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Nigeria And The Menace Of Land Grabbers

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Land Grabbers

***Culprits To Face Death Penalty In Ogun, Oyo

Lukmon Akintola

Lagos

The menace of land grabbers in Nigeria has silently sent countless numbers of innocent citizens to early grave.

This almost incurable incidence, dates back generations, as landowners popular as ‘Omo Onile’ in the southwestern part of the country would sell a particular piece of land to several buyers eventually leading to physical assaults, maiming or killing as the case may be.

When the trouble reaches its peak, for fear of being arrested, the ‘Omo Onile’ would relocate the warring parties to a new location as compensation, while the person who has built on it ends up taking over the disputed land.

The situation has so degenerated that land grabbing has become serious business in Nigeria, especially the south-western part of the country, with some persons professionally designated as professional land grabbers. These individuals have turned to the go-to people if anyone wishes to grab a land and can meet their conditions of several millions of Naira and acres of lands.

Last year, Lagos State recorded 1,200 cases in nine months with only 250 resolved.

Presently, the special task force on land grabbing created in 2016 has received over 3,000 petitions.

According to available statistics, the office of the task force has attended to about 1000 cases, working on 1500, while 800 petitions are still pending. This statistics shows the true picture of land grabbing in the state.

With communities sending ‘Save Our Soul’ (SOS) messages to the state government and help not forthcoming until recently, legitimate land and property owners have ended up losing their lifelong investment to crooked land thieves, thus leaving them to a life of penury, pity, shame, and in most cases, death.

Adeolu Ogunbanjo, Chairman, Association of Estate Agents of Nigeria (AEAN), described the activities of land grabbers as a major challenge to the development of housing and infrastructure sector in Nigeria. Speaking during an interview, Ogunbanjo said that the issue of land grabbers is a serious challenge to the real estate sector. “All lands belong to the state government. After an investor buys a land and makes necessary payments, I see no reason for the ‘Omo Onile’ to continue to surface with different demands.” According to him, such behaviours are unhealthy for a developing country like Nigeria.

 

Interestingly, perpetrators of this act cut across different categories of individuals from thugs to politicians and even policemen. As noted by the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem, land grabbers are always in connivance with collaborators in high and official places.

An interesting case that left a lot of people pondering happened years back between a businessman identified as Peter Ezeonye and SP Amuda, a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), stationed then at Isashi Police Division, Ojo.

The case, which attracted interest because of the involvement of a senior police officer, was confirmed by the then Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Olarinde Famous-Cole.

A petition written by Ezeonye alleged that SP Amuda hired men to dispose of him his property, a three-bedroom bungalow located at 10, Community Road Amikanle Estate, Alagbado, area of Lagos State.

Ezeonye’s experience is nothing compared to what happened at Bolorunpelu, a community in Ibeju Lekki, Lagos State, where several houses both completed and under construction were demolished allegedly by the Asset & Resource Management Company Limited (ARM), and Toll Systems Company Limited (TSCL), with security allegedly provided by one Chief Mutairu Owoeye.

At the peak of the issue at Bolorunpelu town, the Incorporated Trustees of Bolorunpelu Landlord and Residents Association subsequently dragged ARM; TSCL, Chief Mutairu Owoeye & Company Ltd; Alhaji Mutairu Owoeye and Mr. Ganiyu Owoeye (a.k.a Garba) before the High Court of Lagos State, Epe Judicial Division, Epe.

Asides this, stories also abound among residents of some communities such as ‘Baba Adisa’ and ‘Ayeteju’ in Ibeju Lekki axis of Lagos State of how thugs allegedly took over the communities, chasing them away from their legitimate properties.

Presently, at a locality called Golf in Ibeju Lekki, Local Government Area of Lagos State, land grabbers are said to have taken over lands belonging to legitimate owners. Since the takeover months back, no one has been able to visit sites on the vast land. The same applies to the age-long crisis in Magbon Alade, Ibeju Lekki.

The issue of land grabbing is however not peculiar to Lagos State alone, as it is also common in other states in Nigeria including Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti and Rivers States.

In December 2017, residents of Igbin-Ojo and seven other communities in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State appealed to the Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun to save them from the activities of alleged land grabbers.

 

The appeal was made in a statement issued by the community leader, (Baale) Ademola Tiwalade Adisa who alleged that a former chairman of the Ewekoro Local Government Area, Mr. Dele Soluade, encroached into their land on November 17, 2017, with a group of people and a bulldozer.

In October 2017, four communities in Rivers State sent a ‘Save Our Soul’ appeal to the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, and the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, over the alleged involvement of police officers in land grabbing in their communities namely Rumuokwurusi, Atali, Ikwere-Ngwo and Umusele.

Confirming the position during a peaceful protest, His Royal Highness Eze Stanford Achor, Eze Wokorobe III, Rumuokerebe Community in Rumuokwurusi, noted that some people, who had no landed property in those areas, were laying claims to lands under the protection of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

 

The situation thus gives rise to the question of how effective is the law which supposed to protect landowners.

In Lagos State, a traditional ruler found to be involved in land grabbing can be dethroned. Despite this, the law, which should checkmate the excesses of land grabbers appears inconsequential to encroachers.

For some people, this is basically because the Lagos State Property Protection Law only recommends a maximum of 10 years jail term for anyone convicted of the offence. For the hardened men who are land-grabbers, this is simply a slap on the wrist.

Asides this, the special task force on land grabbing constituted in 2016 under the Minister of Justice appears to still be adapting to its responsibilities, as the challenges it is facing is also hampering its ability to operate maximally.

