By a stroke of judicial pronouncement, the Supreme court of Nigeria on the 22nd of December, 1976 gave credence to the popularly held view that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was, the high priest of true federalism ‘ On The Centenary of the Birth of Awo, Gbadegesin Segun- The Nation of Friday March 6, 2009 back page’, the progenitor of modern Nigeria, defender of the freedom of poor men, when it gave its landmark judgment in the case between NEPA VS MUDASIRU AMUDA AND AYINDE AMUDA (for Madarikan family of Idimu Village, Lagos State) (1976) 6UILR 255).( University of Ife Law Report) or (1975) NSCC 75.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, loved by his people and hated with passion by the reactionary elements who dotted the nation’s political landscape in fearsome impunity, has been viewed with many ‘eyes’ and from various perspectives. While General Yakubu Gowon, former Head of State was reported to have referred to Chief Obafemi Awolowo as, ‘….. a leader no one can equal’, ( ‘Awo’s Centenary: Honour for an undying Philosopher’- The Punch, Monday, March 9, 2009 at page 59) he was described by Ayo Fasanmi (‘Awo is not dead’, The Nation of Friday March 6, 2009 at page 55) as ‘ …he was one of the architects of modern day Nigeria, a great political thinker, a visionary leader and an excellent administrator whose footprints on Nigerian politics remain indelible’.
In that case, NEPA had refused to pay compensation for the 95 acres of the Idimu people’s land which had been rendered useless by the installation of high tension wire lines and other power structures. It only paid for the economic crops and other damages.
In a hotly contested legal battle, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as was usually the case, stood on the side of the people while Chief Kehinde Sofola advocated the interest of NEPA.
In a well considered judgment, Fatayi Williams, Idigbe JJSC and Obaseki, Ag JSC, were not persuaded by the NEPA’s argument that the section 52(1) of the Electric Corporations of Nigeria Act reenacted in S. 33(1) of NEPA Act made allowance for payment of compensation in respect of damages to buildings only but not for loss of use of land.
Characteristically, Chief Abafemi Awolowo the defender of the helpless and an avowed friend of the people argued strenuously and most successfully too, that the people of Idimu
village were entitled to compensation.
Below is the excerpts of the letter written to the Bale of Idimu dated 14th April 1966 which was being sought to be interpreted to mean that the villagers were not entitled to compensation:
NOTICE OF INTENTION TO ENTER UPON LAND
In pursuance of section 49 of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria Act, I am directed to give you notice of the intention of the corporation by its servants, or agents to enter upon land situate at Iseri/Idimu villages between 4-8 on Agege Akesan road in the Division /District of colony Ikeja for the purpose of making survey, taking levels, or executory and doing all such works and things as may be connected with the supply of electricity.
"After a very exhaustive examination of NEPA Decree, our Legal Adviser has concluded that no compensation is payable or relief grantable under the law for any land or building (including building in built -up area.) across which an electricity main transmission line names", as stated by the Ministry of Mines & Power eventually culminated in a letter dated 26th March 1974, advised it (NEPA) that it should not pay compensation.
While opposing Chief Sofola’s argument that S 33(1) of the Act made Compensation payable only on" buildings, crops or economic trees and not for deprivations of use of land" Chief Awolowo submitted that" the Common Law right of Idium people to compensation for injurious affection of the land or for deprivation of use of it by the owners still subsists notwithstanding the provision of section 33(1) of ECN Act.
Emphasizing the maxim" quic quid plantatur Solo Solo Cedit" the supreme court said that, to it, it is a general rule of antiquity and it seems that whatever is affixed to the soil becomes, in contemplation of law, a part of it, and is subjected to the same rights of property as the soil itself".
By this singular tenacity of love and the wish for the welfare of citizens of Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was able to rescue the villagers of Idimu from the rampaging shackles of the hegemonic Federal might as epitomized by NEPA.
The quiet, peaceful and peaceable enjoyment of occupation, since this judgment, of the land devolved on them by their progenitors in this autochthonous community is by the grace of God and the judicial understanding elicited by Chief Obafemi Awolowo from the Justices of the supreme court in 1976.
David Olugbenga Osaloni is on email@example.com