
‘Minister must stop ongoing work‘
Drawing the attention of the minister, the FCDA and other parties in the dispute to a pending suit at the FCT High Court, the tenants argued that, “To escalate work when the matter is lis pendent is contempt.”
Citing the case of Agbakoba Vs INEC (2008), the Supreme Court of Nigeria held, “Under the doctrine of lis pendens, parties to proceedings pending in court ought not to do anything which may have the effect of rendering nugatory the judgement of the court.”
The complainants’ lawyer drew the attention of the Minister to the writ of summons issued in the suit on October 12, 2021, which contained a court order: “…That all parties in this case are to maintain status quo.”
Quoting a decision of the Court of Appeal in Okeke-Oba Vs Okoye (1994), the appellate court held, “The general practice is that on application for an order for interlocutory injunction, all activities affecting the res (subject matter), here the land dispute, are automatically terminated as mark of respect to the court before whom the application is pending.”
“By reason of the foregoing, we implore your Honourable Minister to use your good office to ensure that the right thing is done; that is, the construction work presently ongoing at the Area 7 Shopping Complex be made to stop forthwith pending the determination of the suit,” the letter read.
The shop owners noted that failure to stop the construction, would trigger contempt proceedings against the minister and other defendants involved in the “distasteful disrespect to the court, for contempt and accordingly, cause Forms 48 and 49 to be issued and served.”
The claimants had acquired their interests in the Area 7 Shopping Complex through the original allocation of the various shops and or allocation of empty spaces for the allottees to build by the agents of the FCT minister between 1992 and 1993, allocation letters seen by this reporter showed.
In the writ of summons, the claimants said they always observed and honoured their obligations under the tenancy including payment of rents and service charges promptly.
According to the tenants (claimants), trouble began when the Abuja Investment Company Limited (4th defendant), from nowhere “surfaced with a controversial and illegal 3month remodelling plan of the Area 7 Shopping Complex, issuing the 439 claimants notices of purportedly terminating the tenancy relationship between them and the FCDA.
The aggrieved claimants argued that in a civil case, the Abuja Investment Company Limited, has no “locus” (right), but went ahead to muzzle the police and “connived with the Urban Shelter Limited and one Obinna Okolie to promote private and selfish interests” above the public good.
“In furtherance of its agenda to unlawfully divest the claimants of their shops, the 4th defendant offered to lease to the claimants shops at the Area 7 Shopping Complex for a five year lease which was rejected by the claimants.”
According to court documents, the Abuja Investment Company Limited, “resorted to illegal use of the police to threaten, coerce and deceive the claimants into signing the said lease, stating that they will lose their shops should they fail to sign the said lease agreement.”
Following the claimants’ refusal to engage in any form of redeployment agreement with the 4th and 5th defendants, “the Abuja Investment Company Limited and its partners are bent on going ahead with their plans to demolish the shops of the claimants.”
As a result of the foregoing, the claimants are urging the court to declare that they are entitled to peaceful and quiet occupancy of their 439 shops at the Area 7 Shopping Complex in Abuja.
“A declaration that the threat of destruction, incessant harassment and unlawful interference with the said shops of the claimants by the defendants constitute acts of trespass as none is the landlord the claimants had the owner occupier tenancy arrangement with,” the claimants prayed.
The claimants are praying the court for an order of “perpetual injunction barring the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th defendants either by themselves or by their agents, privies, assigns or however described from disturbing, harassing, arresting and intimidating or inviting the claimants in respect of the 439 shops at the Area 7 Shopping Complex, Garki, Abuja.
“An order directing the defendants to pay the claimants the sum of N50 million as damages for the harassment, molestation, injury to their businesses, mental torture, and psychological trauma as a result of the unruly conducts of the 4th and 7th defendants.”