The menace of land grabbers, popularly known as Omo-onile, has intensified in recent times. Though Lagos State government has risen to the occasion by criminalising their activities, Omo-oniles are gradually finding new territories in other South West states. Tunde Alao, Oluwole Ige, Olayinka Olukoya, Sam Nwaoko, Hakeem Gbadamosi and Tunde Ogunesan report.
MENACE of land grabbers in Lagos is not a new phenomenon. Popularly called omo-onile or Ajagungbale, they have no respect for the law, neither do they fear law enforcement agents.
Activities of land grabbers are more pronounced in the suburb areas, unlike the metropolitan areas, such as Lagos Island, the Mainland, Ikeja, Ikoyi or Victoria Island. But in places like Lekki, Ikorodu, Ibeju-Lekki, Ajah, Akowonjo, and parts of Badagry, among other places, their activities have become worrisome.
There, land has become so costly and acquiring a plot of land whether by legal or illegal means is increasing by the day to the extent that litigation over land matters usually result in spiritual and physical battles, sometimes leading to loss of lives and properties.
The Omo Oniles carry out their activities in different forms. For example, land owners, after selling land to an individual, it was disclosed, now go surreptitiously to employ the services of thugs to harass the buyer(s) so they can make more money. A recent development in Gberegbe area along Ijede road in Ikorodu, where a firm purchased one acre of land to set up a beverage plant was reported to the police.
“When the case in question was reported at Igbogbo Police Station, we were surprised at the response of the officers on duty, who advised us to settle the Omo-onile, and that there is nothing the police can do,” said a member of the firm’s management team who confided in Sunday Tribune on condition of anonymity.
President, Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG) who is also the National Publicity Secretary, Nigerian Institute Of Building (NIOB), Mr Kunle Awobodu, noted that the case of Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve centre is well-known, saying what oil is to Niger Delta is what land is to Lagos.
According to Awobodu, land grabbing has resulted not only in mass forced evictions but also led to a deterioration in the landscape as public spaces meant either for recreation, schools or other public use are sold or allocated to people.
“Worse still, land that had been sold and occupied for so many years is still disputed in some areas, especially in Lagos State because the Omo-oniles are being given more than enough room to operate,” he said, adding that Omo-oniles are not the only land grabbers, but also local authorities, private developers, private organisations and public institutions, individuals, state corporations and companies loyal to the governments!
“In some cases, some unpatriotic government officials do engage in shaddy activities, by instigating land grabbers to harass land owners under the guise that the affected land belongs to government,” said Alhaji Ganiyu Alawode, who was once a victim of forceful eviction by Omo-onile at Ijede.
He noted that what Land Use Act of 1978 set out to achieve, that all lands belong to government has been defeated.
However, it was a great relief for property owners who have been at receiving end of the notorious activities of omo-oniles, when the governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode signed into law, the Property Protection Bill passed by the state House of Assembly, outlawing the activities of the miscreants.
The bill, which is now signed into law, is titled: “A law to prohibit forceful entry and illegal occupation of landed properties, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed properties in Lagos State and for connected purposes.”
The task force, together with the police, will help to enforce the law aimed at streamlining and regulating the activities of right of agents among others, when it comes into force.
According to the law, anybody found guilty of forcible land takeover will be liable to 10 years imprisonment upon conviction. Also, a person who, without lawful authority uses or threatens violence for the purpose of securing entry into any landed property for himself or for any other person commits an offence and upon conviction liable to 10 years imprisonment.
Interestingly, all the provisions above have no option of fine. Section 6 of the law says: “No law enforcement agent, vigilance group, ethnic, cultural/traditional militia shall execute the judgment of a court in respect of any landed property except, as may be provided for under the Sheriff and Civil Process Act or any other law.”
According to Mr Akinjide Bakare, chairman of the task force, who is also a lawyer, their work is to enforce existing laws, waiting for the governor’s assent to the new law, adding that the law will be more effective to curb the menace, because it is comprehensive.
