Ajia: The unending story

For residents of Ajia community in Inukan Local Council Development Area of Oyo State, the state government’s acquisition of land for public interest has continued to generate various types of disputes. WALE AKINSELURE reports the various sides.

When officials of the Oyo state government, on the 16th of February 2021, pasted notices on the wall of houses in Ajia community in Inukan Local Council Development Area of the state, informing them that the state government wants to revoke their lands and homes for public interest, little did it know that that singular exercise was touching the historical foundations of the community. The state government had given the Ajia house and land owners six weeks ultimatum, informing them their lands and houses were on the 99 hectares of land that government planned acquiring for development purposes. The state government, apart from an initial 44 acres acquired in 1978, was acquiring another 99 hectares of land to site a campus of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), erect an Air Force base, build a hospital and expand schools in Ajia community. But this plan of the Governor Seyi Makinde led administration to bring development to the community is throwing up questions about the original settlers/descendants of the community, historical arguments about when the community came to exist and the real stakeholders that the state government should deal with in implementing its planned development of the community. Since February 16, 2021, the community has been polarized along the lines of those in favour and those against any planned acquisition of 99 hectares of land that will lead to revocation of homes and land in the community. On March 30, some residents of the community led a protest to the palace of the Olubadan of Ibadan land, Oba Saliu Adetunji asking him to intervene and speak with the state governor on their behalf against the new acquisition. In the same vein, a section of the residents and landlords, on April 11, took their case against the proposed acquisition to a private radio station in Ibadan. Also, the traditional ruler of the community, the Alajia of Ajia, Nureni Yusuf Adegbenro is also in the eye of the storm with some residents of the community arguing that he has not fought their cause enough against revocation of the land.

 

The controversy over the original settlers of Ajia community

When Nigerian Tribune visited Ajia community, stakeholders gave different versions about the history and original settlers of the community. On the one hand was the Sooko family rendering its own history, in the Nigerian Tribune publication of May 18, 2021 that its forebears were original descendants of Ajia community. Reacting to the claim by members of the Sooko family, the Adegbenro and Akintola families, on the other hand, held that their forebears: Olukutan and Maganmilola were the original settlers in Ajia community.

The historical rendition of the Sooko family, through Okunola Asimiyu Abdulganiyu is that: “Ajia is a community my forebears conquered in war, they were originally from Ife but we are the first settlers in Ajia. For generations, the land belonged to Sooko family and we are talking about over 500 years. That Anglican church at the town centre is over 200 years old and the central mosque here is as old as the Oja’ba central mosque. Ajia is not a small community and I know about three generations that had passed who are all Sooko descendants. Each spent over 100 years of age on earth. Sooko family has been in charge and we heard that the administration of Governor David Jemibewon did land acquisition for government and our fathers ceded 44 acres for this. There is another one acre at the primary school then another two acres for the new secondary school. But the land is just lying fallow.” Buttressing Okunola, another member of the Sooko family, Sahidu Oderinde, said: “Ajia is my hometown; this is where my father was born.”

But, members of the Adegbenro and Akintola family claim that the Sooko family only came visiting 25 years after their forebears, Olukutan and Maganmilola had settled in Ajia. Traditional ruler in the town, Engineer Nureni Adegbenro, of the Adegbenro family line, faulted assertions by representatives of the Sooko family to include the claim that Ajia had been in existence for 500 years. The Alajia of Ajia also stated that Ajia is an outpost of Ibadan and not a conquered territory.

Adegbenro said, “Ajia town is not up to 500 years and was not founded by Sooko. Documentary evidences revealed that Ibadan came into existence in 1829 as a war camp for warriors from many other Yoruba nations like Oyo, Owu, Ife. It is also on record that Ajia (being an outpost of Ibadan) came into existence during the reign of Bashorun Ogunmola (1865-1867). It was Bashorun Ogunmola who allocated Ajia to Olukutan and Maganmilola (the two warriors who served under him) in order to secure Ibadan against the possible invasion by the Ijebus. Ajia fought six wars with Ibadan with different Baloguns. Ajia town was founded by these two warriors and their descendants (Adegbenro and Akintola families).

Adegbenro added, “The Sooko family was visitors of my forebears. Sooko was sent by Bashorun Ogunmola to Ajia and was received by Olukutan and Maganmilola. Because he arrived late, he was given a small piece of land in Ajia which was not sufficient for him and his followers. He was later given a large expanse of farmland at Esu-ko-se-enikan-mo (near Ajia boundary with Olorunda Ogunsola) and Sooko renamed the farmland as Motako village. When Olukutan died as the village head, Maganmilola succeeded him. After the demise of Maganmilola, Adegbenro (the son of Olukutan) succeeded Maganmilola as the village head. He gave traditional titles to other settlers in Ajia and these traditional titles are hereditary and exclusive to their families till date. Sooko was made Otun Baale by Adegbenro.

“A bike from Motako to Ajia costs between N1,000 and N1,500. We asked them to stay at Motako and they settled there, because they are many. Olukutan and several on that line died and the Sooko later came into the community and were making use of the possessions of Olukutan and Maganmilola.

We are patient people and accommodate all. When I became Baale, I nominated board of interim council of Baale Ajia, sent letters to invite various families. For over 20 years, leadership of the community has been ridden with crisis. My forefathers were so accommodating, but that warm reception and show of love also negatively affected the community.

