Airtel loses as Appeal court backs administrators in Lagos property dispute

Airtel- image source, itnewsafrica

Airtel- image source, itnewsafrica

MESSRS Airtel Networks Limited has lost a legal battle to forbid representatives of administratrix and administrators of late Dominic Sosu over their right to take possession of a choice landed property, located at 2/4 Abebe Village Road, Iganmu, Lagos, a Court of Appeal, Lagos Judicial Division, has ruled.

Airtel Networks had appealed to the court wherein it argued, amongst other grounds that Sosu’ representatives waived their right to forfeiture because they delayed in seeking to enforce the forfeiture clause in the lease, and had sought revision of the rent after they became aware of the breach, which entitled them to exercise their right of forfeiture.

But Justice Samuel Chukwudumebi Oseji, who read the lead judgment, disagreed with the appellant and dismissed the appeal. In his final statement, the Judge said: “On the whole, I find and so hold that this appeal lacks merit and it is accordingly dismissed.

The judgment of the lower court delivered by Oke-Lawal … is hereby affirmed. N50,000 cost is awarded in favour of the respondents.”

The two other Justices also concurred with the lead verdict. However, while The Guardian could not as press time ascertain whether Airtel had appealed to the Supreme Court or not, nor did get information from either of the parties as to the state of the matter, whether settled or not.

At the High Court of Lagos State, the respondents, including Mrs. Patricia Bosede George, Mr. Olanrewaju Sosu, Mrs. Dupe Adebiyi had by a writ of summons claimed against the appellant, Airtel Networks Limited and two others – Thomas Wyatt (Nig.) Plc and Tehila Communications Limited, sought a declaration that, the claimants, who sued as Administratrix and Administrators of the estate of the late Dominic Sosu, were entitled to re-enter the landed property at 2/4 Abebe Village Road, Iganmu, Lagos as per clause 4 of the lease agreement dated 8th of November, 1973 in consequence of the breach of the said lease agreement by the first defendant company.

They also asked for an order of possession of the landed property together with the appurtenances thereof, against the first defendant company, Thomas Wyatt (Nig.) and general damages in the sum of N1 million against the second defendant, Tehila Communications company for alleged acts of trespass committed on the claimants’ landed property.

Sosu’s family also urged the court to order a perpetual injunction restraining the second defendant company, their assigns, agents, servants and privies from further committing any acts of trespass on the landed.”

Originally, the suit was against Thomas Wyatt (Nig.) Plc and Tehila Communications Ltd, being the first and second defendants respectively but Airtel Networks Limited was subsequently joined as the third defendant by order of court.

Administratrix and administrators of the late Dominic Sosu, represented by Mrs. Patricia Bosede George, Mr. Olanrewaju Sosu and Mrs. Dupe Adebiyi have court the Court of Appeal’s nod to repossess their benefactor’s property located at 2/4 Abebe Village Road, Iganmu, Lagos

The background facts were that one Dominic Sosu during his lifetime granted a lease for a term of 99 years commencing on 1st January 1972 to Thomas Wyatt (Nig.) Plc.

The said lease dated 8th November 1973 provided for the payment of a yearly rent of 2.20 pounds for the first 14 years and thereafter at such yearly rent as shall be agreed by the parties but not exceeding 115 per cent of the rent payable.

It was covenanted that the lessee shall peaceably hold and enjoy the demised promises during the term granted provided that if the rent reserved remained unpaid for three months after falling due, or there was a breach of any of the covenants, the lessor may at any time thereafter re-enter upon the demised premises or any part thereof and the demise shall absolutely determine.

Thomas Wyatt Nigeria Plc subsequently assigned the title of the property to Tehila Communications Limited, as well as Airtel Networks Limited absolutely, without the knowledge or consent of the respondents. Besides, Thomas Wyatt Nigeria Plc was also alleged to have owed arrears of rent since 1998.

The respondents through their counsel wrote letters to the Thomas Wyatt requesting for a meeting with a view to reviewing the rent but that was not to be.

It was also on record that both the first and second defendants neither entered appearance nor filed any defence to the suit.

But Airtel Networks Limited, now the appellant, however, filed a statement of defence and counter-claim for an order of relief from forfeiture.

The appellant’s defence was that, it validly acquired the interest of Thomas Wyatt in the property by way of a deed of transfer duly registered and had been in lawful possession of the property.

In addition, Airtel also challenged the locus standi of the respondents to bring the action, on the ground that, the respondents were not the administrators of the estate of their late fathers; and the property was not listed in the assets of the estate for which administration was granted to the deceased original administrators of the estate.

However, during trial, there was evidence that the High Court of Lagos State had ordered that the respondents should be substituted for the deceased original administrators of the estate.

At the conclusion of trial, the trial court granted the respondents’ claim and dismissed the appellant’s counter-claims. Dissatisfied, Airtel Networks appealed to the Court of Appeal, wherein it argued, amongst other grounds that Sosu’ representatives waived their right to forfeiture because they delayed in seeking to enforce the forfeiture clause in the lease, and had sought revision of the rent after they became aware of the breach, which entitled them to exercise their right of forfeiture.

In determining the appeal, the Court of Appeal considered section 3(1), (2) and (3) of the Administration of Estates Law of Lagos State which provides that real estate to which a deceased person was entitled for an interest not ceasing on his death shall on his death, and notwithstanding any testamentary disposition thereof, devolve from time to time on the personal representative of the deceased, in like manner as before the commencement of this Law chattels real devolved on the personal representative from time to time of a deceased person.

The law also states that the personal representatives for the time being of a deceased person are deemed in law his heirs and assigns within the meaning of all trusts and powers; and that the personal representatives shall be the representative of the deceased in regard to his personal real estate to which he was entitled for an interest not ceasing on his death as well as in regard to his personal estate.” On the whole, the appellant’s application failed.

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