The law, also in retrospect, provides penalty for those who use force or self-help to take over landed property three months before the commencement of the law. Section 2 (2) states: “A person or group of persons, who, having used force to take over a landed property in the state before the commencement of this law and still remain in possession of the said property three months after the commencement of this law, commits an offence.”
Apart from prescription of jail term for defaulter, additional fine not exceeding N5million will be imposed, For example, in Section 4 (5) of the law, it provides that: “A person who commits an offence under the provision of section 4 (1-5) shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding N5million or five years imprisonment or both, while Section 6 of the law also prohibits the use of force or fire arms to acquire or encroach into lands.
On how they have been working towards curbing the omonile menace in the state, while awaiting the assent of the governor, Bakare said: “The state has been using Section 52 and 53 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State. In section 52, it states that it is unlawful for anybody to enter into any land that is lawfully held by another person, while section 53, states of same as unlawful after entering or encroaching forcefully, to remain on the land.”
A law for land thieves soon…
In Ogun State, the state House of Assembly is set to partner with the executive arm of government to ensure speedy harmonisation and passage of the Prohibition of Forcible Occupation of Landed Properties Law, 2016.
Speaker of the House, Honourable Suraju Adekunbi, said this at a one-day stakeholders forum on House Bill No. 03/OG/2016 title “ A Bill for A Law To Prohibit Forcible Entry and Occupation of a Landed Properties, Violent and Fraudulent Conducts in Relation To Landed Properties In Ogun State And for Connected Purposes”, at the Assembly Complex, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta.
He assured that the assembly would collaborate with the executive arm to expedite action on the proposed bill to enhance protection of life and property of the people of the state.
He said there was urgent need to legislate against what he described as “unwarranted harassment” following the population influx being experienced in major cities in the state due to rapid socio-economic development which had put higher demand on land, resulting in increasing illegal activities of land speculators.
The Chairman, House Committee on Lands and Housing, Hon. Adebiyi Adeleye, said that the forum was an opportunity for stakeholders to contribute to the bill so as to promote peace and tranquility to aid development of the State and nation at large.
“The bill when passed into law would make it an offence for any person to act or purport to act on behalf of any party to a real property transaction, whether in respect of a sale, leases, license or other dealings or disposal of or relating to the property, including any person engaged for the purpose of forceful takeover or sale of a landed property”, Adeleye stated.
He noted that the bill would put in place legal framework to punish hoodlums, thugs, miscreants, touts who parade themselves as landowners without having legal title to the property.with a proposal of 21years imprisonment for anyone found guilty.
Ibadan… the land grabbers are here
In Ibadan, land ownership is mostly family-based. It is often the case that some sell the same plot of land to different people which often leads to legal tussles. Recently, two neighbouring communities around the popular Alao-Akala expressroad in Ibadan had their share of sudden order of vacation from their houses. First, 18 landlords at Ire-Akari Estate, played host to unwanted guests on a Sunday morning, precisely with a notice of less than 30 minutes to pack out of their various houses. Till date they are yet to reclaim their houses.
Since they were not joined in the suit, they resorted into seeking alternatives into getting their cases pushed to get respite. The Landlords under the banner of Ire-Akari Landlords Association, wrote a save-our-soul letter to stakeholders. According to the paper pasted on the walls of the affected buildings, a court case was instituted against one Kola Olaseemo in 2006 and was finally determined in 2013.
In their letter, they narrated how their community was invaded by a group of people, led by one Jacob Adelugba Afolami and Lawyer Kazeem lawyer of Adebayo and Gbadamosi, Amole Layout off Liberty Road Ibadan.
While the landlords were being locked out, one of the landlords’ wives, who was sick at the time, was allegedly deliberately locked in her husband’s house with her child. They were only rescued after three days. Also, a school within the area was locked up and innocent pupils rough-handled.
