The case of Military Governor of Lagos State v Odumegwu Ojukwu (SC. 241/850) is one of the notable Supreme Court cases that explains the tyrannical leadership of the military in Nigeria. It was decided by Obaseki, Eso, Uwais, Kawu and Oputa, J.S.C. In this case, the military presented themselves to be superior to the law and the judiciary arm of government. The case surounds the ownership of a property at No. 29 Queens Drive, Ikoyi owned by Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, which the Lagos State Military Governor considered to be abandoned.
At the Lagos State High Court, judgement was given in favor of the Military Governor of Lagos State on the grounds that Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu did not show legal right in the property and that it was actually and an abandoned property. In this page, we will be discussing the facts, issues and decision of the court in Military Governor of Lagos State v Odumegwu Ojukwu.
I enjoin you to read this case carefully as I explain every detail you need to know.
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Summary of Military Governor of Lagos State v Odumegwu Ojukwu
The case was about a property at No. 29 Queens Drive, Ikoyi which was owned by Ojukwu Transport Ltd. This property has been occupied by the family of Ojukwu since inception. However, during the Civil War which lasted from 1967 to 1970, the property was not occupied by anyone. Odumegwu Ojukwu who led against Nigeria had left to Ivory Coast immediately after the war.
At some point, the Military governor of Lagos State (who was the defendant in the case) regarded this property as an abandoned property and that it should be under the Lagos State Abandoned Property Committee according to the Abandoned Property Edict. The military further wrote a letter to the plaintiff on the 12th of August 1985, requiring him to be ejected from the said property.
Well, as the true owner of the property, the plaintiff did not move out of the house. In another letter dated 4th September, 1985, the Military Governor of Lagos State wrote to Odumegwu Ojukwu through the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, saying that if he does not hand over the property, he will be ejected by force.
At this juncture, the plaintiff decided to sue the respondent through a writ of summons on the 5th of September, 1985. He obtained an interim injunction to stop the Military Government of Lagos State or their servants, agents, assignees or privies from ejecting him or any member of his family from the property until the matter has been heard in court.
After filing the motion, the plaintiff also disclosed how he entered into the property in another Affidavit. This Affidavit tried to correct some facts in the previous affidavit in support of the ex-parte motion.
Consequently, the Military Governor of Lagos State, in a counter-affidavit, proposed that the property belongs to Ojukwu Transport Ltd, which was owned by Ojukwu’s Father and because he was not a director of the Ojukwu Transport Ltd, he had no right.
After hearing the matter at the Lagos State High Court on the 11th of October, 1985, the court refused the interlocutory injunction of Ojukwu and also took away the interim injunction which was given earlier.
The above judgement was given on the grounds that the plaintiff tried to mislead the court with the first affidavit. Accordingly, the trial court held that the said property was owed by Ojukwu Transport Limited. This company belongs to the appellant’s father and since he (the plaintiff) was not a director of the company, he does not show any right over the said property.
Dissatisfied with this judgment, the appellant appealed to the court of appeal with Ojukwu Transport Ltd as an interested party.
At the court of appeal, the court compared this case, side by side with the case of Agbor v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1969) 1 WLR 703 and many other cases. It held that a person has right to appeal as an interested party where the matter affects his right. Based on this the appeal was allowed.
But while the matter was still pending, the Lagos State Government resorted to self help. This particular act made the court to declare the reinstatement of the property of the plaintiff/appellant. Even at this, the Military Governor of Lagos State still refused to comply with the judgment of the court.
The Government later came back seeking for a stay of execution of the mandatory injunction granted to the plaintiff but this was refused by all the judges of the court of appeal.
Aggrieved by the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Military Governor of Lagos State appealled to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and prayed the court to:
1: Stay the execution of the judgment of the Court of Appeal until a decision is reached in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
2: Any other order which the court deems fit.
In his reply, Chief Williams, for the plaintiff/appellant said that “The greatest mistake of the Military Governor of Lagos State was to disobey the order of a court” . He also said that the actions of the military was an usurpation of the judicial functions of the courts.
Decision of the court in Military Governor of Lagos State v Odumegwu Ojukwu
After hearing the matter, the Supreme Court of Nigeria condemned the actions of the Military Lagos State Government and discribed it as a contempt of court. Accordingly, the court noted that it is absurd for a person to be in contempt of a lower court and still come to seek favor from a higher court.
Another issue which the supreme court took notice of was the matter of forceful ejection of the respondent (Odumegwu Ojukwu) even when the matter was already handled by the court. It was held that the Military Governor had no right to take matters into their own hands.
According to Obaseki, J.S.C, there was no legal authority backing the actions of the governor in this case. He highlighted that whenever there is a case between the government and an individual and such matter has been brought to court, it is improper for the governor to result to self help by forceful ejection which is not supported in any law in Nigeria.
Obaseki, J.S.C went further to state that the actions of the the Military was nothing else but to show the pre-empt decision of the Court Appeal. He further advised the Appellant to apply for an order of possession from a competent court of law if they want the property in dispute.
However, for the main time, the case was dismissed with N25.00 costs to the respondent.
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Finally, this judgement was read and concurred with by Kawu, J.S.C. and Oputa, J.S.C. They also highlighted other important points and went further to condemn the actions of the Military Governor of Lagos State.
Oputa JSC, in his final note, stated that it is apparent that the country was in a military regime which had pledged itself to observe and abide by the Rule of Law. However, this same regime is disobeying the law in this case. He further compared Nigeria with other nations where even the military respect the law and explain how Nigeria’s situation is different.