Demystifying land grabbers, their accomplices

The Lagos State Special Task Force on Land Grabbers (LSSTFLG) has held a town hall meeting on the menace of land grabbers in Ikorodu.  ADEBISI ONANUGA and ROBERT EGBE report that the platform afforded stakeholders in the local government the opportunity to share experiences and proffer strategies for checking the trespassers’ incursion on Ikorodu families’ landed properties.

Six days ago, heads of families and other land owners in the ancient town of Ikorodu and other communities in its environs converged at the Town Hall to find solutions to the menace of land grabbers who forcibly take over their lands and impose a reign of terror over them.

The forum not only discussed the way out of the menace but was also used to educate land owners of their rights under the law and how to enforce them in the event of violations by land grabbers.

The stakeholders meeting was organised by the Lagos State Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers had the theme: “Land Grabbers: The Law and Your Rights”.

The event was attended by top officials of the Ministry of  Justice, kings and local chiefs in Ikorodu and its environs including the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo(SAN) who was represented by a Director in the ministry, Sahid Quadri; Lagos State Solicitor-General, Ms Titilayo Shitta Bey represented by Mrs Abiola Oseni; the Ayangbure of Ikorodu, King Kabiru Sotobi represented by the traditional Chief of Omitoro Town, Chief J.F. Odusoga; the Adegboruwa of Igbogbo, King Semiu Orimadegun Kasali; Sekumade of Ipakodo, King Bashiru Aremu;  Onibeshe of Ibeshe;, King Richard Abayomi, among others.

Why LSSTFLG?

Onigbanjo said the LSSTFLG came into being in 2017 because constant fights between land grabbers and land owners in Ikorodu in particular and other parts of the state wreaked havoc in rapidly developing areas like Ibeju Lekki, Ajah, Ikorodu, Ipaja, Badagry among other places and reached a stage that government could no longer tolerate.

He lamented that land grabbers maimed and killed the innocent in their desperation to dispossess legitimate land owners of their properties.

To protect Lagosians, the  Lagos House of Assembly enacted the Lagos State Property Protection Law 2016 which prohibits forceful entry into and illegal occupation of landed properties, violent and fraudulent conducts.

Resort to self-help forbidden

“No one should resort to self-help, there are laws in place, and violence will never be condoned in settling of disputes in land matters,” Onigbanjo warned.

“The Court of Law is easy to access by any aggrieved resident. It is important that all residents should learn to uphold the rule of law, rather than resorting to self-help which leads to killing and maiming people all in the name of land disputes. This will not be tolerated.”

Can children resell land already sold off by parents?

The AG also warned landowners that once a father or head of a family has sold off a piece of land, it was illegal for the children to re-sell such land.

He advised families with large expanse of land to embrace lease holding instead of free holding in the management of their family land. He said this way, they would be preventing invasion of land grabbers.

“All government lands are leased. There is freehold and there is leasehold,” he said.

Onigbanjo explained that where families embrace lease holding, they would be receiving rent on such land annually and avoid rancour because they would have enough money to spread around in the family,   including for their children yet unborn. If you sell freehold, you have sold all your right to the land.”

He further advised families to have a good arrangement for selecting heads of families, saying the law on land grabbing was very clear on who should be head of a family.

Over 5,000 land grabbing petitions received since 2016

LSSTFLG Coordinator Owolabi Arole said Ikorodu accounts for over 50 per cent of about 5,000 petitions received on land grabbing in Lagos since the inception of the Task force on Land Grabbers in 2016.

In his welcome address, Arole said that the town hall meeting was important as it was intended to tackle land grabbing in all parts of the state, adding that unless this was done, “we would have a situation on our hands where the issue will become a bigger problem.”

He cautioned stakeholders against resorting to self -help as such amounted to criminal offence under the law.

Clerics: Why the problem persists

Two clerics, Sheik Yayah Osoala and Evangelist Emmanuel Adegoke blamed the menace of land grabbing in Ikorodu and environs on traditional chiefs in the different communities, the Police and lawyers.

The clerics also blamed the ugly development on delay in justice delivery and refusal of heads of families to respect the decision of some right thinking chiefs of some communities in the ancient town.

Osoala, who is also the Grand Imam of Oriwu Central Mosque, argued that there was a lot of injustice on the part of “some greedy heads of families who want to sit on lands that should belong to the entire family.”

He noted that where there is pushback by other family members, the greedy family heads would then invite land grabbers into the matter.

He said such families were the worst for it because the land grabbers usually end up taking a juicy part of the land as payment for their illegal services.

The cleric also blamed the Police, both in Lagos and Abuja for allowing land grabbing to flourish in the town.

According to him, the Police had “disappointed the people they should be protecting.

