- Ascon Oil, Lagos family battle Mobil over Gbagada land
- We have subsisting lease on property, says Mobil
For years, the battle has been on-going, and there seems to be no end in sight. It is a battle between an indigenous oil firm, Ascon Oil Company Limited, and Mobil Oil Nigeria Plc. Somewhere in the mix is the Ogunyade family in Lagos. And the bone of contention is a landed property housing the popular Mobil service station, along the Oshodi-Gbagada Expressway in Lagos.
Officials of Ascon, the firm that lays claim to the property, are accusing Mobil officials of frustrating all efforts made by the indigenous firm to take over the premises of the property. They insist that Ascon had legally acquired the place since 2010 and that all documents to the property are in the possession of the firm.
Indeed, the property had been the subject of a number of litigations in the past 18 years. And now, Ascon officials are crying out, begging the authorities to help them retrieve the property from Mobil.
But Mobil has fired back, insisting that they have a right to the property until at least 2020.
In the beginning
The reporter learnt that a deed of conveyance dated September 3, 1966, between Titular Head and Chief Oloto of Lagos, Chief Emmanuel Jaiyesinmi Ogundimu and Madam Shifawu Ashabi Abudullah, asserted that Madam Shifawu A. Abudullah and others acquired ownership of the large expanse of land at Gbagada Village, Shomolu, now along Oshodi-Bariga Expressway, Gbagada. The deed was registered as No. 55 at Page 55 in Volume 9391b of the registry kept at the Lagos State Land Registry, Lagos State.
On August 25, 1975, a deed between Madam Shifawu Ashabi Abudullah and others and Chief Dr. Samuel Sunday Ogunyade stated that the property had been acquired by Chief Ogunyade and registered as No. 77 on Page 77 in Volume 1516 of the registry kept at the Lagos State Land Registry.
In 1980, it was learnt, Mobil took a 20-year developmental lease of the land from its owner, Chief Ogunyade, and developed the filling station. By the time the lease expired in 2000, the owner, Chief Ogunyade, had filed an application in court against Mobil in suit number LD/2360/2000. Ogunyade accused the oil giants, among others, of leasing a part of the land to UAC for the location of a Mr.
Biggs outlet on the premises without the consent of the owner.
The matter was eventually settled, and a further 10-year extension on the lease was agreed upon by both parties. The new lease was from 2000 and it was to terminate on August 31, 2010, it was gathered.
“It was without an option of renewal,” Nwakaudu Okechukwu Provins, Ascon’s assistant company secretary/legal adviser told the reporter. “Mobil and the administrators of late Chief Sunday Ogunyade were unable to agree on terms for a renewal of the lease of Mobil over the property, and Mobil was accordingly informed. It is important to note that Mobil had no right of first refusal to either lease or buy the property. And the administrators of late Chief Sunday Ogunyade’s estate could not agree on a new lease with Mobil and Mobil was accordingly informed.”
Mobil has, however, disagreed with such assertions. The company insists that its lease on the property would not expire until 2020.
Daily Sun learnt that, towards the end of 2010, the administrators of the late Chief Sunday Ogunyade entered a 10-year lease agreement over the property with Ascon Oil. Officials of Ascon said that, shortly after, the property was sold to the firm by the administrators and the title transferred to Ascon. They claim that the title to the land has, since 2010, been legally transferred to Ascon.
But that was not the end of the matter. It was learnt that Mobil was not satisfied with the bid to sell the land to Ascon. The firm subsequently dragged the administrators of the estate of Chief Ogunyade to the Lagos High Court and prayed the court to prevent the administrators from leasing or selling the property to Ascon. The suit, it was gathered, was dismissed by Justice Akapo Lawal for the failure of Mobil to sue the administrators of the deceased in their personal names.
Unending legal war
It has since been an unending legal rigmarole involving Ascon, Mobil and the administrators of the estate. Mr. Samson Ogunyade and other administrators of Ogunyade’s estate also instituted a suit before Justice M.A. Dada at the Lagos State High Court, lgbosere, seeking to recover possession of the property from Mobil for the new owners, Ascon Oil. Mobil also filed a counter-claim to stop the administrators of Ogunyade’s estate from leasing or selling the property to Ascon.
On October 5, 2012, Justice Dada dismissed Mobil’s application. Ascon Oil thereafter sued Mobil to recover possession of the property in suit number LD/13/13. Mobil also filed another suit (LD/2025/12) against Ascon Oil and Samson Ogunyade, Taiwo Ogunyade, Remilekun Ogunyade and Olalekan Ogunyade, the administrators of the late Chief Ogunyade’s estate. In the suit, Mobil’s lawyers held that by virtue of the judgement of Justice M.A. Dada, the
company was still entitled to a 10-year lease over the property. They said the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit by Ascon. Ascon also filed a preliminary objection against the suit by Mobil.
On December 13, 2013, Justice Ipaye upheld the preliminary objection of Ascon against the suit by Mobil and dismissed Mobil’s preliminary objection. The judge also dismissed Mobil’s suit. He then directed that the suit by Ascon be transferred to the Lagos State Multi-Door Court House, Alternative Dispute Resolution, for possible settlement.
The reporter learnt that the arbitration was concluded on Monday, June 23, 2014. No tangible success was achieved, however, as both parties could not come to an agreement.
“Mobil Oil Nigeria Plc frustrated the arbitration process. Their representative was constantly absent during the proceedings, and Mobil was also not prepared to make any concession. Instead, they boasted that they would remain on the property forever. The records of the proceedings will confirm this,” Nwakaudu Okechukwu Provins asserted.