If what happened to Ire-Akari residents, is awful, then, the recent experience of Peluseriki area, idi-Araba, Olode area, off South-West, Ring Road, Ibadan, also along the Alao-Akala expressway, gives more headache to the constant court injunctions against landlords.
Before their experience on Friday, August 26, 2016, Sunday Tribune learnt that the landlords had already had a settlement judgment with the family that sold their parcel of lands to them sometimes around 2006/2007.
But this fateful Friday morning, the unusual visitors, backed by over 20 policemen and court baliff, came around 7.00 a.m, and gave the landlords one hour to pick whatever they ‘will be needed”, as they are out to seal over 100 houses sitting on a 6.777 parcel of the land.
Their warrant for possession obtained by Mr Durojaye Omoleke Aransi & others against Alhaji Raufu Gbadamosi & others, in a suit number I/704/2007 over a 6.777 hectares of land, was pasted on the affected houses.
The team came in more than two vehicles but Mr Adeyemo led a group which also has a welding team in their blue peugot 504 with registration number Lagos BDG 817 DB.
The pasted warrant of possession obtained in the High Courts of Oyo State of Nigeria reads: “in the High Magistrate’s Court of the Ibadan Judicial Division/Magisterial district. Suit no I/704/2007 between Mr Durojaiye Omoleke Aransiola & Ors plaintiff and Alhaji Raufu Gbadamosi & Ors defendant.
Investigations also revealed that first set of people who actually bought their own portion directly from Peluseriki family are Atole, Oluyedurun, Oladipo, Asimolowo, Apostolic Faith and Jamat.
As usual, the new owners were brandishing court judgment which stated that one Alhaji Aransi and others had won a legal battle against Alhaji Raufu Gbadamosi and others on June 10, 2015. Though, the landlords in this case were not new to the case, they were however surprised that after some years after the first settlement judgment, another court judgment is calling on them to vacate their respective homes.
Sunday Tribune investigation revealed that as far back as 2006, the landlords have been living in fear following series of threats of ejection from one faction of the family. It was also gathered that the family involved, Peluseriki, seemed divided, and within them, they have been having series of injunctions, arrangements and interventions that has left the landlords confused over the years.
The parcel of land in question had occupants who had been living there for over 23 years. Meanwhile, those who came to the area in lesser years, it was gathered had documents from the 2007 settlement judgment delivered by Justice Muntar Abimbola, as part of documents bequeathed to them from the first occupants of their portion of land. That signalled another round of negotiations with the Peluseriki family which, according to some of the landlords gave them a piece of comfort.
With the experience of Friday August 26, the Peluseriki family, the landlords are now at the mercy of the family for negotiation for the third time on the same subject. Although with time, the land had appreciated, the houses also costing fortunes, the landlords seems compelled to enter into another round of discussion with the representatives of the Peluseriki family.
In a telephone conversation, the current Mogaji of Peluseriki family, Waheed Oyetunji who confirmed the development however allayed the fears of the landlord. He said the family had commenced peaceful negotiation meeting the affected landlords, with the hope of a mutual resolve in due course.
Though, the menace of Omo Onile is not on the high side in Osun, there were cases of their illicit activities in Ife East and Ife Central Local Government councils.
At Eleweran, in Ife Central, Mr Kolawole Eluyemi, a landlord who shared his experience with Sunday Tribune, said that many of the property owners beside Motel Royal, Ile-Ife have had bitter tales to tell, regarding the activities of Omo Onile.
According to him, “I bought a plot of land, from one surveyor. Later, he took me to another plot, where I eventually built my house. But, after about two years when we wanted to roof the building, some people, accompanied by policemen came to our areas, claiming to be Omo Onile”.
“They insisted that all property owners in our areas must pay a sum of N50,000 each before they can continue their projects. There was nothing we could do. We eventually paid the money, even some of us who are lawyers paid the money,” Eluyemi asserted.
