Court bars Wike, FCDA, others from Abuja Centenary City

Federal High Court in Abuja has restrained the Minister of FCT, Nyesom Wike, and the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) from intruding into the Centenary Economic City Free Zone along Airport Road, Abuja.

Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgement, also made an injunction order restraining the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and Arab Contractors (OAO) from further encroaching on the site.

Justice Ekwo also made an order nullifying and setting aside in its entirety, all executive actions, steps, decisions, and administrative controls, including the forceful encroachment of the premises by OAO at the instructions of the minister, FCTA, and FCDA without the prior consent of the plaintiffs and the overriding approval of Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).

The judge held that the encroachment contradicted Sections 4 and 13 of NEPZA Act Cap N107 LFN 2004, provisions of Section 5 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and therefore, was unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful, void, and of no effect whatsoever.

He also made an injunction order restraining them from exercising any executive or regulatory control on the zone, “which occupies the land, measuring 1,264.78 hectares with beacon coordinates: PB57-PB59, PB60-PB69, PB70-PB79, PB80PB89, PB90-PB99, and PB1000-PB104, located at Airport Road, Wawa District, Cadastral Zone E24, FCT, Abuja.”

“An order is hereby made directing Arab Contractors (OAO) Nigeria Limited, to immediately vacate the portion of the Centenary Economic City Free Zone, which it illegally occupies at the instructions of the 5th, 6th, and 7th defendants against the provisions of Sections 4 and 13 of NEPZA Act, without the express approval of the NEPZA,” he added.

Justice Ekwo, therefore, ordered Arab Contractors to pay to the plaintiffs, the sum of N100 million only for the forceful invasion and destruction of the plaintiffs’ master plan of the zone, designed by Eagle Hills Properties LLC, of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), at a cost of 35 million dollars.

The judge, who ordered the company to pay a N50 million general damages, also directed the firm to pay N5 million as cost of the action.

He equally ordered an interest on the entire judgement sum at the rate of 10 per cent per annum, commencing from the time of the delivery of the judgement till the entire judgement sum is fully liquidated by construction firm.

The certified true copy of the judgement, delivered on Feb. 6, was sighted by the News Agency of Nigeria on Monday.

Joined in the originating summons marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/2130/2022 included the minister of Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment; FCT minister, FCTA, FCDA, and Arab Contractors as 4th to 8th defendants, respectively.

In the suit filed in 2022, the Managing Director of the 2nd plaintiff, Mr Ikechukwu Odenigwe, in the affidavit deposed to, averred that the 1st plaintiff was licensed as a Free Zone, under NEPZA on Sept. 10, 2014, while the 2nd plaintiff was licensed as a Free Trade Zone Company on Oct. 10, 2014, during the Goodluck Jonathan-led government.

Odenigwe said on Dec. 5, 2022, the Centenary City Project was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

“Pursuant to the centenary celebration, the Centenary City Pic, a real estate development and investment company, was established on April, 2013.

Land measuring 1,264.78 hectares was allocated to Centenary City Pic., for the development of the Centenary City in the FCT, following a development agreement entered with the FCTA,” he said.

He said the recommendation made by the the minister of Trade for the designation of 1,264.78 hectares of land at Wawa District, as the Centenary Economic City Free Zone, FCT, Abuja, was approved by the Presidency.

“The said approval was also communicated to the Managing Director, Centenary City Plc., via a letter dated 16th September, 2014.

“Upon the fulfilment of statutory requirements, a certificate was issued by the NEPZA, licensing Centenary Economic City as a Free Zone.

“The 2nd plaintiff was also issued an operating license,” he said.

The MD said the Centenary Economic City Free Zone was designed by Eagles Hills Properties LLC.

He, however, alleged that despite its lack of authority and without the permission of NEPZA, which had the regulatory power, the FCTA asked Arab Contractors to convert parts of the Free Zone land to their site yard.

Odenigwe alleged that Arab contractors defaced and destroyed the master plan of the Centenary Economic City Free Zone.

The MD, who told the court that the company now endangered the assets and investments of the Federal Government with their conduct, said it was in the interest of justice to grant the reliefs as sought.

Although the president, AGF, and Minister of Trade did not file any process, NEPZA said the plaintiffs had not disclosed any reasonable cause against it.

But in their counter affidavit, the 5th, 6th, and 7th defendants argued that the plaintiffs were not the allottees of all the parcel of land.

They further argued that based on the certificate of occupancy issued by the then FCT minister, the allottee was Centenary City Plc, and not any of the plaintiffs.

Besides, they said that the plaintiffs were not the allottees of the license issued by NEPZA.

They averred that the creation of the Centenary City as a Free Zone did not oust the powers of FCDA within the zone, insisting that the plaintiffs and NEPZA failed to carry along the FCTA and FCDA.

According to them, the master plan of the FCT supersedes any other plan by any individual, including the plaintiffs and NEPZA.

They argued that they gave part of the land to the company because the expansion of a road linking Kuje Community with Airport Road was awarded to the firm.

Delivering the judgment, Justice Ekwo held that the plaintiffs had proven their case through the exhibits tendered and by the provisions of Sections 5 (1) (a) and (b), (2), and (3) (a) and (b), 147, 148, 299 (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended); Sections 4, 8, 10 (1) and (2) and 13 of the NEPZA Act, and Section 19 of the FCT Act.

“The plaintiffs are therefore entitled to the claims sought in this case, and I so hold,” he said.

Culled from NAN