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PORT HARCOURT WATERFRONT: COURT REJECTS SUIT TO HALT DEMOLITION

By NBF News
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A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State has thrown out the suit filed by some natives of the state to stop the demolition of derelict, shanty structures scattered around the waterfronts of Port Harcourt.

Presiding Judge, Justice G. K. Olotu had ruled that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter which had lingered in the court for some time.

The Amaechi administration in Rivers State had come up with a policy to demolish the shanty, derelict and ghetto-like settlements around the waterfront of Port Harcourt, the capital city. The settlements, Governor Amaechi argued defaces the city and had become dens for criminals and hub of criminal activities in Port Harcourt. The governor's position tallies with the recommendations of security agencies and urban renewal experts to the state government.

However, the Amaechi administration introduced a human face to the demolition by agreeing to pay compensation at full commercial value of the structures to be demolished to the owners of the structures. The governor explained this was like buying the structures from the owners at the prevailing market value and the policy was implemented at the Njemanze waterfront, one of the first waterfronts to be demolished.

On July 30, 2009, Senator Tari J. Sekibo, Odo-Abaji XV11, had led 151 others of Okrika extraction, to file a suit against the Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Attorney General of Rivers State Ken Chikere and the leadership of the Nigerian Police, Army, Navy and Air Force to stop the demolition of shanty waterfront settlements in the Port Harcourt metropolis.

In the filed suit (Suit No: FHC/PHC/CS/13609/09), Sekibo and 151 others, among other reliefs, asked the court to declare unlawful, null and unconstitutional, the Amaechi administration's policy to demolish the shanty waterfront settlements, on the ground that it was in breach of their rights to satisfactory and favourable environment for development. Furthermore, the applicants sought from the court, orders of perpetual injunctions stopping Governor Amaechi or his successors or officers, servants, agents, privies, etc from continuing with the demolition of the waterfront settlements which they claimed is their ancestral home.

But by a Notice of Preliminary Objection filed on October 5, 2009, the governor and attorney general of Rivers State who were the 1st and 2nd respondents respectively, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to adjudicate on the entire suit under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules and other kindred rules. They also 'challenged the competence of the entire proceedings stating that it was incompetently constituted and incurably defective.'

The governor and attorney-general averred that the Federal High Court constitutionally lacks jurisdiction to determine issues relating to land determinable under or by the Land Use Act and other numerous property legislations. They submitted that the main claims being claims to ancestral lands (none of which had been established) and perpetual injunctions thereto, not falling within Bona Fide reliefs' cognizable under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Rules deprives the court of the requisite jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter.

In upholding the Notice of Preliminary Objection filed by Governor Amaechi and the Attorney General, Justice Olotu ruled that the Federal High Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain the suit filed by Senator Sekibo and 151 others against Governor Amaechi and 6 others, whether cloaked as a land dispute in guise of or as a bona-fide claim for the enforcement of their threatened human rights.

'I decline further jurisdiction in this matter. Consequently, I order a transfer of the remainder of the issues and sub-issues contended by the parties, to the Rivers State High Court.' Justice Olotu delivered.