Ascon officials said Mobil also proposed an out-of-court settlement, but regretted that Mobil’s representative never made any significant contributions towards the settlement of the case. They also said the appeal filed by Mobil at the Court of Appeal in Lagos (CA/L/485B/2015) was dismissed, adding that the appeal court also ordered accelerated hearing before Justice Lawal of Ascon’s suit against Mobil.
The Ascon officials said Mobil’s lawyers have been delaying proceedings before Justice Lawal by frequently filing applications and asking for adjournments. They said it was obvious that Mobil was determined to frustrate Ascon from taking possession of a property that was validly acquired.
It was learnt that Mobil has since sold majority of its downstream operation, including the operation of the contentious petrol filling station in Gbagada, Lagos, to Nipco Plc. The company has also changed its name to 11 Plc. Ascon said the offers of N350 million and N750 million made to Ascon by Mobil to enable Mobil purchase the property were unacceptable and ridiculous.
“It is important to state that Mobil has been in possession of this property since 2010 (after their lease expired and Ascon bought the property till date) without paying any rent to Ascon. They have been collecting rent from Mr. Biggs (UAC) and have been making huge profit,” Ascon officials stated. They also said that representatives of Ascon have been going to the filling station to enable everyone know that they are the rightful owners of the property.
“Recently some men came to our office and told our group managing director that Mobil wants to sell the petrol filling station to them and enquired to know our interest in the property. We were greatly alarmed by this information and this is part of Mobil’s design to permanently dispossess us of our property. Due to these reasons, we have been constrained to peacefully go to the filling station to show our presence. Mobil didn’t object to our presence on the property, because they know we are the owners of the petrol filling station,” Ascon officials said.
A principal member and one of the family administrators, Taiwo Ogunyade, admitted that Mobil was once the family’s tenant but asserted that the company’s tenancy expired in 2010. He said it was after the expiration that the administrators transferred the ownership of the property to Ascon Oil, adding that, after perfecting every title document, ownership was transferred to Ascon.
“As we speak now, the property rightfully belongs to Ascon Oil. I stand with Ascon on this issue and Mobil should just hands off. We have no business with Mobil. Ascon is and remains the new owner of the place. We have signed every document that legally transferred ownership to Ascon Oil and Mobil has no business on that property,” Ogunyade said.
On July 2, Ascon dispatched a petition to the inspector-general of police, accusing some police officers of frustrating its efforts to take ownership of the property.
The firm specifically accused men of the Police Anti-Pipeline Vandalism/ Illegal Bunkering Unit, led by one Mr. Andrew Vekummonjah, of acts of bias and intimidation.
In the petition, Ascon’s managing director, Mrs. Grace Ndidi Enenmoh, a lawyer, said Mobil had earlier petitioned the state commissioner of police, stating that the latter discovered that the property was rightfully owned by Ascon. She said the firm later petitioned the IGP, who mandated the Anti-Pipeline Vandalism/ Illegal Bunkering Unit to investigate the case. She accused the police unit of teaming up with Mobil to intimidate Ascon and its officials.
“Mr. Andrew has been very unfriendly in all his conduct. He has on several occasions made comments, which clearly showed that he was influenced by Mobil, in the course of his investigation,” she said.
Enenmoh recalled that the Lagos High Court already directed all parties to stay away from the property pending the final determination of the case in court. She accused the police of supporting Mobil’s possession of her company’s property.
She added that the police also arraigned Ascon’s assistant company secretary, Provins, though he was neither a director nor a shareholder in the company and had never visited the property. In her words, the conduct of the police officers was “very unprofessional and condemnable.”
She urged the IGP to refer the Ascon/ Mobil case to the police commissioner in Lagos even as she wanted the case against Provins withdrawn.
Ascon had, on June 27, petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, claiming that Mobil’s continuous operations at the filling station was in contempt of court and constituted an economic crime.
“Mobil and the policemen that aided them are in contempt of court, and the action of Mobil is frustrating, provocative, likely going to cause breach of peace and endanger lives in this property and other surrounding properties in the event of a fight over possession of the property between both companies. We implore you to ensure that Mobil, now 11 Plc, and its officials vacate the property, pending the final judgement of the court,” the petition said.
Our lease stands till 2020 – Mobil
But Mobil Oil has insisted that the company would remain on the property until 2020 at the minimum.
At Mobil’s Lagos head office in Apapa, the company’s secretary and lawyer, Mr. Danladi Ochekpe, maintained that the matter was still a subject of litigation in court. He noted that Ascon Oil was party to the suit, arguing that Ascon could always appeal, if the firm was not comfortable with the judgement of the court.
He said, based on a high court judgement in 2012, which was yet to be appealed by Ascon, Mobil’s lease on the land would elapse in 2020, not 2010.
When asked if Mobil would eventually vacate the land by 2020, the company’s spokesman, Amaju Ayomike, sounded uncertain. He noted that there had been certain intervening events that played out, and which had since led to some other claims against Ascon Oil.
“They allowed us to stay there for seven to eight years and last year, they invaded the station. They committed a criminal trespass. The station has not been in operation for almost seven months now. It has remained sealed. They have deprived us of doing business in the place since December 2017. If, let’s say, we don’t do any business there till December, do you now say that by 2020, we should just leave the place? So, who takes care of the one-year difference? It depends on circumstances, as there are lots of on-going litigations,” Ayomike said.