“They have let us down. Once they are bribed by these land grabbers with land and money to subvert justice, they side with the wrong parties.”

Osoala described lawyers handling land cases as dishonest for not telling the truth to prospective clients because of their greed for money.

He also held them responsible for causing delay in justice delivery on land matters in the courts.

He added: “Lawyers are dishonest.  Instead of telling the people that they have no case, greed doesn’t allow them to do this.

“Justice delivery takes too long in court especially in situations where lawyers go behind to see the judge.

The sheikh further lamented that university graduates without employment had taken to land grabbing rather than farming.

For peace to reign and land grabbing to be checked, he advised families to respect court judgments as well as decisions of mediation teams facilitated by honest traditional chiefs and the government.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ikorodu which was represented by Evangelist Adegoke, aligned itself with Osoala’s submission.

According to Adegoke, most family heads don’t tell the truth about land matters to their children when it matters most, because of their selfishness and financial greed.

He advised them to “speak the truth and save the communities from killings and bloodshed which today has become the hallmark of Ikorodu and giving the ancient town bad name.”

Our role in land grabbing, by police

Commissioner of Police (CP) in Lagos State Hakeem Odumosu pointed out that land-grabbing occurs because of some greedy conspirators within families in Ikorodu.

Odumosu, who was represented by an Assistant Commissioner of Police in-charge of Operations in Lagos,(ACP) Oladotun Odugbona, added : “Conspirators from outside would be so mean that they do not care if people die in the process of grabbing land for their co-conspirators within families.

He said where Police is invited, “what they do is to maintain peace, make arrest as necessary and gather evidence.

“There are laws regarding land-grabbing; our job is to arrest, investigate and prosecute. Anything outside that is beyond the scope of police work.”

Punishment for land grabbing

A representative of the Ikorodu branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Shakiru Omolaja, educated the people on the law on land grabbing in Lagos.

Omolaja said the law prescribes imprisonment for anybody convicted of taking land from another forcibly or who invites land grabbers into land matters.

He said it is illegal for a son to re-sell a land already sold by his late father as such act attracts terms of imprisonment upon conviction.

According to him, the Lagos State Property Protection Law, 2016, prescribes 10 years’ imprisonment for anyone convicted of land grabbing or forceful takeover of land, forceful entry into other person’s land.

Omolaja said Illegal occupation of property attracts a fine not exceeding N5million or five years imprisonment or both.

He, however, contended that section 11 of the law was not clear and contains contradictions. According to him, while the law recognises the right of land owners to collect ratification and foundation fees, it declared such collection in another part as illegal. He said some families and miscreants had been hiding under this law to wreak havoc on innocent people.

Omolaja urged families to emulate the Lajoke family of Grammar School, Ota-Ona area of Ikorodu who he said sold a part of their land and used the remaining portion of their land to build an event centre.

He further fingered some local chiefs as being responsible for inviting land grabbers to their family land and urged them to desist from such acts and that they should not let greed for money take the better part of them.

Traditional leaders’ views

The Olotu Solebo family, Monsuru Oye Solebo, contended that delay in justice delivery on land matters is sometimes deliberate to scuttle judgment.

Solebo, who claimed to have been involved in many land cases by virtue of his position in his family, told the story of how a case file disappeared from a courtroom, causing several adjournments.

He said it was eventually discovered that one of the litigants was responsible for the act.

He also decried his experience with the Police following a land matter that took him to Abuja.  He accused the Police of taking sides with the highest bidder and failing to conduct proper investigation in matters brought to them.

Oba Kasali of Igbogbo charged the NBA, judiciary and the Police to use the rule of law to find a solution to “the cankerworm called land grabbing.”

He reminded the Police that it had no business in land matters and as such should not criminalise it.

The monarch advised families still having land to stop further sales but to go back and till the land, adding, “we should start thinking of what we are going to hand over to our children.”

Problem with C of O

Oba Aremu of Ipakodo land urged government to strengthen Certificates of Occupancy (C of O) to curtail land grabbers’ activities.

According to him, the law against land grabbing is weak and has rendered the C of O incapacitated.

The monarch revealed that often times when he mediated in land matter, he would find five to six people with C o Os, laying claim to one parcel of land. He suggested that government should seek the views of traditional rulers before approving requests for C of O.

The Onibeshe, Oba Ogunsanya, said the issue of land grabbing should concern everybody. He absolved Police of complicity, pointing out that they hardly go into any land without people calling them in. He preached contentment on the part of heads of families instead of greed which he said had been the basis of all problems associated with land.

Chief Ladugba from Imota accused government of too much encumbrances on their land by declaring it agricultural land. He asked that the encumbrances be revoked so that “real owners” can have access to their property.

Several of the participants sought government intervention in ridding land grabbers from their lands.

Source: The Nation