The Kwara state government on Wednesday resumed clearing of the disputed, ‘ile arugbo, land in GRA Ilorin.
This was coming a day after a court dismissed a suit challenging its demolition of Ile Arugbo, a property used by the late political kingmaker of Kwara state, Olusola Saraki, to host his supporters.
The state government demolished the property in 2020, claiming the land on which it was built was illegally acquired. It said the land was originally designated for the construction of the second phase of the state secretariat.
Children of Saraki, Bukola and Gbemisola, accused Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, whose election in 2019 ended the Saraki’s 20 years of unbroken control of government in the state, of trying to destroy their father’s legacy.
Afterwards, Asa Investment Ltd, a firm owned by the late politician, claimed ownership of the land and sued the state government to assert its ownership and seek redress for the demolition of the property.
But on Tuesday, a high court judge, Abiodun Adewara, struck out the suit on the grounds of lack of diligent prosecution.
Adewara struck out the suit and adjourned till March 17 for the hearing of the defendants’ counterclaim.
Meanwhile, in the early hours of Wednesday, witnesses told our reporter that the government sent a bulldozer between 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. to clear the land.
Reacting to the fresh development, the legal team of Asa Investments Ltd described it as “reckless, illegal and glaring impunity.”
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, the lead counsel, Akin Onigbinde, said he was surprised that the state government took its action less than 24 hours after the court fixed March 27 for hearing of its counterclaim.
“Counsel to the Government of Kwara State, on record of Court at previous sittings of Court, had given an undertaking not to destroy the property until the dispute is determined.
“It was also surprising that on a single day, the Court granted an application to Asa to substitute the name of Alhaji Sanusi Baba-Eleku, a co-claimant with Asa Investment Ltd who died recently with another, being Alhaji Abubakar Oluwatoyin, and before allowing the new party to file his witness statement on oath as required by law, the Court struck out the case of Asa Investment Ltd without allowing the new party the opportunity to even put forward his case to Court for adjudication, and Kwara State Government overreached judicial process to further destroy the property during the pendency of hearing.”
The lawyer said it was wrong for a party to a suit to take action which seeks to tie the hands of the court.
Onigbinde said the state government, by its action, has violated the undertakings it made in open court in previous sittings not to interfere with the rest of the case.
“This action, taken in the dead of the night, will be challenged appropriately. We will not allow a government, which should symbolise democracy and rule of law to be the one acting with impunity or seeking to subvert the course of justice,” the statement read.
But the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Rafiu Ajakaiye, said the government only reaffirmed its ownership of the land following the court ruling of Tuesday.
“The government had since last year January taken possession of the land, which belongs to the people of the state.
“The government only stayed action on it out of respect for the judicial proceedings instituted on the land, especially the temporary injunction of the court,” he said.
On Onigbinde’s claim, Ajakaiye said the temporary injunction restraining the government from doing anything on the land was lifted on August 7, 2020, but that the government only chose to stay action out of respect for the ongoing court case.
“With yesterday’s court ruling striking out the case for want of diligent prosecution, the government has today restarted the clearing of the land,” Mr Ajakaiye told our reporter.