Your land or your life •How land issues in Lagos community turned residents into IDPs
OLALEKAN OLABULO writes that crises over land issues has pit residents of communities against their leaders and real estate companies while many of them had been displaced due to activities of land grabbers.
SINCE the enactment of the law against land grabbing and the setting up of the Special Task Force Against Land Grabbing by the immediate past administration of former governor Akinwunmi Ambode in Lagos State, one of the major challenges of tackling land issues in the state has been the inability of the government to clearly identify who a land grabber is. It has also been revealed that follow up on petitions written by petitioners is lacking, thereby making the law difficult to implement.
There have been protests, counter-protests, accusations and counter-accusations against some persons, especially community leaders, traditional rulers and well-known estate and land agents. Sunday Tribune investigations revealed that long years of court cases, especially land and chieftaincy matters and the inability of house owners in many parts of the state to procure genuine documents on their landed properties have led to increasing cases of battles over land in Lagos State.
Among the communities with issues of land cases in the state, Ibeju Lekki tops the list. Presently, there are thousands of petitions on land-related matters with the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Committee on Land Grabbing and Special Task Force on Land Grabbing. Most of these petitions have not been completely treated.
According to Sunday Tribune investigations, residents of some communities including Elepete, Ofiran, Alakuro, Aiyeteru, Onipanu, Gbarada and Magbon have for some months been raising the alarm and protesting on activities of land grabbers in their areas to call the attention of government and the police to their plight.
On June 12 some residents of Ofiran, for example, were arrested after a bloody clash between two groups. The residents had accused one of the two groups of trying to grab their land. In the process, some members of the accused group were injured, prompting the police to arrest some residents of the community. The residents also accused the traditional ruler in Igando Orudu, Chief Suraju Bello of inviting land grabbers into the town.
A resident of Ososa, one of the communities in Igando Orudu who identified herself as Oluwabukola told the Sunday Tribune that “for some time now, land thugs have been making renovation work difficult for us, despite the fact that we are in court with them.
“They claimed to be working for the baale of Orudu but we have our own baale, though he does not stay in this village. Before now they were buying lands in the community and selling «she stated, adding that «but now they have stopped selling virgin lands. What they now do is that they stop renovations work in our houses and demand for huge amount of money.
“They said that the baale›s family are the owners of this land and that they were not the ones that sold it to us The case is still in court .If you want to change ordinary tap in your bathrooms they will insist on you giving them money before you do it.”
Another resident of Aiyeteju, who identified himself as Mr Francis alleged that «there are four communities which are affected by the baale of Igando Orudu›s activities. They are Aiyeteju, Oke Olokun, Alakun and Offiran. Baale and his people sold people›s land and brought thugs to harass us.”
The community Development Association chairman in Offiran, Agogo James also claimed that the problem with the baale started some months ago when he allegedly invaded the community with some people suspected to be thugs who broke down the foundation of some houses belonging to some landlords.
He added that “we bought our lands from Gafar, Owele, Agbaje and Balogun families. The baale is claiming that the Lagos State government has released the villages to them. Those who sold the land to us have taken a legal action against them.
The traditional ruler, while extricating himself from the accusation said: “I have never worked with any land grabber and I am not one myself. Why do I have to bring land grabbers into my domain? They are using the tag of land grabbers to get sympathy from the public. They have every right to challenge whatever wrong I did to them in court. Look at how old I am; how can I be involved in snatching parcels of land that do not belong to my family? What do I want to do with the land?”
He continued: “About two years ago, I was arrested by the police after one Taiwo Agbaje reported at Elemoro police station that I kidnapped his grandmother. After a thorough investigation, the police discovered that the allegations against me and members of my family were framed up .The said Taiwo Agbaje was charged to court for defamation of character and attempt to breach public peace on the 15th of January 2018 on a 2-count charge. That is just how they have been going about to malign the name of Igando Orudu family.”
