Why 20,000 buildings, APC secretariat are facing threats of demolition

TUNDE ALAO, supported by AYOMIDE OWONIBI-ODEKANYIN and TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE, checked with all stakeholders in the land crises threatening the very existence of Lagos State.

Except the judiciary takes a course other than the current path being toed, what is akin to Armageddon may be happening in Lagos soon. Because of its aquatic nature, land is perhaps the most treasured possession in the state and this possibly accounts for the menace of omo onile which went a bit quiet under the current administration but is now returning with a bang and this time, with legal teeth to bite.

In the wake of a recent court judgement returning ownership of a vast land on the Mainland to an indigenous family, affecting tens of thousands of validly-purchased plots of land from the state government, Saturday Tribune’s investigation revealed that apart from the case birthing the current controversy, there are other ongoing cases in court which, if decided in favour of the suing families, would come with graver economic implications than what is currently being witnessed.

Before the Supreme Court judgement which threw nearly the entire Mainland into a frenzy, going by major businesses and buildings that are affected and already served quit notices by the victorious Akinole family, there have been similar contentious judgements, especially from the same apex court, which are either deemed unenforceable due to the calibre of those that were affected or amicable settlements being worked out.

One of such judgements was the one ceding Magodo Phase 2 to the neighbouring middle-class community, Shangisha, about three years back. After a whole lot of huff and puff, pulling and pressing, the community’s traditional ruler who should turn an overnight lord over Magodo heavyweights ended up in prison for kidnapping and a reportedly ‘friendlier’ king installed. Since then, everything about it went quiet until the latest saga.

 

Same story, same route

This is the same route property owners, especially blue-chip companies affected by the latest round of court controversy, are reportedly taking. Although it pleaded to have its identity off the prints, Saturday Tribune can disclose that a high-profile affectee in the Akinole’s re-possession drive has individually filed a stay of execution application against the judgement and served same on Messrs Opadokun & Co, counsel for the family. A senior official of the company told Saturday Tribune that “we know we are the target of this judgement. We heard they (the family) are looking for where to rake in billions when reselling the plots, so we don’t want to leave anything to chance, though Lagos State government has assured all those affected that nothing will happen to our property. Our lawyer has filed the matter and served the family. We don’t want to join issues with anyone on the pages of newspapers. We just want this matter resolved and government has promised us it is being handled.”

A recently completed eye-popping shopping mall said to belong to a sitting governor, which is almost directly opposite the said multi-national company, decided on a different method of disavowing the quit notice. It was torn almost immediately those who pasted it left. A source said the occupants could do that because of the “big muscle” behind them.

Strangely, however, another multi-national firm operating around the same neighbourhood as the duo above did not receive the said quit notice. The judgement reportedly didn’t cover the place.

A big-time insurance firm (name withheld) is not only affected, a newspaper house which is read widely in the Northern part of the country is also listed to go. Similar treatment is reportedly reserved for the TV station of a big-time political operator. A sky-scrapper housing many companies and groups within Magodo is also coming under the current hammer. In all, about 20,000 property are said to be endangered, including the state secretariat of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on Acme Road. With about 10 other cases running in courts, the figures will increase frighteningly if they went the way of the Akinoles’.

Just last year, the Lagos High Court declared that the Ojora Ruling House has the statutory right of occupancy of a vast parcel of land that has been a subject of litigation for many years. The property includes a substantial part of the land hosting the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) in Ijora; Iganmu, Ebute-Metta, Orile-Iganmu, part of expressway and the container terminal at Ebute-Metta. Justice Kazeem Alogba handed down the verdict in a 21-page judgment in Suit No. LD/443/2002: Oba Fatai Aromire (Ojora of Lagos) and two others versus Chief Ogunyemi, Fredrick Orokoto and Mrs Oladunni Stella Olasehan. Oba Aromire had prayed the court in 2002 for, among other things, a declaration that his ruling house is entitled to the statutory right of occupancy of the disputed land, particularly those delineated and edged Red on Survey Plan No: BAL 192, dated October 25, 2001. He sought an order setting aside the purported sale of a part of the land to the other defendants by the NRC and a declaration that the defendants are trespassers on the land. The monarch also sought an injunction restraining them from further trespassing on the land.

