THE Ogoja division of the High Court of Cross River State has granted an order restraining any person from entering the premises housing Magistrate Court 2 in Ogoja magisterial division pending the determination of the motion on notice filed by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
The Ogoja branch of the NBA approached the court to stop the sale of the premises to the leader of the Cross River State House of Assembly Peter Odey (PDP, Ogoja) after it became public knowledge that Governor Benedict Ayade had approved the land for him to build his personal house.
The case has been adjourned until March 18, 2021, for hearing.
How It Began?
Odey, who just completed his private residence at the Cross River State Water Board Limited premises in Calabar, wrote to Ayade for land to be allocated to him in Ogoja Local Government Area to build another private residence.
Ogoja is almost 300 kilometers north of the southern port city of Calabar.
By the virtue of his office as governor, Ayade is empowered by the Land Use Act of 1978 to hold land in trust for the people and issue certificates of occupancy (C of Os). Owing to this, he approved and directed lands commissioner John Inyang to allocate land to Odey.
However, experts say the power of the governor is limited to the extent that he cannot revoke public property, in this case judiciary property, and allocate same for private interest or to a private individual.
Inyang, who is the brother in-law to the governor’s wife, is said to have showed Odey a plot directly behind the Ogoja Local Government Secretariat, next to the Ministry of Justice annex at the government residential area in Igoli.
The land is where Court 2 of the Ogoja Magisterial division, presided over by senior magistrate Eno Iyamba, is situated.
Magistrate Iyamba sits alongside chief magistrate Ekong Imona on rotational basis in Court 1 after years of neglect led to a decay of Court 2, which was worsened by a windstorm that blew off the roof.
As at press time, it remained unclear whether Ayade and Inyang’s decision to allocate Court 2 to Odey was deliberate. But sources said the magistrates quickly informed the chief judge Akon Ikpeme and the police who arrested workers who appeared on the site last Saturday.
Judiciary sources said the workers were to be arraigned earlier on Monday but were released following pressure from Odey, a claim he denied.
“That is not true. I never went to the police station. As I am talking to you now, I am in Calabar,” Odey said.
However, he did not deny that he directed work to start but claimed he had no knowledge the land allocated was court premises.
“I did not ask that a court be given to me. I only applied to the governor for a piece of land in Ogoja to build a house and the governor approved. The commissioner allocated that space to me. I did not even know it is a court. If there is contention around it, it is the commissioner that should address it. If anyone has any question, it should be directed to the commissioner,” he told CrossRiverWatch late Monday morning.
But, earlier on Monday morning, the workers had resumed, with the magistrates reporting to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, a security outfit charged with the responsibility of protecting sensitive public infrastructure. This led to the arrests of two people and the confiscation of some work materials.
Odey, on his part, said he had directed that work should stop. “I have directed that work should stop on the site until matters are sorted. I do not want a court. I just need a land to build a house. If anyone even came up to me to tell me there is an abandoned court there that needs repair, I would have contributed to fixing it for my people.”
As at press time, work had stopped at the premises.
Efforts to get lands commissioner Inyang to respond to the allegation proved futile as several calls to his mobile phone were neither answered nor returned.