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Otodo Gbame: Court refuses to jail governor, CP Owoseni for contempt

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A Lagos State High Court, Igbosere, has dismissed an application by thousands of displaced residents of several Lagos waterfront settlements seeking the committal to prison of Lagos State governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Commissioner of Police (CP) Fatai Owoseni and two others for contempt.

Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo ruled yesterday that according to Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) the governor, who was the third respondent, had constitutional immunity from prosecution and imprisonment.
This, he added, meant that the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the application against him.
Attorney-General of Lagos and Commissioner for Justice Kazeem Adeniji, Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, and the CP are the first, second and fourth respondents respectively.
The judge ruled further that the other respondents, having acted under the clear order and direct supervision of the governor, they could not be said to be the contemnors.
The court added that following the concession by applicants’ counsel, Friday Oteiku, and defence counsel S. A. Quadri that mediation between the parties had broken down, he would go ahead and deliver judgment in the substantive suit on April 25.
The application was instituted by 33 applicants suing on behalf of themselves and other residents of settlements including Otodo Gbame, Tomaro, Otumara, Orisunmibare, Oko Agbon, Itun Atan, Sogunro, the Ikorodu communities of Ofin, Bayeku and Olufunke Majidun and the Bariga communities of Ago Egun and Ebute-Ilaje.
They claimed through their counsel, Friday Oteiku, that the respondents breached an order of last November 7 and 16restraining them “from demolishing any of the applicants’ “homes, business premises, properties or community facilities in waterfront communities across Lagos State inhabited by the applicants or evicting the applicants therefrom.”
The applicants, hundreds of whom besieged the court yesterday, also claimed that as recently as January 26, the respondents further disobeyed the court’s order that “parties shall maintain the status quo…pending the final resolution of issues between them either upon conclusion of mediation as directed by the court or the final determination of this suit.”
In proof of their allegation, they stated that their communities were demolished by two excavators brought by members of the Lagos State Task Force comprising soldiers, military police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp and police officers.
According to the applicants, a Task Force official stated that “This is Lagos State, we don’t obey court orders, take it to the governor,” while pointing to a Rapid Response Squad helicopter flying overhead through which the governor was said to be allegedly monitoring the operation.
Ruling, Justice Onigbanjo said: “Much as the court empathises with the applicants’ rights and would ordinarily take all steps within the ambit of the law to protect the sanctity of judicial authority and the rule of law, the facts and circumstances of this case, in my opinion, regrettably place a constitutional barrier to any such exercise of judicial power.”
He noted that it is settled law that committal proceedings are criminal/quasi-criminal which lead to imprisonment of the alleged contemnors if found guilty.

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