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Court awards N50m damages against C’River Gov’t

By Uno Onete

A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar has awarded N50 million damages against the Government of Cross River State.

The matter is contained in Appeal No. CA/C/457/2017 between Jumal Rubber Producing Coy Ltd and Government of Cross River State; Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice, Cross River State.

In its ruling on the matter, Hon. Justice Uchechukwu Onyemenam made an “order directing the Respondents to set up the State Enterprises Arbitration Panel under Section 17 (1) of State Enterprises (Privatisation) Law which is the ad-hoc body to be responsible for effecting prompt settlement of any dispute arising between an enterprise and the Cross River State Privatisation Council or any other person or organisation involved in privatisation process.”

The court, in the 35-page judgment, reversed the ruling of the High Court and slammed the sum of N50,000,000 (Fifty million naira) only as general damages on the Respondents for their continuous refusal, failure and neglect to set up the panel.

The judgment had come in the wake of the privatisation exercise of 2004 that saw the privatisation of Oban Rubber Estate Limited during which the Appellant was
refused the refund of its deposit of N2.5 million it paid for the supply of rubber lumps.

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In the lead judgment delivered by Hon. Justice Onyemenam on Monday, 27th March 2024, to which her brother justices, Hon. Justice Balkisu Bello Aliyu and Hon. Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari concurred, held that: “The preliminary objection was premature as the affidavit of service was filed before the action was entered for hearing thereby curing the suit of any incompetency, if any.

“From the above, I hold the view that the learned trial judge wrongly declared the suit incompetent. I resolve issue three against the Respondents in favour of the Appellant.”

The appeal sailed through after a failed attempt by the parties to have the case settled out of court, including a letter from the Executive Secretary of the Privatisation Council and a memo from the Solicitor General/Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Cross River State, on 20th September 2019 to Governor Ben Ayade to pay the Appellant.

Speaking outside the court premises after the judgment, the Appellant’s counsel, Barr. Michael Emori said “As I rightly said in the open court, it’s a Lord Denning coming to judgment.

“The judgment is a victory for the private sector against oppressive and insensitive forces in the corridor of power who don’t want the common man to breathe. But I’m confident of His Excellency Prince Bassey Otu all these will stop and the victorious Appellant will be paid it due.”

It will be recalled that by Suit No: HC/MISC/185/2012 instituted at the High Court of Cross River State, sitting at Calabar, Jumal Rubber Producing Coy Ltd as an applicant, had approached the high court for the prerogative writ of mandamus against the Respondents to set up the State Enterprises Arbitration Panel as provided for under section 17(1) of the State Enterprises (Privatisation)

Culled from Pillar Today Newspaper, Vol. 3 No. 5, p3, 10-24 April 2024.

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