An Abuja High Court Thursday set aside the notice of revocation issued by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed, purportedly revoking a plot of land measuring about 1.84 hectares allocated to the Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation (WAYEF) belonging to Turai, wife of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The land had been the subject of dispute between the former first lady, and her successor, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, over who rightly owned it.
Justice Peter Affen, who delivered judgment in a suit filed by Mrs. Yar’Adua over the land tussle, held that the revocation issued by the minister was invalid, null and void.
The court held that the claim by the minister that the land was revoked in the overriding public interest was not supported by any shred of evidence before the court.
It further held that the initial letter of offer issued to Turai's organisation by the minister remained valid and subsisting.
The judge said: "The defendants failed woefully to adduce any shred of evidence before this court to support their claims that the allocation of the land was revoked on overriding public interest. There is no overriding public interest in this issue. The allocation made to the plaintiff, who is a vocational training centre, was in public interest and in line with section 28 (1) of Land Use Act."
The court faulted the minister's exercise of his powers in revoking the allocation to the plot of land, noting that the exercise of that powers must come within the confines of the law.
Delivery of the court's judgment was severally adjourned by the court to enable Mrs. Jonathan and Mrs. Yar'Adua reach a negotiated settlement, but all came to no avail.
The disputed land, located at plot no. 1347 Cadastral Zone AOO, Central Business District, Abuja, FCT, was initially allocated to WAYEF, while Mrs. Yar’Adua was the first lady, but Mohammed revoked the allocation for what he described as “overriding public interest” and reallocated it on November 2, 2011 to Mrs. Jonathan for the building of African First Lady Peace Mission Headquarters.
Mrs. Yar’Adua had complained that the land allocated to WAYEF on February 19, 2010 was being trespassed upon by Mrs. Jonathan and got a court order in 2012 restraining the first lady from interfering with WAYEF’s title and interest in the land.
According to the court, there was no regular and proper overriding public interest to warrant the purported revocation.
The court held that it was the dispute between Mrs. Yar’Adua and her successor that led to the purported revocation of WAYEF's plot, adding that the land dispute does not amount to overriding public interest.
He noted that the claim by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) that the land had earlier been granted to Mrs. Jonathan's African First Lady Peace Mission before it was erroneously granted to WAYEF did not hold water since there was no evidence that the land had been initially allocated to the mission.
The court held further that the minister did not rely on the alleged error while revoking the land but on overriding public interest.
The court noted that the matter had earlier being set down for judgment on three previous occasions but the parties failed to settle out of court.
Those joined as co-defendants in the suit were the Minister of FCT, Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), the Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS) and the AGF.
WAYEF's lawyer, Adamu Ahmed Ibrahim, after the court judgment, said that his clients had “always believed that the rule of law, no matter how we apply it, has at the end of the day come out in defence of justice,” adding that that was what has happened in this case.
As part of the moves to get a negotiated settlement, the FCTA had offered WAYEF Plot. 1838 Cadastral Zone AOO Abuja measuring 6119.29 square metres in replacement. While another plot, 1839, measuring 6100.51 square metres, was also proposed to be in favour of the African First Lady Mission.
The said plot Nos 1838 and 1839 are subdivided from plot 700 CBD Cadastral Zone AOO, Abuja.
The court however did not grant Mrs. Yar’Adua’s demand for monetary damages.
Reacting to the judgment, the minister, in a statement by his Special Assistant (Media), Mr. Nosike Ogbuenyi, said the judgment was being studied preparatory to taking a further decision on it.
He said the revocation of the allocation was done to rectify the anomaly in the reallocation of the plot of land to WAYEF.
"The FCTA further wishes to clarify that the land in question was first allocated to the African First Ladies Peace Mission during the tenure of Hajia Turai Yar’Adua as the First Lady of Nigeria and President of the AFLPM.
“The records show that the said plot of land was wrongly re-designed and reallocated to WAYEF, Turai’s NGO in her twilight days as the First Lady in 2010.
“The FCTA found the action of reallocating a public land to a private NGO inappropriate and therefore took proper action to revoke the reallocation and restore the land to the original allottee, the AFLPM.
“The revocation was done based on the powers conferred on the Hon. Minister of FCT by the Land Use Act. Thus the action was taken in the overall public interest and for that reason alone," the minister said.