 

Ojora family vs Ogunyemi & others

In her defence, Mrs Olasehan said her father was from Igbo-Olomi, now in the Ibeju-Lekki area of the state. She said that in 1963, he joined his friend, the fourth defendant, to settle in the marshy Badia area. She said the area was later acquired by the Federal Government in 1929 for NRC, adding that her father never paid rent to the Ojora family because he was not its tenant. Justice Alogba noted that the defendants never denied the claim by the claimants that they were trespassers on their land in Portion B and C in Exhibit C7. “Consequently, the purported letting of the said portion to 3rd and 5th defendants by NRC was ultra-vire, null and void and of no effect and I so hold. I finally make an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from further trespassing or disturbing the peaceful and quiet enjoyment on the said land.”

 

Beku Onimagba family Vs Lagos State government

Efforts by the Beku Onimagba family to take possession of a disputed land have yet to yield results. The Lagos State government has erected an obstacle to prevent members of the Beku Onimagba chieftaincy family of Igando, Lagos, from taking possession of a 52.13 acres of land situated in Igando Town, as the matter has been stalled by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos. It was gathered that the ongoing litigation has halted “government plans to use the land for public good.” It was further learnt that the Lagos State government had on June 1, 2017, approached a Federal High Court, Lagos, urging it to stay the execution of a judgment delivered by Justice Okon Abang on March 13, 2017, which ordered the Federal and Lagos State governments to hand over the said parcel of land to the Beku Onimagba family. The land which is situated along the LASU-Isherri Expressway was originally acquired in 1983 by the Federal Government for the construction of a permanent site for the NYSC orientation camp.  The case is still in court, yet to be decided.

 

Ajah family battles Lagos over allocation

Already, the family has filed an action at the Lagos High Court, seeking the nullification of the allocation of their family land at Ajiwe, Lagos, by the government. The allocation of the land measuring 17.707 hectares to a firm, Adeogun Ogunbona and Sons Limited by the Lagos State governor, Akinwumi Ambode, has pitched Odugbese-Abereoje Chieftaincy Family of Ajah against the state government. Already, the family has filed an action at the Lagos High Court, seeking the nullification of the said allocation. In the suit filed on their behalf by human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, the family is contending that the Lagos State government is incompetent to allocate their land to a stranger, having secured a court judgment over the said land from the High Court of Lagos State against the same Lagos State government. Named as defendants in the suit, filed on April 10, 2017, are the Executive Governor of Lagos State, the Attorney-General of Lagos State and Adeogun Ogunbona & Sons Ltd, the latter to whom the land was purportedly allocated. The family is claiming that the Lagos State government is not entitled to allocate, assign, transfer or vest ownership of all the parcel of land situated and being at Ajiwe to Adeogun Ogunbona & Sons Ltd., which company is not a member of their family. In 2015, the Odugbese-Abereoje family began the challenge of the purported acquisition of 17.707 hectares of the land.

On March 14, 2016, the court delivered judgment in their favour but the Lagos State government filed an appeal against the judgment though the court granted no stay of execution. While the appeal was still pending and yet to be determined, the government claimed to allot the land on November 26, 2016 to Adeogun Ogunbona Limited, which attempted to take over the land but was resisted by the family. The family is thus seeking an order of injunction to restrain the company from taking over the land to develop or build upon it pending the outcome of the case. An affidavit deposed to by Chief Aruna Anofiu, the head of the Abereoje family, stated that the family was not willing to transfer its interest in the land to the company. One of the reliefs being sought by the family in the suit include a declaration that following the judgment of the High Court of Lagos State delivered in Suit No. LD/249LMW/15 between Chief Aruno Anofiu & 1 ors v Executive Governor of Lagos State & 1 other on March 14, 2016, the claimants are the ones entitled to ownership and exclusive possession of all that parcel of land measuring 17.707 hectares as shown in Plan No AT/LA/6892E drawn by W.T Adeniyi licensed surveyor, dated the 21/7/84, situate and being situated at Ajiwe in Eti-Osa Local Government Council area of Lagos State and subject matter of judgment delivered in favour of the claimants in suit.