Speaking on how the crisis began, Chief Bello said: “the trouble started when the Lagos State Government approved excision dated 16th May, 2012 through File No KL5888 on a large expanse of land in Igando Orudu comprising: Aiyeteju, Ofiran, Alakun, Oke Olokun, Oke Iyakeji to the Orudu Royal Family and the family attempted to carry out government approved layout and mapping of the released land.
“Some people who had by then invaded the land and sold it to unsuspecting people threatened us with violence and in order not to cause any breakdown of law and order, we resorted to legal means of fighting for our possession.”
In a letter dated 2nd December, 2016 to the chairman of the Lagos State Task Force and signed by Honorable Justice Oguntade of Wise Legal Consultancy, the Orudu Royal Family sought the protection of its members by the operatives of the task force from armed thugs.
On the allegations that he brought thugs to attack the village, Chief Bello said: “when we took possession of our family belongings, we sold lands to some estate developers and individuals. “We sold to a very popular church. We sold to Genesis and we sold to Owoeye and Company We sold land to Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo and many others. Alhaji Owoeye is not a land grabber he bought land from our family and he took possession of only what we sold to him. We have valid court judgments and necessary government papers on what we sold.”
The Sunday Tribune gathered that on 25th January, 2016, villagers in Orudu village in a letter to the then Inspector General of police through their lawyer, Bayo Omoniyi, appealed to the police boss to save them from land grabbers who were allegedly attempting to remove them from their village. They also claimed that houses of people suspected to be sympathetic to the baale of Orudu were either vandalised or completely set ablaze with property worth over N120 million destroyed.
We are not land-grabbers —Owoeye
Monsuru Akande, one of the directors at Chief Mutairu Owoeye and Company Security Limited denied that his company invaded any community in Ibeju Lekki with armed thugs insisting that the company is a registered real and land estate company with genuine documents on all its transaction.
“We buy land in large quantity from owners who have genuine documents and we resell to people. We ensure that we vet the documents with the necessary government agency before transacting business with land owners,” Akande told Sunday Tribune.
He explained that the company bought a large expanse of land in many communities in Ibeju Lekki with the aim of reselling them to prospective landlords, adding that: “we bought land from Tols System Nigeria Limited. We bought from the Igando Orudu family too. We found out that they have got genuine documents from the Lagos State Government. Tols System bought land from the government and we confirmed that their documents were genuine.
“The Orudu Royal family got an excision from the government and we confirmed that to be true too. Our company cannot demolish anybody’s house. We don t do that; it is only a court that can give a demolition order.”
Speaking further, the company director also said that “our company has sold land to many people in Ibeju Lekki but some land grabbers have stopped them from taking possession of the land. These land grabbers are the ones sponsoring this campaign against us.
“The problem with our people is that they buy land from land-grabbers who do not have genuine documents and when the bubble bursts, they resort to blackmail. Let any of these people who accuse us of grabbing their land come out with their documents. Those house owners in Fowoseje have been told by the government that the people who sold the land to them are not the owners and that they had been relocated.’’
What government is doing
The Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Justice, Kayode Oyekanmi, while speaking with the Sunday Tribune said that the ministry has no reason not to react to petitions from the public, noting that the ministry receives a lot of petitions from different parts of the state.
He added that for the ministry not to have done what petitioners expected from it means that the petitioner had failed to comply with the ministry’s procedure.
Oyekanmi said: “the procedure is clear. After a petition is submitted, petitioners will be given a date to bring their documents and if those documents are not complete, they will still be asked to bring the missing documents. It is after they have provided the necessary documents that the task force will now follow them to the place. The task force will also invite the other party to hear their own side of the story.”
Bukola Bakare, spokesperson of the Lagos State Task Force on Land Grabbing also blamed petitioners for not following up on their petitions, adding that many of them don’t even drop their contact addresses for them to be contacted on their petitions.
“We have a lot of petitions from Ibeju Lekki and they just come here to drop their petitions. They don‘t do any follow up. Many of them don’t even drop their contacts with us. There is no way to contact such people. There are many case files with us. The case file No 3301 is another issue that we are handling in Ikorodu.”