Magodo residents’ worries enter new year as family digs in on 37-year-old struggle for land ownership

•We’re working to reach concession with claimants —Lagos govt

SEGUN KASALI, SYLVESTER OKORUWA and LANRE ADEWOLE bring into focus the land ownership crisis plaguing Magodo Estate.

ID/795/88–Possession taken today by court order 21/12/21”.

With the few words and numbers above boldly inscribed on hundreds of buildings in Magodo Estate Phase 2, an urban Lagos Mainland settlement, residents, especially house owners, have been ushered into the new year with renewed panic over the fate of their multi-billion Naira investments in the affected buildings as the Adeyiga family and Landlord Association of neighbouring Shangisha settlement, intensified their decades-long battle to reclaim the land on which the estate is sitting from the Lagos State government.

The story of the contestation between the claimants who are claiming that the land was forcibly taken from them by a former military government and successive administrations in Lagos State is not really new to the residents of the estate, especially house and land owners, who form the nucleus of the Magodo Residents Association (MRA), which has been at the forefront of preserving the property of its members and protecting their interest in the long-drawn court cases on the ownership tussle.

In the last 10 years, attempts at reclaiming the land by the alleged owners have been coming up regularly for discussion at the level of MRA meetings, though the prevalent mood within the estate until Tuesday last week was that the matter was between Lagos State government and the Adegiya family, leading other acclaimed landlords and that nothing should ordinarily affect the residents and their buildings, because they were not parties to the cases, including the reported favourable Supreme Court judgment, obtained by the claimants some years ago.

 

Govt deceived us on relocation –Owners

A revelation by the claimants may be a pointer to why peace offering by the state government on the protracted crisis has failed so far.

Chief Adebayo Adeyiga, Chairman, Shangisha Landlord Association, claimed that an earlier promise by the state government to relocate the affected landlords was not fulfilled.

Chief Adeyiga said: “The judicial struggle for Magodo land started in 1984, when the then military government of Gbolahan Mudashiru demolished our houses after forced acquisition of the entire land area for public use.

“Between 1984 and 1986, the government fraudulently took the parcel of land belonging to us, members of the landlord Association of Shangisha/Magodo, the area occupied by us, under the pretext that the acquired land would be used for the construction of an international-standard hospital. We the landlords were forcibly evicted from the land in dispute.

“The government went ahead to pull down all our houses, taking the entire area which was not what they had asked for in the first place. After the pulling down of our houses, we were embarrassed to find out that government officials involved had converted the land for their selfish interest, allotting the said land in plots to their friends and cronies and some of high and mighty people in the society.

“We approached the state government, armed with facts of the fraudulent allotment, and it was resolved between us that members of the association would be given plots of land from the then new scheme known as Magodo Scheme 2. It was when they failed to do so that we were forced to sue the Lagos State government sometime in June 1988 in suits ID/795/88 Chief Adebayo Adeyiga and six (6) others versus military governor of Lagos State and four (4) others in Lagos State High Court, Ikeja.”

But the chairman of the MRA, Mr Bajo Osinubi, during a media chat Wednesday last week, stated that the step taken by the claimants to reclaim the land last Tuesday was unprecedented since the crisis began about 37 years ago.

According to the chairman, earlier in the year, the claimants had returned as usual to demand that the land be handed over to them, with the MRA finding a way to send them back empty-handed. But on Tuesday, they came prepared with over 100 policemen and court bailiffs to take possession of hundreds of houses with the above-quoted information boldly inscribed on walls, gates, fence and every structure standing along the 549 plots of land they are laying claim to, which they said were forcibly taken from them.

While they got the buildings marked almost effortlessly in the afternoon of Tuesday when most of the residents were out to their respective businesses, tension had engulfed the estate by evening after residents realised that the claimants had rolled a bulldozer to the gate of the estate to commence demolition. Osinubi said he had to rally residents to the two gates leading to the estate to prevent the bulldozer from coming in and he requested residents to come down with their cars to block the gates.

When positive response wasn’t coming from residents on using their cars as shield against a bulldozer, the estate leadership, according to him, sought a heavy-duty truck to block the main gate connecting Magodo to Shangisha.

The blue truck stayed in position until the standoff between the residents and claimants was called off at the intervention of the state governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, using the Mayoress of Ikosi-Ketu Local Council Development Area, Samiat Abolanle Bada, as his emissary to the troubled estate.

“We didn’t leave here (estate gate) yesterday (Tuesday) until 2.00 a.m. (early Wednesday),” Osinubi told newsmen on Wednesday morning. That means the leaders of the estate association had just a few hours of sleep between Tuesday and Wednesday, considering that manning of the gates shut since Tuesday night resumed as early as 4.00 a.m. Wednesday, with inward and outbound movements restricted, forcing hundreds of residents to stay back home and countless visitors kept outside.

 

Order from ‘above’?

The unprecedented move to eject the estate dwellers obviously caught the MRA leadership by surprise because the claimants decided to seek help outside of the state. Osinubi told newsmen that the estate leaders had been seeking help everywhere, especially since the reclaiming move peaked on Tuesday, noting, “We have been calling everybody we can get to help on this matter. Since yesterday (Tuesday), those with contacts everywhere have been calling them.”

With parties to the land matter seeking help, it appears that the claimants sought and got a bigger help than the estate leadership. The claimants were being backed with more than 100 policemen from the Inspector General of Police to execute the ruling in their favour.

The MRA chairman confirmed that the help the claimants got was from Abuja. “As of now (after the standoff had eased), the Lagos State government has stepped in. The DCP OPs (Ahmed Kotangora) told us that the Inspector General of Police had informed him to evacuate the police.