 

Abijo community vs Lagos State government

Another major case was the one between Abijo community in the Ibeju-Lekki area over an alleged forceful occupation of their land, Fidiso Estate, by the Lagos State government. Members of the community said they gave up their farms to provide land for the estate, adding that they were surprised that the government, through Ibile Holdings Limited, Alpha Mead Development Company Limited and their subsidiaries, suddenly moved into the community and claimed the land. It was gathered that the community leaders took the case to court to stop the alleged illegal occupation. The acting Baale of Abijo Community, Chief Akibu Adams, said on May 22, 2018, the High Court of Lagos State presided over by Justice Abisoye Bashua, granted an injunction against Lagos State government, Ibile Holdings Limited, Alpha Mead Development Company Limited and their subsidiaries. The injunction restrained the respondents from selling plots of land or carrying out any form of construction and development “on the land in dispute called Green Park Estate until the final determination of this suit.” The order also read in part, “The defendants/respondents are to withdraw all equipment and personnel on the site and remove all signposts. The defendants/respondents and all their partners,  associates, agents  and subsidiaries are barred from using armed police, task force  and other security apparatus to harass Abijo indigenes and other residents of Fidiso Estate in Abijo town in lawful possession of their land.” But despite the order, construction works were still in progress on the land, claimed the community’s spokesman. “To everyone’s dismay and consternation, the Lagos State government, Ibile Holdings Limited and Alpha Mead Development Company Limited have been disobeying and violating the court orders by not only working on the land, but also harassing our people. They used the police to arrest the chairman of Fidiso Estate Residents Association, took him to Abuja and arraigned him at the Magistrate’s Court, Igbosere, on charges bordering on organising militia and beating their workers on the land. The worst part of the problem now is that the Lagos State government and its agencies have been advertising the land for sale to the public without telling them that there is a major case in court. This action will make innocent public buyers suffer a big loss when the court decides that the Lagos State government is a trespasser on the land and does not own the land,” the community’s spokesman said.

The secretary of Abijo community, Hakeem Oseni-Ojupon, disclosed that the Lagos State government, without any notice of acquisition, earlier took 500 hectares of Abijo land for the construction of Abijo GRA in 2004. According to him, “The government also took another 200 hectares of Abijo land for Eko Akete Estate without any compensation to Abijo community, which is in flagrant violation of the 1999 Constitution. The community went to court when the Lagos State government again took another 50 hectares of Abijo land and gave it Ibile Holdings Limited, which it owns.” Oseni-Ojupon said the community was not interested in fighting the government as they were law-abiding citizens. “But we want the law to take its course; we want our land back. We don’t want to fight the government and we don’t want them to fight us. We are law abiding citizens and former Governor Bola Tinubu confirmed it when he had a meeting with us in 2003,” he added. Although, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, claimed ignorance of the development, he promised to investigate.

 

Revelation from an insider

A retired civil servant who recently had a revealing discussion with Saturday Tribune lamented the callousness some officials display in the discharge of their duties. The 82-year-old Islamic cleric said he was disenchanted with public service before he retired. “When we joined the service, our primary concern was how to discharge our responsibilities creditably with financial gratification playing little or no role at all, especially during the time of Mobolaji Johnson and Alhaji [Lateef] Jakande. But things started going wrong when the military took over again in 1984. Officials started using Land Use Act to dispossess people of their family lands under the guise of “overidding public interest.” But things became worse when the new-breed politicians emerged. It goes beyond acquisition of fallow landed properties to the level of inciting families against each other. For example, I remember a case that had been decided in 1969 in favour of a family. Could you believe that a politician who was masquerading as civil servant used his position to instigate another family to go to court, telling them that they will secure a favourable judgment? How do they do this? They combed through the archives, looking at the way some of Deeds of Attorneys were prepared and looked at the possible loopholes. In fact, Magodo Phase 2 is a typical example of the not-too-long case I can remember,” said the octogenarian.

