Court favours farmers in suit over Edo landed property

CocoaMembers of the Yoruba cocoa farmers have got a reprieve over their farmland located at Area BC 10, Okomu Forest Reserves, Okomu in Ovia South West Local Government Area of Edo State through judicial interventions.

Both the Edo State High Court and the Court of Appeal stamped their request for interlocutory injunction and consequential restorative order of injunction setting aside all the completed acts of the appellants, Okomu Oil Palm Company and Dr. Graham Hefer.

However, The Guardian as at press time could not confirm the stage of the matter, whether the firm had appealed or not. But, if the firm appeals to the Supreme Court and the matter was eventually decided in its favour, then the cocoa farmers stand the chance of losing the landed property.

Following unresolved disagreement between the parties over ownership of the landed property, the respondents, on appeal, including Hassan Tajudeen, Fatai Oyelaji, Alhaji Ganiyu Eniola and Pastor Osunlakin, for themselves and Yoruba cocoa farmers in Area BC 10, Okomu Forest Reserve, had instituted an action against the appellants, the oil palm company, at the High Court of Edo State claiming sundry declarations and injunction.

The respondents claimed to be rent-paying tenants of the Edo State Government on the lands where they have their cocoa farms, and that the appellants were threatening to bulldoze their farmland.

The respondents also filed an application for interlocutory injunction to restrain the appellants from, inter alia, destroying, further destroying, bulldozing or forcefully evicting them from the farmland pending the determination of the substantive suit.

The application was heard on 18th April 2013 and ruling was adjourned to 6th June 2013. After the application had been adjourned, the appellants filed a further written address on point of law wherein they raised the issue that the act sought to be restrained had been completed.

The arguments in the written address showed that completion of the act was done while the motion for interlocutory injunction was pending.

In their response, the respondents made submissions on the need for the trial court to grant restorative mandatory injunction. To this, the appellants did not reply.

In its ruling, the trial court held that the respondents satisfied the necessary conditions for the grant of the interlocutory injunction.

The court then considered the appellants’ further written address and held that it was clear the appellants went ahead to complete the act sought to be restrained after being aware of the pendency of the application.

Consequently, the trial court restrained the appellants by interlocutory injunction and further made a consequential restorative order of injunction setting aside all the completed acts of the appellants on the disputed land.

Dissatisfied, the appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal, where the respondents raised a preliminary objection to the competence of the appeal on the grounds that the appellants failed to seek and obtain the required leave to appeal; that the notice of appeal was not signed by the appellants or their counsel; and that the appellants raised fresh facts without leave of court.

In their findings and decision, their lordships including Ibrahim Mohammed Saulawa, Hamma Akawu Barka and Ugochukwu Anthony Ogakwu said that the respondents, cocoa farmers, were entitled to the grant of interlocutory injunction restraining the appellants from forcefully evicting or disturbing the farmers in their farmlands.

Ogakwu, who read the lead judgment said: “…After having considered the appeal, I find that it is devoid of merit. It accordingly fails, and it is hereby dismissed”; saying the appeal by Okomu Oil Palm Company was unmeritorious. They consequently upheld the lower court’s ruling.



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