El-Rufai, others lose bid to stop Abacha’s N1.5b suit over Durba Hotel
Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai and three others have lost their bid to stop the hearing of a N1.5billion suit brought against them by the family of the late military leader, General Sani Abacha.
The Abacha family, acting through its head, Alhaji Mohammed Sani Abacha, sued El-Rufai and others, accusing them among others, of trespassing on their property.
The property is a huge expanse of land housing the Durba Hotel.
The family also alleged unlawful demolition of the hotel and planning to sell it, having purportedly revoked the certificate of occupancy.
Sued with El-Rufai in the suit marked: KDH/KAD/51/2020.
The respondents are the Attorney-General, Kaduna State; Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Authority (KASUPDA) and Kaduna State Geographic Information Service (KADGIS).
In a ruling, Justice Hanatu Balogun of the High Court of Kaduna State dismissed the notice of objection filed by the defendants on the grounds that it was without merit.
Justice Balogun upheld arguments by plaintiff’s lawyer, Reuben Atabo (SAN) that the suit was competent, well instituted and raised cause of action against El-Rufai and others for which they were required to enter a defence.
The defendants had, in their objection, queried the competence of the suit and the court’s jurisdiction to hear it, arguing that the suit was not properly instituted and that it raised to cause of action against El-Rufai and the Attorney General.
Justice Balogun, in her ruling, copy of which The Nation sighted in Abuja on Sunday, held that, as against the defendants’ claim that the third and fourth defendants (KASUPDA and KADGIS) were not served pre-action notice as required by law, the plaintiff served them pre-action notices, dated January 17 and February 17, 2020.
“In my view, the plaintiff has complied with the provisions of both the Kaduna State Urban and Regional Planning Law, No: 31 of 2018 and KADGIS Law, No: 15 of 2018. In the present case, I find that the third and fourth defendants were notified of the plaintiff’s intention to sue,” the judge said.
On the defendants’ claim that suit was invalid because KASUPDA was wrongly described as “Agency” as against its actual name of “Authority,” the judge said such error was a misnomer since nobody was misled by the error in the name.
“On the use of the wrong name – that is, Kaduna State Planning and Development Agency (KASUPDA) instead of Kaduna State Planning and Development Authority (KASUPDA), this is clearly a misnomer as both sides are very clear that the reference was to the third defendant and no other misled.
“It was not a wrong party sued as in the Njoku vs. UAC Foods case, but simply a wrong name of a correct defendant. This is curable by an order of correction of the name,” the judge added.
Justice Balogun held that, as against the defendants’ argument that no cause of action was established, the plaintiff raised substantial cause of action against El-Rufai and others.
The judge found that not only is El-Rufai, as the governor, vested with the power to administer all the state’s lands on behalf of the people, he “is the person said to have issued or directed the issuance of the contested revocation orders over the plaintiff’s right of occupancy.”
She added that the Attorney-General was also a necessary party in the case because, being the Chief Law Officer, he is to guide the state and other defendants in the suit, particularly when the plaintiff was claiming damages.
“I, therefore, find and hold that both the first and second defendants (El-Rufai and the AG) are necessary parties in this suit, and the plaintiff has, in his statement of claim and reliefs sought, shown that he has a complaint against the defendants.
“I, therefore, find and hold that there is a cause of action against the first and second defendants. On the whole, I find all issues raised by the defendants against them and in favour of the plaintiff,” the judge said.
Justice Balogun has adjourned till February 10, 2022 the hearing of the substantive suit.
In the substantive suit, filed in the name of Durba Hotel Plc, the plaintiff is praying the court for among others, an order of mandatory injunction restraining the defendants and their agents from dealing with the property “in whatever manner” and to set aside “all steps and all procedures so far taken to transfer the plaintiff’s property to a third party.”
It also wants the court to restrain the defendants and their agents from selling to a third party or tampering with its ownership of “the plaintiff’s parcel of land situate and lying at General Muhammadu Buhari Way (Wharf Road), Kaduna North, Kaduna State covered with certificate of occupancy No: 17789.”
The plaintiff, who is praying for damages and cost to the tune of N1.5billion, also wants the court to declare unlawful the defendants’ demolition of the Durba Hotel building and the purported revocation of its certificate of occupancy.
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