Another landed propery along Agidingbi-ACME axis, currently occupied by automoblite spare part dealers, has been discovered to be attracting “attention” lately.

 

Legal viewpoints

Speaking on the latest judgement, a property lawyer, Mr Olusesan Bello, pointed out that the judgement was confusing a lot of issues.

“According to what I heard, members of the affected communities had formed themselves into a group and had gone in protest to the Lagos State government. That is the wisest thing they could have done in this circumstance because this is not a one-man fight. This is a matter that goes back decades and has been before the court for over 40 years.

“Some of the occupants of the disputed land either inherited the land or bought it. For the judgement creditor to now come with this bogus judgement from the Supreme Court is rather unsettling in the sense that they want to cause anarchy and breach of public peace by trying to enforce the judgement. The Lagos government has vowed to take up the matter on behalf of the affected communities. This brings us to the issue of land grabbing and frivolous family feuds which have plagued urban cities like Lagos. Obviously, what this family wants as the judgement creditor is that the complainants rebuy the land or pay a certain amount of money which would run into hundreds of millions of naira or dollars because of the prime location of the areas involved.

“Most of the owners of these properties have C of O which was issued by the Lagos State government. The government obviously wouldn’t have issued to the applicants if there was a pending issue on the land. This judgement just wants to make mockery of the laid down rules of the state government. The government wasn’t joined as a party in the suit. It is a matter between two feuding families. This is an opportunity for a review of the Land Use Act,” Bello said.

The state Attorney General, Adeniji Kazeem, had in a statement on Monday said: “on the creation of the Lagos State in 1967, the first global acquisition of land was done in 1969 by the government (Notice No. 236) of the same year which was for 7,300 acres of land including Agidingbi and environ.”

The statement added that the Akinole family “were not only aware of the 7,300 acres global land acquisition of the land by the Lagos State government in 1969 but are parties in the Originating Summons subsequently taken out by the Lagos State government in Suit No. LTILS/35/89 to determine the persons entitled to compensation in respect of the 356.442 hectares of land acquired, including the land in Agidingbi Village, under the compulsory public acquisition of 1969.”

The release further expressed surprise that the state government was not made a party to the lawsuit by Akinole family in an alleged deliberate attempt to mislead the court and get a judgment in its favour, noting that in order to forestall any breach of the peace which might lead to anarchy or any form of loss of lives and property, the state police command had been directed to deploy its officers and men in the location.

The state government equally assured the populace that it would forestall any further steps by the Akinole family or any other party to intimidate property owners in the affected areas pending final resolution of the matter.

 

Akinole vs Ashamu

Akinole Oshiun family, last week, through their solicitors, Ayo Opadokun & Co, said it had issued a seven-day notice to owners of some properties in Ikeja, Agidingbi, Alausa, Magodo and others to regularise their titles on its land or risk demolition; a statement that has continued to create panic among the property owners in the axis, though the structures are standing as of press time, despite the expiration of the ultimatum issued on April 29.

Mr Kayode Akano of Ayo Opadokun & Co. said the 398 acres returned to the family cover areas with built properties such as Alhaja Ashabi Cole, Hakeem Balogun and LTV Way, MKO Abiola Way, Sections of IPM Road, Otunba Jobifele Way and Adeleye Street, Assibifi Road, Elephant Crescent, LJ Dosunmu Street, Impressive Close, Bayo Ajayi Street, Kareem Ogungbeye Street, Amara Street, a section of Celestial Church Street, Yusuf Street, Yusuf Close, and Abiodun Shobanjo Street.

