Govt vs Traders: Umahi Wins Round 1…Plaintiffs Head to Appeal Court

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A high court sitting in Abakaliki has dismissed a suit filed by Abakaliki Regional Marketers challenging Ebonyi State Government’s power of revoking the market land they had paid huge amount of money on sublease running into billions of naira to the Abakaliki Local Government expected to run ranging from one year to thirty years.

The court presided over by Justice Vincent Nwancho recently delivered the judgment described by defendants’ counsel as no victor no vanquish with a claim in support of defendants that the regional market is within 16 meters radius of the state capital territory.

The court in its ruling granted only one out of the five claims\reliefs sought by the regional marketers against Ebonyi state government and the state Attorney general and did not award any cost rather ordered the parties to bear their respective costs.

Speaking with newsmen after the judgment, Uchenna Okafor who represented the lead counsel to the plaintiffs Anthony Ani (SAN) expressed dissatisfaction with the turn out of the judgment, stressing that they shall challenge it at the Appeal Court.

“We have filed our notice on grounds for an appeal immediately and a motion for injunction pending determination of the Appeal. The court in its own wisdom did not agree with us in the majority. We have five things we asked the court to do, it gave us one which we have taken and put in our pockets. So for the other four, we are going to Appeal Court to challenge it.”

Mr. Okafor argued that against the court’s judgment, markets at the urban areas can also be controlled by the local government, insisted that in pursuant to section 7(5) and paragraph 1(e) of the fourth schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended and section 50 (e) of the Local Government Law Cap 106 of Ebonyi state 2009, the local government council of a state is the tier of government with exclusive powers to establish and or construct, maintain and regulate markets.

“The constitution has made it clear that markets, parks are under the functions of the local government. The constitution did not say markets in rural areas or markets in urban areas, that dichotomy was not done in the Nigeria Constitution. For the court to come up with this, it means the law of Ebonyi state is trying to off-stage section 7 of the constitution”

According to him, in view of the existence and pendency of the sub-lease granted by Abakaliki Local Government Council in terms of years over and in respect of the stalls in the market, the applicants and their other co-traders have existing leasehold interest and rights over their respective portions wherein they have their stalls, until expiration of the terms of the sublease.

“My clients are on the right track, I commend their boldness to fight for their rights. They are not saying the government did not have control over the state, but whatever control it has should be defined within the confines of the Nigeria constitution.”

During the interview, shortly after the judgment, the state Director of Civil litigation in the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Paul Awada who said he had nothing much to say till they get a copy of the delivered judgment, described it as no victor no vanquish.

Recall, the traders of Building Materials and Aluminum Markets in Abakaliki otherwise known as Regional Market numbering over 2,000 have on April 3rd, 2019 dragged Ebonyi State government to court over a short time of quit notice from the market.

The traders, according to their team of counsels, led by Anthony Ani (SAN) had paid huge amounts of money on sublease running into billions of naira to the Abakaliki Local Government expected to run ranging from one year to thirty years.

In other words, the traders are challenging the alleged unlawful process adopted by the state government in issuing revocation orders to owners of stalls and buildings in the regional market.

In the matter numbered HAB/43/2019 between Mr. Chigbogu Nwite, Fredrick Odanwu, Dennis Orsuahala, Benneth Nwosu, Chief Anosike P.E, and Christian Okafor on behalf of other members as the plaintiffs/applicants while Ebonyi state government and the state Attorney general are the defendants.

The traders among others sought a declaration of the court that the letter from the defendants’ official, Hon. Ikechukwu Nwobo, the then Commissioner for Special Projects, dated February 13, 2019, which directed traders at the Building Materials section of the Regional Market to vacate the market before March 25, 2019, with intention of remodeling the regional markets are ultra vires, unconstitutional and null and void.

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