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Court dismisses Honeywell’s $48m suit

A Federal High Court, Ikoyi Lagos on Thursday dismissed a $48million suit filed by Honeywell Group and its chairman Dr Oba Otudeko against billionaire businessman, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
Also sued apart from Dangote are: the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Dangote Industries Ltd, Dangote and Greenview Development Ltd.
Otudeko asked the court to declare him the valid owner of a land measuring over 10.841 square metres at the Lagos Ports Complex, known as the Fifth Apapa Wharf Extension.
He claimed ownership by virtue of a lease agreement between his company and NPA.
But Dangote contended that the agreement was neither turned into a deed nor was it registered.
Delivering judgment in the suit, Justice Okon Abang dismissed Otudeko and Honeywell’s claims.
“The plaintiff’s claims lack merit. I so hold,” the judge held.
Justice Abang said there was no illegality in the manner Dangote acquired the land through an agent.
“It is my view that the second defendant lawfully granted the concession with the approval of the then head of state to the agent of Dangote,” he said.
On the award of damages, the court held that Otudeko was not entitled to monetary compensation because there was no evidence he suffered any losses.
“As regards the monetary claims sought for by the plaintiff, my lords, the plaintiff has not called evidence to justify the award of either special or general damages in this matter. I so hold,” Justice Abang held.
He awarded N50,000 cost against Otudeko in favour of NPA and BPE, and N50,000 to the rest of the defendants.
“The suit of the plaintiff lacks merit and is hereby dismissed with a cost of N50,000 awarded in favour of first and second defendant, and again the cost of N50,000 awarded in favour of the third to fifth defendant payable by the plaintiff,” Justice Abang added.
Ten years ago, the plaintiff, in this suit claimed that NPA leased the land to it for five years for a bulk food handling facility at N2.168 million per year. It said it paid the sum, as well as N290, 000 for land survey.
Honeywell said it took possession of the land to the defendants’ knowledge and conducted technical studies on the facility, spending millions of dollars in the process.
The plaintiff said despite being aware of its massive development plans on the land, the BPE suddenly suspended the pre-existing rights by concessioning NPA’s Apapa Ports Complex, including the Fifth Apapa Wharf Extension to Greenview, owned by Dangote.
Honeywell added that NPA and BPE latter asked it to vacate the facility to ensure a smooth transfer to a new operator.
It alleged that Dangote and his company made NPA to break the initial agreements and legal relations.
The plaintiff alleged that Dangote, through his agents harassed, threatened and ordered Honeywell officials to vacate the land.
Besides, the plaintiff argued that BPE lacked the power under the Port reforms to take over and alienate NPA’s assets when the NPA Act has neither been amended.
The plaintiff said by virtue of the defendants action, the cost of putting up the contemplated structure had risen from $100 million to $148 million.
But Dangote said the suit was frivolous, vexatious and constituted an abuse of court process.
He added that the suit was aimed at truncating the approved policy of the concessionaire of seaports of the Federal Government and to deter the progress of work by Green view Development on the land.
The defendant argued that no Presidential consent was sought nor obtained before the lease agreement was granted to Honeywell Group on the land.
Urging the court to dismiss the suit, Dangote added that the action was aimed at truncating the Federal Government’s policy on the seaports.

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