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‘Unlawful act’ Court slams Sterling Bank, one other N841mln in damages

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‘Unlawful act’ Court slams Sterling Bank, one other N841mln in damages

In a suit marked EHC/216/2015, Agro Allied Development Enterprises, the claimant had sued Joma Frozen Food Limited, 1st defendant; Sterling Bank Plc, 2nd defendant and Godwin Obali Nwekoyo, 3rd defendant, following an alleged illegal sealing of its business premises by the defendants.

AHigh Court sitting in Effurun, Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State has slammed Sterling Bank PLC and one Godwin Obali Nwekoyo with N840.8 million in damages for allegedly sealing the premises of Joma Frozen Food Products Limited in Effurun near Warri, Delta State.

In a suit marked EHC/216/2015, Agro Allied Development Enterprises, the claimant had sued Joma Frozen Food Limited, 1st defendant; Sterling Bank Plc, 2nd defendant and Godwin Obali Nwekoyo, 3rd defendant, following an alleged illegal sealing of its business premises by the defendants.

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The claimant, a registered food production and processing company through its counsel, N. Ogbannaya approached the court following the unlawful sealing of its cold room facility by the 2nd and 3rd defendants.

The claimant sought an order of the court declaring that the sealing of the cold room facility and its continued denial of access to same, jointly and severally, by the 2nd and 3rd defendants was an act of trespass and constituted a breach of its rights.

The claimant also sought general and exemplary damages to the tune of N100 million for conversion and detinue, trespass and breach of its right to “peaceful and peaceable possession of the cold room as well as special damages to the tune of N839. 6 million as the total loss it incurred in selling its fish damaged during storage at the 1st defendant’s cold room and additional N5 million being estimated cost of filing the lawsuit”.

According to the claimant, sometime in August and September 2015, it entered into two separate cold room lease/storage agreements with the 1st defendant (Joma Frozen Food Limited).

According to the claimant, based on the agreement, it was entitled to “peaceable and peaceful possession and quiet enjoyment of the leased property”.

It added that the 1st defendant was supposed to be responsible for all the services including the provision of power supply, and maintaining and repairing of the refrigerating units to ensure the temperature of the cold room was maintained at a preset degree.

The claimant said that while offloading and storing frozen food valued at N2 billion in the cold room, the 3rd defendant, authorised by the 2nd defendant (Sterling Bank PLC) invaded the facility with thugs and policemen, and chased away its staff members and sealed the premises.

It said despite several warnings and pleas in view of the perishable items stored in the cold room, the 2nd defendant directed him to the 3rd defendant who insisted that he should either buy the property or make a fresh lease.

Delivering her judgment, the presiding judge, Justice Roli-Daibo Harriman held that the 1st defendant, Joma Frozen Food Products Limited, had no direct or indirect responsibility for the actions of the 2nd and 3rd defendants.

The judge held that the sealing of the cold room facility by the 2nd and 3rd defendants is an act of trespass, actions she said constituted a breach of the claimant’s “right of peaceful, peaceable possession and quiet enjoyment of its leasehold interest in the said cold room facility”.

Harriman held, “It is the law that a claimant who makes a claim for specific damage must provide credible evidence to convince the court that he is entitled to the special damage. The claimant has not only pleaded his specific damage but has provided documents and records showing the same.

“These are not challenged by the defendants in any way. I find that special damages have been proved. The claimant has proved its case against the 2nd and 3rd defendants and is entitled to Judgement against the said defendants jointly and severally.”

The judge, therefore, ruled that N839.6 million of the cost represents the total loss incurred by the claimant over its damaged fish while N1 million was for general damages in addition to an additional cost of N300,000.

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