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Magodo: Impunity is government’s opium unto waywardness

By Alade Rotimi-John
07 February 2022   |   2:56 am
Democracy, expressed as the will of the people, is not a dumb or a forlorn beach to be ravished by the experience-hungry tourist. Its principles too may not be ridden roughshod upon

Magodo Estate

Democracy, expressed as the will of the people, is not a dumb or a forlorn beach to be ravished by the experience-hungry tourist. Its principles too may not be ridden roughshod upon even by the unwary or careless without dire consequences.

Many issues of our civic engagement may be resolved as those in authority, through the democratic process, are deliberately friendly, gracious and interesting or are imbued with natural dignity and most careful discipline in their conduct, carriage and language. No opportunity ought to be lost for advancing the cause of good governance or of the purpose of the establishment of the commonweal. Government ought to consciously ingratiate itself with the people and not antagonise them.

The Magodo Estate imbroglio has been brought about by a series of official inappropriateness that lacks dignity, charity and straightforwardness. Official demagoguery or the art of saying nothing in words coupled with deliberate pussy-footing has today promoted the simple matter of abiding by a solemn pledge to be fair to all men and women without fear or favour to the dizzying height of a frightful intra-class war.

Government’s role as a formal conciliator ought not to be exchanged for that of the strife-monger as government earns its proper place to uphold the civilised notion that its sole obligation is to the people and that justice to all is its prime responsibility. Even as government is given to willful, perverse deviation from established principles and policies, its role as the Chief Executor of the rules governing our collective welfare, prosperity and happiness cannot be cavalierly shelved or otherwise abandoned.

Now to brass tacks! The story is avidly told around town how between 1984 and 1986, the Lagos State government forcibly took over large parcels of land belonging to members of a Landlords Association under the guise that it intended to use the large tract of land for the construction of a state-of-the-art hospital facility.

The government however reneged on its promise to use the property for the advertised overriding public purpose. It started allotting the land to friends, cronies, etc. of its officials. The high and mighty were also compromised with gifts of parcels of land.

The original owners of the land were bemused or driven out of their wits. They were however not cowed. Armed with facts and figures, the land owners approached the government insisting that government’s action was fraudulent and contrary to public policy. Government shamefacedly agreed to give members of the Association plots of land from a proposed Magodo Scheme 2 layout as compensation for the take-over of their land for the purpose other than the reason for which it was acquired from its owners. Government however impunitously failed to do as it had offered to do.

So began the Israelites’ journey of a protracted lawsuit involving the landowners and the Lagos State government.

At the High Court of Lagos State, the landowners argued that the government did not utilise the land for the purpose of the advertised acquisition but rather had sold the land to the affluent and properly-projected in society, The original owners had been made to vacate the land for certain special or favoured people.

The integrity of hard facts over the gerrymandering taradiddle of state officials ensured success for the land owners at the court of the first instance. Un-ashamed, the government resumed its time-wasting ploy at the Court of Apeal just to tire out the land owners.

The Court of Appeal predictably gave judgment in favour of the original landowners. Not done, the Lagos State government gratuitously appealed to the Supreme Court which in 2012 finally disposed of the matter by affirming the judgment of the Court of Appeal. The entire back and forth journey spanned some thirty-odd years. The Supreme court ordered that the landowners be allotted 549 plots of land from the acquired expanse. The court uncharacteristically pronounced unflattering words of censure on the Lagos State government as the government frustrated the attempts of the landowners to reap the benefit of their judgment. The unconscionable disobedience of court order has today become the issue in what is now derisively referred to as the “Magodo affair”.

Denouncing the irresponsible conduct of the Lagos State government and of its officials, the Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and the Inspector-General of Police to secure the effectual implementation of its judgment. A detachment of the police from outside its Lagos State command was dispatched to the locus in quo – the Magodo Estate. Lagos State is obviously reaping the whirlwind in a matter that ordinarily presented an opportunity to demonstrate humanity, good governance, the triumph of the rule of law and piety.

We have been treated to an obscene scene in the theatre of the absurd encounter between Governor Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and a police officer (some reports say he is a Chief Superintendent of Police) who the governor misguidedly sought to give instruction to. He had ordered him to withdraw the siege of his men on Magodo Estate.

A lot of comments have flowed forth, some suggesting that the policeman’s refusal to withdraw his men was a slap on the face of the governor. By the established command structure of the police, the police officer aforesaid could not countermand the instruction of his boss who sent him on errand. A junior officer on the field cannot call his officer to alter or amend the instruction for which he was sent to the field.

The whole episode has proven to be a test of the strength or otherwise of the Nigerian Constitution. Where does the power to mobilise or deploy troops lie? Who is truly in charge of security in a State? Or posed more poignantly, who truly is the Chief Security Officer of a State? Sanwo-Olu’s colleagues from the South-west have stylishly remonstrated him for grandstanding and for appearing to be politically correct. The inordinate delay in establishing the region’s security outfit, Amotekun, in Lagos State has been interpreted as an attempt to please Abuja and extract or hope for some favour.

Sanwo-Olu would have been able to challenge police irascibility with the awesome spiritual adroitness of Amotekun, his colleagues have self-gratifyingly argued. The chronology of the events in the Magodo affair has painted in bold relief the dilemma of our “unitary federalism”. Perhaps some distinction ought to be made between a putative Chief Security Officer and the Chief Law Enforcement Officer.

Even as the warning signs of a potential conflagration are flashing as we fitfully approach 2023, it is important that the formal-constitutional status of Nigeria be determined once and for all, advisedly before the general elections. We need to invoke the most effective construction of the true meaning and intendment of that constitutional model referred to as federalism. We all must be keenly sensitive to the role of government as conciliator.

The government is obligated to prevent strife, not promote it. Unfortunately, our government has variously failed to fulfil this ideal. The aftermath of the Magodo affair has cast a long shadow on the integrity of government and on its relations with the people. Government ought to brood over its declining status as it foot-loosedly saunters from one faltering step to another. Magodo may well be the litmus test for identical incongruities in waiting particularly regarding official uncivil handling of matters that rest squarely for their resolution on statesmanship, civility, dignity, impartiality or evenhandedness and candour.

Magodo is a telling metaphor of the inexpert handling or utter mismanagement of our inter-social relations.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote vide lawgravitas@gmail.com

 
 
 

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