Challenges, which seem to have reduced the functionality of the task force, include a lack of awareness of the law and the task force, inadequate manpower, lack of funds and delay in its dissemination when available. Others are the unavailability of Black Maria to effect arrests and the high level of expectations from petitioners.

A staff of the office of the land grabbing taskforce who pleaded anonymity highlighted to Saturday INDEPENDENT Newspaper, areas where they need help.

According to him, the task force needs help in the area of publicity and awareness of the State Properties Protection Law 2016, constant awareness of the activities of the taskforce on the radio, television and social media will also help, as with reportage of the arrest of notorious land grabbers.

Operating from a one-story structure constructed from a container, the need to relocate the office of the task force to a more spacious location within the Ministry of Justice cannot be overemphasised, as it is a better cooperation between the police and the task force in the absence of a dedicated combating team on land grabbing.

 

Reacting on the effectiveness of the law in Lagos and Ogun States, the Chairman Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Epe Branch, Sunday Abimbola, said “The law was effective until the land grabbers started changing colour. They now call themselves security men and say that they are not land grabbers. They sign contracts with the ‘Omo Onile’ and say they are working for them as security men protecting their lands. However, when you meet them, you realise that they are the same thugs,” he said.

On what the government needs to do to handle this new development he answered thus “the government needs to look into the licensing of the security men and ensure that they are not officially empowering the same set of people they are trying to checkmate. The law also needs to be amended to accommodate the changing times.

“If the land-grabbers think that they are smart, the law too will have to be amended to accommodate the new antics of the land grabbers.”

In the face of his position on the effectiveness of the law, the number of prosecution recorded since August 15, 2016, when the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode signed the Properties Protection Bill into law becomes important.

Kayode Oyekanmi, Assistant Director, Public Affairs at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice also holds the opinion that the law has been effective. “We have 31 matters in court in which land grabbers have been prosecuted, we have carried out the arrest of 45 suspected land grabbers. We recently got our first judgment on the July 26, at the Special Offences Court, Ogba. The judgment was given in our favour by Magistrate A. Odusanya in a case of ‘Attorney General of Lagos State versus Saheed Magbe,” Oyekanmi said while speaking with Saturday INDEPENDENT.

According to him, “the fact that we have received 3000 petitions will make me say that people know about us. Like I said earlier, we have concluded over 1000 petitions and we have given back possession of land to individuals whom their lands were taken.”

On the probability that concluded petitions meant that all of the 1000 landowners had received their lands back, Oyekanmi said “we consider cases which are not within our jurisdiction as concluded. If it is not within our jurisdiction, we tell the parties. But in our records, it’s concluded. However, the number of cases in which we have given back possession of land is higher than those that are not within our jurisdiction.”

Speaking on why the task force has only been able to get a judgment since it was set up in 2016; he told Saturday INDEPENDENT, “there is no success that is too small. There are offices that have been created and they haven’t gotten a judgment.  For us to have one in two years, I believe it is very effective. We have cases in court and I am sure that before next year we will get a couple of judgments.”

Oyekanmi added that it is because several cases of land grabbing are still ongoing that the task force keeps receiving petitions. “No matter how effective a law is, people will still go against the law. So, even though people know that there is an office against land grabbers, they still go on and commit the crime hoping that the law will not catch-up with them. We are trying to see how we can get a holistic law that will encompass everything,” he said.

One case which the Lagos State government and the task force will readily take credit for is that of Chief Kamorudeen Lamina. Lamina was arraigned before a Special Offences Court sitting in Oshodi over alleged forceful dispossession of residents from their legitimate rights to land ownership.

Popularly known as Sir K, he was arraigned alongside six others on a six-count charge.

Asides this prosecution, no celebrated land grabber has been arraigned in Lagos State making some people ask if the task force is not a lightweight.

This position is somehow supported by Ikechukwu Nwafuru’s critique the law in an article titled “Critiquing the Provisions of the Lagos Anti-Land Grabbing Law.”

The article, which was published on www.legalnaija.com in 2017 identified a few shortcomings to the law. The write up stated that “a few lacunae had been identified, particularly the failure to provide punishments for some of the offences created in the Law, which had the effect of hampering the effective implementation of the Law.”

Land Grabbers

Residents of Millennium Citi Centre Estate (MCCE), Gbagada, Lagos protesting against harassment by suspected land grabbers.

While the land grabbing law appears to be work in progress in Lagos State, it seems more effective in Ogun State and even Oyo where harsher consequences for land grabbers are recommended.

Oyo State recommends a 15-year jail term, while Ogun State prescribed 25 years, life imprisonment and even the death penalty for anyone found guilty of forcible entry and occupation of landed properties, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed properties, armed robbery, kidnapping, cultism and allied matters and for other matters incidental thereto or connected therewith.

However, there are still a few incidents of land grabbing in Ogun State, something that has been described as an occasional phenomenon.

“The law is there, the law is being used, we are using it,” the Ogun State Director General of Lands, Biyi Ismail said while speaking with Saturday INDEPENDENT Newspaper.

Asked how effective it has been, Ismail said “the law is there and if somebody has an incident and they report it, we apply the law by involving the Ministry of Justice and then we involve the police and make sure the case is being reviewed properly and the rightful owners is known and then know those that are culprits. But outside that, we don’t go around looking for land grabbers. Land grabbers have to be reported before we can take a step.

“Since the law came out, the rate has really gone down. There have been two incidents and those incidents have been resolved,” he said while speaking on prosecution rate in the state.

 

With the alarming numbers of SOS messages and petitions being recorded in various states on daily basis, the law against land grabbing appears to just be gathering momentum.

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