“All land in Ajia does not belong to Sooko family and the 44 acres acquired by the government to build Ajia Secondary Grammar School was donated by the Adegbenro and Akintola families (the descendant of Olukutan and Maganmilola). In fact, the land on which Ajia maternity was built belongs to Adegbenro family.”

Evidently, the Akintola and the Adegbenro families are on the same page about their forebears being first settlers in Ajia community. A member of the Akintola family, Asimiyu Akintola said: “I have been here since 1958. My father owns land here. The families of Maganmilola and Olukutan were the first settlers here in Ajia. I support the plan of the government which to bring development to this place. Long ago, our fathers Oyewusi and Adegbenro gave the government about 45 acres and we have the survey of this.

A lecturer of the Kwara State University, Malete, Dr Sikiru Akinyeye Ahmed, who is also of the Adegbenro family line, challenged the Sooko family to produce documents to back up its claims of being original settlers in Ajia. Ahmed argues that it was the Adegbenro and Akintola families that gave 44 acres of land to the state government in 1978 and is willing to give out more land with the government requesting another 99 hectares.

 

Landowners divided on government’s development of Ajia

The February 16 notices placed on some structures in Ajia not only put landowners in panic mode but also dug up the simmering controversy over the rightful owners of land in the community. While some landowners/landlords looked up to the traditional ruler/land sellers for what their fate will be with government set to revoke their land, others embarked on protest to the state secretariat and radio station while also dragging their traditional ruler, the Alajia of Ajia, to the palace of the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji. They also claim that the state government is discussing with those who are not original descendants of Ajia.

A member of the Sooko family, Oluwayemisi Farinde described the planned acquisition of 88 hectares and another 11 hectares of land as heartbreaking, urging the government to only utilize the earlier acquired 44 acres. According to Oluwayemisi Farinde, over 300 buildings will be affected by the new acquisition.

While those who purchased land from the Sooko family are loud in their protest against the planned land acquisition and have aired their concerns in our earlier publication, those who purchased from the Adegbenro and Akintola families only say they lie in wait of what respite will be offered them.

One of them, Mr Afolabi Ige said, “I purchased land for my children who are abroad. I purchased six plots for my children and got 10 plots for my younger brother. I purchased the land in 2014 from the Adegbenro family. When I heard that there were issues with the land purchased, I questioned the person from the member of the Adegbenro family from whom I purchased the land and he assured that everything will be sorted out. I will align with whatever the person I purchased land from says.”

Similarly, Mr Bayo Akinboye said, “I have a plot of land opposite the Ajia school which I purchased in 2013. I purchased the land from Yusuf Adegbenro. I leave the issue of government acquiring the land to the person I purchased the land from. I am not against development of the town especially by the government.”

Also speaking in favour of the development, Sikiru Ahmed said, “Though I am losing acres of land to the plan of government to acquire land, I am happy that government is planning development of my ancestral place. It is for overriding public interest. It is a sweet mess but I am glad with it.”

 

Mediator in the eye of the storm

While the Akintola and Adegbenro families and the Sooko family differently demand for a meeting with Governor Seyi Makinde, it was discovered that the state government met with residents of Ajia under the umbrella of Inukan Development Forum. However, the Sooko family has stated that the Inukun Development Forum does not represent them. Sahidu Sooko had said in our earlier publication that, “Those people are not from Ajia; we do not know them.

Meanwhile, the Alajia of Ajia, Nureni Yusuf Adegbenro has said he is keen on having a one-on-one meeting with the state governor, who has not met with them till date. “Government agents have been carrying us along but I have not had a one-on-one meeting with the governor on this issue,” the Alajia said.

However, according to Inukun Development Forum, led by Sunday Gbenjo, it is playing the role of a mediator in the issues around government’s plan to bring development to Ajia. The forum, had at a press conference on April 5, condemned what it described as calumny against Governor Seyi Makinde over the acquisition of land in Ajia. The forum noted that the people must bear the brunt of the planned development for the overall good of the community. Gbenjo affirmed that the forum had had meetings with the state Commissioner for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Abiodun Abduraheem with the intention to ensure that there is no crisis in Ajia community as a result of the planned development. “Our concern is attracting development. We want peace in Ajia because there can’t be development if there is no peace in the town. I am an indigene of Ajia and I want development that will benefit both indigenes and non-indigenes,” Gbenjo said.

Another member of the forum and a legal practitioner, Sanyaolu Akinyele urged the protesting residents and landlords to refrain since the state government has promised compensation to those that have valid title. Akinyele, stated that by virtue of the Land Use Act, land in the state was in the hand of the governor, and could be used as long as it is for overriding public interest. Akinyele said, “Government has promised compensation to those who have valid title. Let those landlords or protesting residents show the epitome of title: land agreement, C of O or deed of assignment or approved building plan or survey with a record copy in the Ministry of lands and they have been assured of compensation.”

 

Averting outbreak of crisis

The Alajia of Ajia, Nureni Yusuf Adegbenro, fearing that there is threat to peace demanded for increased security for himself and the community.

“We want peace but it is getting to a time where I may have to call on the government to insure my life. Ajia needs security. I have been keeping vigil on boys in the area. I only depend on Almighty God but I am not living in peace.

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