Others are Adedeji Street, Ade Street, Ajobiewe Street, Awayemasere Street,  Fagba Crescent, Ajumobi Olorunoje Street, ACME Crescent, a section of Lateef Jakande Road, Nurudeen Olowopopo Drive, a section of Sen. Ahmed Tinubu Road, a section of CMD Jubilee Way, Magodo Brooke’s both North and South and sections of Raji Oladimeji Crescent and Akin Tijani Street.

However, the emergence of the late Emmanuel Oyedele Ashamu’s family has added another twist to the already confusing situation.

The representative of Ashamu family, Messrs DHTL Capital Management Limited, claimed many properties belong to the Ashamu family among the ones the Akinole-Oshiun family is claiming.

Vice Chairman, DHTL Capital Management, Mr Tunde Adeyemi, said while congratulating Akinole-Oshiun family for its victory, “We are aware that some unscrupulous persons are trying to (or may try to) use the supposed judgment to illegally encroach into the land and properties belonging to Ashamu’s family and also to extort money from innocent but desperate and unsuspecting individuals or corporate bodies within these areas. So, the public should be wary.”

Adeyemi, while using some documents to justify the claims, stated that when there was a dispute between the original owner of the land, the Ashade family, who sold the land to late Chief Emmanuel Ashamu and Akinole-Oshiun family, the late Ashamu persuaded the Ashade family not to go to court, thus, an arrangement was struck among the trio on the matter.

As a result, it was reportedly agreed upon to facilitate an arrangement whereby power of attorney may be employed. And this was reportedly done by Akinole family with lawful attorneys under and by virtue of a Power of Attorney dated 30th June 1973, and registered as No.32, page 32, in volume 1425 of the Land Registry in the office in Lagos.

“These lawful attorneys with the knowledge and consent of the whole family later executed a Deed of Assignment in favour of late Emmanuel Ashamu. The Deed of assignment was dated 3rd August, 1973 and registered as No. 33 on page 33, volume 1432 of Land Registry in Lagos office.

“So, by the above history, and other supporting summary of root of titles, the Akinole family has conveyed all its interest in some of the land at Agidingbi. This is what informed this warning that public should be wary of making any transaction over the properties without ascertain which one belongs to Akinole and the ones belonging to Ashamus,” Adeyemi claimed.

He also listed the property belonging to late Emmanuel Ashamu within the affected areas to be in tune of 1,483.35 acres in Alausa, Agidingbi, Adekunle & Ogba areas of Ikeja.

 

What we are doing about judgement –Landlords

One of the affected landlords around Fela Shrine told Saturday Tribune on condition of anonymity that they (the landlords) as stakeholders in the affected area had held meeting and consequently sent their representatives to the state Ministry of Land and Physical Planning since they purchased the land directly from the government.

“We went to the ministry with our C of O and we were told to remain peaceful and continue with our normal activities. We were also told not to dialogue or pay a dime to anyone calling himself or herself omo onile. So, we were told that the government had already waded in and is on top of the matter and capable of resolving it,” he disclosed. His story is in tandem with official position of the state government.

 

Like Agidingbi, like Igbogbo

Meanwhile, what appears similar to the Agindigbi matter is already brewing in Igbogbo GRA of Ikorodu. Saturday Tribune gathered that after the state government had sold and allocated the land and issued C of O to individual subscribers, omo oniles still went ahead to be reselling part of the expanse of land to unsuspecting members of the public. Those who did not take immediate possession of their land after allocation by the government are said to be mostly affected. Mr Felix Olorunda, SSV facility management consultant, told Saturday Tribune that one of his clients who he did not want to name has fallen victim.

According to him, “my client has three plots with C of O on them. And now, omo onile have resold all his plots to some individuals who have even built on them without C of O, because the government will never issue two C of O on one plot of land. It is the omo onile who normally give the new buyers confidence not to worry that the land belongs to them and that they are free to build on it. That is the situation now with my client,” Olorunda said, adding that “we have been on it since two and a half years ago.”

Olorunda, who bemoaned activities of land grabbers in the state, however, expressed confidence that his client and those others affected would certainly get their land back. For intending property owners in the state now, it has become a case of shine ya eye when relating with government or omo onile.

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