Crushed Rock Industries Ltd., on Thursday, sued Ebonyi Government before the Federal High Court, Abuja, demanding for a N500 million damages over alleged unlawful shutdown of its quarry site.
In an originating summon with suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/451/2020 filed before Justice Ahmed Mohammed by its Counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, the company asked the court to determine whether the state government had the right to control its mining activities after it had been duly licensed by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development to mine solid minerals at Ishiagu in Ebonyi.
The Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development is the 1st defendant, Mining Cadastre Office; Ebonyi Government; Attorney General of Ebonyi; Hon. Edwin Obiora Onwe, Special Assistant to the Governor on Solid Minerals and Commissioner for Ministry of Solid Minerals Development are 3rd to 6th defendants.The firm also sought the court’s “declaration that the regulation of mines and minerals, in any part of the Federation of Nigeria, is vested in the Federal Government under the Exclusive Legislative List in the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as altered) to the total exclusion of every other tier of government.
“Declaration that only the 1st and 2nd defendants, being, parastatals of the Federal Government of Nigeria, possess the sole right, duty and obligation to regulate, manage, control, investigate. administer and supervise the activities of the plaintiff, being a quarry company duly licensed by the 1st defendant.
“Declaration that any law enacted by a state government in Nigeria (including the 3rd defendant) which purports to supervise, control, administer or manage quarry activities is null and void to the extent of its inconsistency with the provisions of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act. CAP A479, 2007.
“Declaration that it is only the 1st and 2nd defendants that have the sole right and responsibility to demand for royalties and duties from the plaintiff, to the exclusion of any other agencies and level of government in Nigeria, including the 3rd to 6th defendants.
“Declaration that the forceful serial demands for payment of haulage fees, royalties and compulsory performance of community services, foisted and imposed on the plaintiff, in respect of the mining activities of the plaintiff by the 3rd to 6th defendants, being a state government, and its functionaries, are arbitrary, unlawful, wrongful. illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”
The plaintiff also asked the court to declare that the act of the 5th defendant, under the authority of the 6th defendant, “to illegally enter into, viet armis, seal up and forcibly shut down completely the quarry site amounts to trespass and violates Sections 1, 60, 61, 68, 146 and 147 of he Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act.”
The firm, therefore, sought court order mandating the 3rd to 6th defendants to immediately unseal its quarry site and allow it to carry out its lawful business.
The plaintiff, which sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining them from further sealing up its quarry site, urged the court to mandate the 3rd to 6th defendants to pay a N500 million as damages for the illegal shutting down of its business.
However, at the hearing of the matter on Thursday, 3rd to 6th defendants’ Counsel, Abdul Ibrahim, SAN, urged the court to transfer the case to Abakaliki, Ebonyi, at the division of the court, being the place where the alleged wrongdoing took place.
He based his argument on the grounds that the Chief Judge, Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, on June 24, released a circular directing that cases should be heard where the cause of action aroused.
He also urged the court to dismiss the motion filed by the plaintiff.
Counsel to plaintiff, Ozekhome, who informed the court that the mining site had been closed down for about five months by the agents of 3rd to 6th defendants, urged the judge to overrule Ibrahim since the 3rd to 6th defendants also had offices in Abuja.
“And the 1st and 2nd defendants have their offices in Abuja. The course of action emanate from the mining licensed granted by the FG which is being violated by the 3rd to 6th defendants. According to him, the Federal High Court is one in Nigeria.
He argued that the circular issued was not a practice direction of the court.“It is an administrative circular not practice direction,” he said.
He urged the court to grant his prayers, saying the matter also fell within the jurisdiction of the court.
Counsel to the 1st and 2nd defendants, John Madaki and Akinlonu Foluso respectively also urged the court to discountenance the argument of Ibrahim to transfer the case to Abakaliki.
Justice Mohammed, after listening to the parties, adjourned the matter until October 8 2020 for hearing in the originating summon and motion challenging the court’s jurisdiction by the 3rd to 6th defendants.