“When they came in yesterday, they came with over 100 armed policemen. There was no policeman here yesterday without an Ak-47. rifle

“When they came in, they said they wanted to take possession. And we were like ‘possession of what’?

“But the police never arrested us. They behaved professionally. They claimed they came from the office of the Inspector General of Police.” he said.

In the course of addressing the media and the residents on Wednesday, Osinubi said the IGP’s emissary assured him that the residents would have a peaceful Christmas, which the residents interpreted as just granting them a temporary reprieve. As loud murmur ran through the crowd, the estate leader was confirming that the interpretation of the residents was what Kotangora’s assurance suggested.

“That means we are on our own from next year and nothing is guaranteed,” the crowd chorused. Many laughed. Some sighed. The mood captured the uncertain future that awaits the estate and thousands of its high-profile house owners like former Ekiti State governor, Mr Ayo Fayose.

 

Determined to reclaim

With the Tuesday invasion, the claimants have made it clear they meant business this time, regarding the execution of the judgment returning the land to them, even as the residents are also seeking closure.

Their leader, Osinubi, who was unequivocal about the desire of his people, made it clear that the residents wanted peace and closure.

“The Lagos State government has sent in their special squad to make sure that the police are evacuated. They promised us it would never happen again. I must say that one of the people that helped us to get to the governor is the Ikosi-Isheri chairperson, Princess Samiat Bada.

“This case can be solved by the government. Therefore, we are praying the governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to face this problem frontally.

“Call Chief Adeyiga and others to a roundtable to settle this case. We are ready to cooperate with the Lagos State government to ensure that a permanent solution is found,” he said.

The claimants are also looking for closure but it seems in a different way. They want justice done. Their legal counsel, Mr Deji Fasusi, said the legal struggle that began in 1988 was about to end.

He said: “The Landlords Association sued the military governor of Lagos State and others in 1988 over the unlawful and, forcible acquisition of their land. The association alleged that the government demolished their houses in the process and threw down their chairman who had since gone blind.

“Many others in the struggle within the period were brutalised; majority of the principal actors are now dead. Thankfully, the chairman survived. He is a nonagenarian and it is amazing that God has spared his life.

“Yesterday (Tuesday), after 37 years of injustice, they began the process of reaping the fruit of their judgment as they triumphed over the Lagos State government at the Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court but their attempts to levy execution has been futile until yesterday when they were able to begin the process and along with sheriffs of the court and the police whose duty it is to maintain law and order, they proceeded lawfully with their duty.

“The narrative that hoodlums attempted to invade Magodo is false and misleading.

“As legal counsel to the Landlords Association led by their chairman, I can categorically state that over 100 sheriffs with policemen were on ground yesterday to do their lawful duty. It is hoped that this clears the air.”

 

Court says 549 plots, not Magodo –MRA counsel

The legal team of MRA, in its assessment of the chances of the residents retaining their plots, echoed the state government’s stance that the claimants were on an illegal mission. Ms Morenike George-Taylor, counsel for the MRA, said: “I am disappointed because Nigeria is tilting to where people take laws into their hands. My parents and I were traumatised by the incident as police officers and Omo onile forced their way into the estate. They came into the estate without a document to show but went about trying to forcibly take procession of properties in the estate, even going as far as bringing a bulldozer.

“Even the court order that they are laying claim to is contested in the Appeal Court and the matter is still in court. This is not the first attempt. They came last year December and an injunction was issued by a court warning the police never to invade the estate or step into the estate again but they went against the court order.

“For their illegal action, there will be consequences for the police officers for aiding and abetting the Omo oniles. We will be writing the Nigeria Police and the judiciary as well as the Senate and the House of Representatives. We will defend our properties. We will follow all processes of the law to bring the matter to a logical conclusion. They are claiming that they want to take over land in the estate. They are supposed to meet the Lagos State government who is the defendant in the case.

“The judgment they are laying claim to says that an order of court injunction is asking Lagos State to allocate 549 plots of land to the land owners, but does that translate to taking possession of the estate?. Our legal team, Omobude and Co, will take up the case as well as writing letters to the relevant agencies.”

 

We have no business with Adeyigas –Residents

Residents are in complete agreement with George-Taylor. Sir Tokunbo Macaulay, a resident of the estate, said the aggrieved owners could not win the war because the Land Use Act says government owns all land.

He said: “They have forgotten something which we made them understand today; that they can never ever win this war. This is because we were allocated this land by the Lagos State government. We have our Certificates of Occupancy given to us by the Lagos State government. We have our approved building plan given to us also by the Lagos State government. By the Land Use Act, the government owns the land.

“I feel very sad about what happened today because we were under siege before the state government brought other policemen to come and take away more than 100 policemen with Ak-47 rifles. What are they coming here to do with AK-47, to kill us all or to drive us out of our homes?”

Another resident, Yinka Kolawole, explained that the Supreme Court judgment did not attach any plots in the estate to their claims.

Kolawole  said: “Based on what we heard, there is a judgment of the Supreme Court but the judgment, as interpreted by legal minds, is that there are not specific plots allotted to them. So, to that extent, there is no property they can hold on to.

“We also heard that government allocated 549 plots to them in another part of Lagos. If they are not satisfied with that, it should not be the issue of the residents and home owners in Magodo. It should be between them and the government.”

 

Claimants rejected 549 plots in Badagry, Ibeju/Lekki –Govt

On Thursday, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN, issued a statement detailing the peace efforts initiated by the state government, allegedly spurned by the land owners, including the alleged rejection of new 549 plots, first in Badagry, then Ibeju/Lekki.

The commissioner vowed to ensure a probe into the invasion of the estate and prosecution of persons found to culpable in the course of carrying out the possession venture.

He, however, said that the state government was not relenting in its pursuit of peace with the claimants “with a view to reaching a concession towards implementing the judgment.”

 

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