Assets Recovery: Court Strikes Out Ortom’s Suit Against Government of Benue State For Being Speculative, Seeking To Delimit Executive Powers

The Benue State High Court of Justice sitting in Makurdi, has struck out the suit filed by a former Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, and His Deputy, Benson Abounu against the Governor and Government of Benue State for being speculative and seeking to limit the exercise of the constitutional powers of the democratically elected state governor, Rev. Fr. Dr. Hyacinth Alia.

In Suit No: MHC/199/2023, Mr. Ortom and Engr. Abounu is challenging the alleged retrieval of vehicles and properties allegedly donated to them and their cabinet members by the Benue State Executive Council before their handover on May 29, 2023. They alleged that such action of retrieval was a constitutional affront to their collective right to ownership of property legally and legitimately vested in them.

However, counsel to the Government of Benue State, the Governor of Benue State, and the Chairman of the Assets Recovery Committee, Mohammed Ndarani (SAN) who had appeared with Vershima Akaangee and Raphael Ashwe raised and argued a Notice of Preliminary Objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain, hear and determine the suit on the grounds that it was speculative as it failed to give the identity of the cars and properties allegedly taken from the Plaintiffs and secondly that, the suit sought to limit the proper exercise of the executive powers of the governor to appoint appropriate committees to help in the administration of the state.

Arguing further, Mohammed Ndarani (SAN) maintained that, the terms of reference of the committee to decipher the extent of their powers and to help determine whether the committee had overlapped its authority were not before the court. He said the committee was also not shown to have completed its work to conclusively establish whether they had permanently taken custody of any vehicles, hence for investigative purposes, temporary taking of custody of vehicles is allowed under the constitution.

Counsel has also stressed that, if such frivolous suits were allowed to linger, development would be greatly hampered across the country.

In his submission, Douglas Pepe (SAN) who appeared with Paul Sule maintained that the Plaintiffs’ cause of action was potent and alleged that over 32 vehicles donated to the Plaintiffs by the Benue State Executive Council before they left office on May 29th, 2023 had been taken custody off by the Defendants, which was an affront to their right to ownership of property.

In a ruling delivered on the 18th day of October, 2023, the Honourable Justice Theresa Igoche upheld the preliminary objection of the Defendants on two major grounds, the suit was speculative for failing to establish a cause of action and that the suit indeed sought to delimit the constitutional powers of the Defendants as donated unto them by Section 5(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She consequently struck out the suit.

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