Like a thief in the night, the news that some ‘students’ of the University of Benin had gone wild, destroying any moving object belonging to Edo state government and people, hit the waves early Thursday morning, January 8, 2015. At the end of the saga, they offered one of the state government vehicles, the very popular Comrade bus, as burnt offering to their god of rage. It was, for any discerning observer, a shocking realization that those in whose hands rest the onerous responsibility of moulding the minds of our young ones could selfishly turn them into vicious object of unwarranted rage and destruction. The justification, according to their agents, is that the students responded in kind to an alleged pulling down of property occupied by officials of the university, in particular, that of its immediate vice chancellor, Professor Ibadin Oshodin. Since then, a lot has been (more is still being) said about the propriety or otherwise of the bare face brigandage.
Whereas the state government is painfully explaining that having failed to reason with authority of the institution for three years, its action is predicated, as a last resort, on a valid court judgement, the institution is stuck on its claim that the action of the state is a violation of due process given that it (university) had gone on appeal. To that extent, it insists the respondent is obliged to stay all action concerning its desire to reclaim the said property, eighteen in all. Since then, the state has been rocked by the after effects of the demolition blues.
The properties in contention were handed over by Brigadier Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, then military administrator of Midwest (later Bendel) state, to authorities of the university in 1974. The reason adduced for the offer is that as a young institution with teething infrastructure challenges at inception, it required assistance in several areas to be able to find its footing. To mitigate the challenges, Ogbemudia offered the institution the use of some of the state property, pending when it is strong enough to stand on its own. But matters came to a head when following the take off of the federal government’s monetization policy, several years later, officials of the institution listed the property among those belonging to the federal government.
Following the discovery, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, then governor of the state, reminded the institution that the property belonged to the state and that given that they were, at no point, given as gift to the university, to this end, the state reacted by issuing a caveat emptor, warning any would-be buyer to steer clear. Upon the university’s insistence to proceed with the sale of the property, the government issued a quit notice, an action for which the university responded by opting for a legal arbitration.
In the main, the issue in contention was whether being that possession conferred legal title on the institution. At the end of the legal battle at a federal high court, the institution lost its claim as judgement was delivered in favour of the state. Inter alia, the court ruled that “… Exhibit B itself (a communique between two ministries) is not an instrument of conveyance or a Deed of Gift capable of conveying or which conveyed the title in the disputed properties to the 1st Claimaint (University of Benin), nor did it extinguish the rights or title of the Defendants (Edo state et al) in the subject matter. I therefore resolve issues 1 and 2 in favour of the Defendants against the Claimants.”
Soon after the exit of the Osunbor administration and in spite of the ruling, K.S. Okeaya-Inneh, SAN, counsel to the university reportedly brought a deed of conveyance to the new helmsman, Comrade Adams Eric Oshiomhole, insisting that the governor sign the property away to the university. But the governor referred the matter to the attorney general after which the quit notice was reinstated. A second judgement, this time, to vacate the property, was given in favour of the state on December 16, 2014. Expressly, it was to the effect that the state can reclaim its property without delay. “I accordingly direct the 1st claimant, and person claiming by or through her to vacate the 16 properties stated in the schedule hereunder and give up possession forthwith to the defendants…”, the judgement read in part.
Yet the spat continued.
The crux of the matter is that whereas the university claims that it appealed the judgement and that there is a stay of execution, the state insists that it never received any notice to that effect hence nothing stops its entitlement to reclaiming its property as unambiguously mandated by the court. In effect, it argues that any claimed stay of execution does not automatically confer the right to stay action until it is served directly on the respondents unless there is an expressed order by the issuing court that it is valid when served through proxy. On that premise arguably, the state attorney-general and commissioner of Justice, Barrister Henry Idahagbon, vowed to resign his office if the institution is able to prove with evidence that it served the said notice of appeal which approved any stay of execution on the respondents including Edo state government, Edo state governor, Edo state attorney-general and commissioner of justice and the honourable commissioner, ministry of lands, survey and housing. None of them was served directly.
Findings by this writer indicate that the university did not serve the notice directly on anyone of them. Instead, served only the office of O.A. Omonuwa, SAN, counsel to the respondents in the High Court case, an action not recognised by even the issuing authority. But surprisingly, the institution went to town a few days after the reaction of the commissioner, brandishing document purported to be the stay of execution order. For emphasis, it named one Mercy, secretary to O. A. Omonuwa, SAN, as the recipient and signee. Indeed, Counsel to the institution was reported to have gone on air to explain that he personally ensured that the order was served on counsel to the respondents.  But for a senior advocate, he cannot be under any illusion that without any direct court order, counsel to the respondents is not under any legal obligation to do his (plaintiff’s counsel’s) bidding or job.
How is he even sure that the defendants would retain the Counsel so served in the Appeal Court case. It is trite law that a defendant is served directly or by proxy if an order to that effect is so given by the court.
Thus, it can only be deduced that those ruling the state government for acting in order to protect the interest of the people or those calling for the resignation of the attorney-general are doing so because they are ignorant of court processes particularly in matters concerning service of court orders. In addition, it must be pointed out here that even as it has become the norm for every matter to be politicized, there is need to let the rule of law prevail in matters like the one under review. It will not serve anyone’s interest if, for every mundane reason, dubious politicians find it expedient providing combustible materials for the destruction of public property as was the case in the ongoing spat.

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