However, in Agunbelewo community of Egbedore Local Government Area of the state, controversy over the traditional stool in the area has created opportunities for Omo Onile to harass land and property owners.
A landlord in the community, Mr Waheed Abodunde, said “here if you buy a plot of land two groups of Omo Onile would come and collect money from you. This is because we have two traditional rulers in Agunbelewo. If you refuse to pay, they would not allow your construction workers to do anything on the site.”
However, effort made to get the views of the state government over what it intends to do on the issue were unsuccessful as of press time, as calls put through to the cell phone of the Director, Bureau of Communication and Strategy to Governor Rauf Aregbesola, Mr Semiu Okanlawon did not connect.
Like Ogun, Oyo and Lagos states, Ekiti is not free from the menace
On 7 August this year, the Ewi of Ado Ekiti, Oba Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe Aladesanmi III, publicly decried the activities of land grabbers, usurpers and miscreants.The outcry was instructive, given the fact that the issue of Omo Onile has added to the worries of the town.
Oba Adejugbe, however, announced that the Ewi-in-Council was already taking steps to deal with it.
The instances of Omo Onile in Ekiti State are scarce and far between, but it is here with the citizens of the state capital. One construction engineer working at a site in Ado Ekiti, told Sunday Tribune that his company was harassed by some miscreants to part with some money. The builder, who wished not to be named, said “they came in motorcycles and had announced that they were the ‘owners of the land’.
“They were straight in telling us that we had no problems with the piece of land we purchased as, according to them, ‘we know that it is legitimate and no problem’. But they were also straight in telling us that we must pay some money to the ‘boys’ for ‘foundation and appeasement of the owners of the land’. Their demand was illegal and illegitimate but it is a common thing.
“The good side of the Ekiti experience is that their demand was not as much as what we experience in Lagos State. They took just N10,000 and a bottle of schnapps. They also assured us that no other such team would come here to disturb us. And so far, nobody else has come with the same demands.”
The above contractor, who is working at a site at NTA Road, Ado Ekiti had an experience that is nothing compared to that of Mr. Afolabi Adebayo. Adebayo encountered what he described as “quite a different and unpleasant set of Omo Onile” in his own case. Adebayo, an indigene of Ado Ekiti, said he found it “strange and unbelievable that some boys can just come and demand money from me for a piece of land that belongs to my family, and which I legitimately acquired.”
According to him, “they came and said I had to drop something ‘for building’. I refused because I didn’t know them as members of our family and I let them realise that. Perhaps they didn’t even know I was an indigene and that easily gave them away as criminals. However, they came back and created a lot of scene here and destroyed some property. It is strange that a thing like this is happening in Ado Ekiti.”
Adebayo said he reported the matter to the palace and also to the police, adding that “the police promised to investigate the matter, but I wasn’t interested in pursuing the matter further because the boys never came back.”
No sunshine for land grabbers
Ondo state, is also not spared the illegal operations of the land grabbers. Indeed, the community is becoming unbearable within Akure metropolis and its environs
The omo oniles move from site to site in groups and always threaten builders and land owners who failed to do their bidding with hell, disrupting building work and forcing people to pay them before they can work on site.
But one of the mission statements of the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladelusi when he ascended the throne as the traditional ruler of ancient Akure land was to rid the town of the menace of “Omo Onile” in order to open the town to investors and to make the town a safe haven for all.
“They now constitute a menace which could assume a dangerous dimension if not quickly checked. You can imagine that they now harass innocent citizens and threaten to deal with them if certain amount is not paid to them by land owners and developers. We cannot sit down and watch things degenerate beyond control, “the monarch said.
The security agencies have also promised to join hands with the traditional rulers to put an end to the menace, assuring that they are battle ready to confront the hoodlums by setting up a special squad and patrol team that will deal decisively with these notorious groups and curb their activities.