The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a suit by 16 northern states, through which they had sought an order compelling the Federal Government to pay them about N7.039bn as compensation for some assets of the northern region taken over by the Federal Government in 1977.
The court, in a unanimous judgement, held that the northern states delayed in filing the suit, and as such had been caught by expiration of time.
This, the apex court said, was because the suit was filed outside the six years allowed under Section 7 (1) of the Limitation Law, CAP 122 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.
The lead judgment was prepared by Justice Mary Peter-Odili, but read by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola.
The Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs ought to have filed the court action immediately after the Federal Government was said to have admitted its indebtedness to them through a letter dated July 27, 1983.
The court upheld the Attorney-General of the Federation’s argument that the cause of action had been caught by the statute of limitation and thereby denying the court the jurisdictional powers to hear the case.
The 16 northern states had sued the Federal Government through the Attorney-General of the Federation, alleging that the Federal Military Government forcefully took over the assets owned by the defunct Northern States Marketing Board, using Decree No. 29 of 1977.
The states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.
They claimed that following the takeover of the assets, the then Supreme Military Council assured them that the Federal Government would pay for the assets of the NSMB and assets of other commodity boards so acquired.
According to them, the military government did not fulfil its promise but that, the Federal Government, as at July 27, 1983 admitted owing them $10.3m which when converted using the prevailing exchange rate of (N150.00 to $1) was put at N3bn.
They further claimed that government owed them additional N3.9bn being the current equivalent of alleged undisputed claim of N13m being the value of some moveable properties and cotton store complexes taken over by the Federal Government.
Justices Aloma Mukhtar, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, Muhammed Muntaka-Coomassie, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Ariwoola, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, who were also in the panel that heard the case, agreed with the lead judgement.