There is a war going on in Calabar right now. A medical doctor and the court are battling the workers of the Nigeria Ports Authority over the ownership of the NPA Quarters, otherwise known as Harbour Village in the Canaan City.
In the last 38 years, there has been a protracted legal battle over ownership of the NPA Quarters at Ekorinim, Calabar Municipal Council in Cross River State. The legal tussle has been between the NPA workers and a medical practitioner in the state, Dr. Sama Ekpo Sama.
For many years, NPA staffers in Calabar have occupied the Harbour Village, using the estate as their official residential apartments. The place, comprising over 46 bungalows with various recreational facilities, was allegedly designed for Dr. Sama’s Health Farm Clinic and Resort. It was gathered that the NPA offered Dr. Sama N40 million through a third party. Sama was said to have rejected the offer, however, insisting that the property was worth over half a billion naira.
Investigations by our reporter indicated that on his return from Switzerland in the early 1970s, Sama applied to the NPA authorities to take over his property but was turned down owing, allegedly, to an interest expressed by some top maritime operators to take over the estate. Sama was said to have expressed his desire to use the property to build a hospital, following his invitation by the state government to help develop the health sector. Following the failure of NPA to hand over the estate, Dr. Sama dragged the agency to court in 1984. In the suit No. C/104/84, he prayed the court to order the occupants, who had “confiscated” the property measuring about 11.04 hectares, to vacate the place.
The court presided over by Justice U.J. Udofia, after hearing from the two parties, on February 18, 1985, delivered a judgment in favour of the plaintiff (Sama), declaring him as the rightful owner of the parcel of land and property herein. Since obtaining the judgment, Dr. Sama has taken several steps to enforce it but all such efforts have remained futile.
One of such attempts was reportedly on June 4, 2009. Worried by this development, he applied for another execution order, which was issued by Justice S.M. Anjor. The order extended the time within which the judgment could be enforced by the creditor/applicant.
The NPA appealed the judgment at the Federal High Court but it also lost the case. On August 8, 2012, Dr. Sama filed a motion on notice to revalidate the execution order in the Suit No. HC/MSC. 180/2012. He prayed the court to extend the time within which to enforce the 1985 judgment. The renowned medical practitioner, in the motion, also asked the court to grant him leave to apply for the issuance of execution processes for the purpose of enforcing the judgment and any further orders the court might deem fit to grant.
The presiding Judge, Justice B. E. Ikpeme, in his ruling, said: “After hearing Mba Ukweni Esquire, Counsel for the judgment Creditor/Applicant and I.E. Ikona Esquire, Counsel for the Judgment Debtors/Respondents adopt their respective written addresses; “It is hereby ordered that this application be and is hereby granted and the orders are made as specifically prayed in 1&2 of the Judgment Creditor/Applicant’s motion paper.” To execute the order, the court officials, along with police escorts, stormed the premises on September 17 and evicted the staff and their family members, numbering over 100 from the residential quarters.
This development paralysed business activities at the port as all the entrances to the ports were locked up over the alleged insensitivity of the management of NPA and the minister of transport. Members of staff protested their eviction from the NPA staff quarters and expressed worry that apart from the Ports Manager, the management of the NPA had shown minimal concern, if any.
They lamented that most of the affected staff were sleeping in their offices with their families. Some of the affected staff complained that apart from their belongings that were thrown out without any prior notice, those that came to enforce the eviction looted some of their personal belongings, including huge sums of money. Chairman, Senior Staff Association of the Port, Comrade George Umoh, said the port would remain locked until the authorities of the NPA and the minister of transportation looked into their plight and provided them with alternative accommodation. Comrade Umoh said the action of the staff became necessary because the workers had no place to lay their heads with their families as they were evicted without any notice to look for alternative accommodation. He said besides breaking into their quarters and throwing their property away, those that came to enforce the order collected huge sums of money from them.
He said since the incident, attempts to talk to the management of NPA or government officials had not produced any positive results. Besides, he said it was not possible to get and pay for a new house in Calabar within the period. He said some landlords had cashed in on their plight to exploit members, adding that the development had forced many of their children out of school. Umoh appealed to the leadership of the NPA and the Federal Government to come to their aid, saying the eviction was causing them serious trauma.
He spoke further: “We are not against whoever is the rightful owner of the property, taking possession of it. But even if the property belongs to Dr. Sama and even if the court had delivered judgment without the knowledge of NPA, Dr. Sama should have given us two week’s notice. “Evicting us with thugs is barbaric. The management has to do something.
We are not happy that we are keeping people going to do business at the port outside, but the situation we found ourselves requires what we are doing,” he stated. In a solidarity rally, Chairman of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, NPA branch, Comrade Ajayi Bamidele, said the presence of his union was to give solidarity to the NPA workers over what they were passing through, as they had become homeless. Bamidele said: “We are not saying that the Harbour Village should not be given to whoever owns it. What we are saying is that they should have given us notice and should not have used thugs to drive us out and loot our property, including our money.”
But there is a new development. Fifteen of the evicted NPA workers are said to have re-occupied the apartments. In a chat with our correspondent, a lawyer, Mr. Mba Ukweni, regretted the attitude of the NPA workers. He confirmed that some of the workers have reoccupied the apartments. “The development is regrettable,” he stated. “Some of them have returned to the premises or apartments. When we saw that, we decided to make a complaint. According to him, one of those that have returned illegally to the quarters is a senior police officer (names withheld) and some other policemen.
“When we saw him, we complained to the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police in charge of the Zone 6 Calabar. The AIG called him to order and directed him to withdraw the policemen from there. He immediately withdrew the policemen there and vacated the premises. But we have learnt now that a very senior police officer at the Force Headquarters ordered him to return to the premises even against his protest that he was likely to suffer the consequences of disobeying a court order.” At the moment, over 20 policemen have been deployed to the estate.
It was learnt that they are there to prevent the family and guests of Dr. Sama from gaining entry into the place. When the reporter called at the Nigerian Ports Authority, the Assistant General Manager in charge of Calabar Ports, Mr. A. A. Dandare, was said to be out on official duties.