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Land grabbers resurgence in Lagos threatens homeownership

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Land

Three years after the enactment of the Lagos State Properties Protection Law 2016, many landed properties and estates in Lagos are still been encroached by land grabbers otherwise called, ‘Omonile’.

The impact of their activities has caused many residents to forfeit their properties worth millions of naira and truncated cooperative and individual’s land development plans.

The law, which was signed by the Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, seeks to eliminate land grabbing in its multi-various forms that include, forceful possession of landed properties, encroachment, illegal sale and resale of land, illegal use of Law Enforcement Agents and Vigilante Groups to enforce Judgments, misconducts by professionals in land transactions, writing of frivolous and false petitions, unlawful demands by Omonile, touting and other ills.

Specifically, Section 2(1) of prohibits the use of force or self-help to take over any landed property or to engage in any act inconsistent with the proprietary right of the owner. The Law criminalises the use or threat of violence for the purpose of securing entry into any landed property either for oneself or for another, without lawful authority.

The provisions of the Law in Section 4 criminalises any encroachment on peoples’ properties and provides for fine not exceeding N5 million or 5-year imprisonment or both, against any such encroachment.

Perhaps, because land has remained a gold mine for years in granting returns in buying and selling as well as in leasing, the rate of the demand for lands and property has also increased significantly particularly in urban centres, thus, giving room for cartels who fraudulently acquire people’s property.

When the law was passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly and subsequently signed by the governor, it was well accepted by the people because they strongly hoped that it will address the fundamental issues that concern land matters and many of the stakeholders thought that it would permanently nail the problem of land grabbing in Lagos. However, recently development has shown that residents are yet to get reprieve in the activities of land grabbers.

Investigations show that the task force established to entertain the concerns on the activities of the land swindlers has so far not been able to completely eliminate the social menace as public complaints increases. Or could be it that the public lacked knowledge of the existence of the Lagos State Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers through which their concerns could be resolved.

A case in point is the 24 plots of land measuring about 1.895hectares in Lekki. The land, used for an estate, has become a subject of controversy as a result of the activity of land grabbers.

Narrating his ordeals to The Guardian, a lawyer whose piece of land is among the 24 plots situated in the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, College of Medicine Estate, Ogombo/Sangotedo road which has been allegedly hijacked, Mr. Henry Efere said he acquired one of the plots and did a revalidated survey of the land in 2012 asides the earlier survey done on the land. He lamented that a popular swindler in the area grabbed the land.

Efere said, “Sometimes in 2009, some area boys tried to encroach on some part of the land and so we went to court because we couldn’t locate whom the people were, we did not know that when there was tussles over Baale title in Ogombo, they took advantage of that time, acquire the land and resold it to other people.

When we discovered this, we had to go to court and based on our documents, the court gave judgment in our favour and the judgment was executed through the court bailiff and the police from the states’ Commissioner of Police.

The police now issued a certificate of execution of the warrant in 2010 and since we have been in possession. I fenced the back and the front of the plot, still the land grabber attempted to encroach”.

Subsequently, he said the land grabbers planned to take over about five other plots, which has not been developed apart from his my own. He alleged that they wanted to out-twist him so that he wouldn’t go near the land again when they realized that he was a lawyer and the person who wrote the petition to the Inspector general of police.

According to him, the police Inspector General send in SARS, they got them scared and now went to invite a notorious land grabber who has taken over his parcel of land and plans to take four other plots in the estate.

A professor who teaches in the university also recounted how he lost three out of six plots of land belonging to him in Lakowe, Ajah axis to land grabbers.

He said, “I bought a land as far back as 2003 at Ajah and after awhile land grabbers came saying they have a blessing of their godfather. They came in and started dragging our land. I fenced my own but they push down one side of my fence and construct another fence and succeeded in taking three plots of my land into their own fence and took my boys quarter.

He added, “As a professor in the university, what I have in mind was that when I retired, I would start skill acquisition programme there to have something to eat. They threatened me that they would bring caterpillar to pull down the building. I have build on two plots and so they left one plot for me in addition.

Right now they have a fence in-between my compound, took three plots there. The matter is in court. I am crying everyday believing that one-day, they would hand it off. Right now the plots is in the market they are selling for N40million per plot. They are small boys working with security agencies”.

Reacting, the coordinator, Lagos state special taskforce on land grabbers, Owolabi Arole told The Guardian that victims of land grabbers must immediately do a petition addressed to the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, with attention to the Coordinator, Lagos State Special Task Force on Land Grabbers whenever there is an encroachment on their property.

He said such petition must include all the details, facts and photocopies of valid title documents in relation to the land in question as well as accompanied their complaints by an Affidavit/Declaration with a passport photograph in accordance with section 10(2) of the Lagos State Properties Protection Law 2016.

“Details of the alleged encroachers must be included in the petition, such as their names, addresses and mobile numbers. Once the above-mentioned steps are carried out and the necessary information is provided, the taskforce will critically examine the Petition and take the best course of action. Victims should never resort to self-help when there is a taskforce already established specifically to combat this problem”, he said.

He stated that since the inception of the taskforce in 2016, it has received over 3,000 petitions, with over 1,800 fully concluded and others at different stages of being concluded by the taskforce. For him, it should be noted that timely resolution of Land petitions most times, would depend largely on the active cooperation of parties involved to swiftly provide all necessary document.

Arole stressed that the mandate of the taskforce is basically to eliminate activities of persons who use force and intimidation to dispossess or prevent any person or entity from acquiring legitimate interest and possession of property acquired. In other words, he said, the taskforce was created to eliminate the menace of land grabbing by implementing the provisions of the Lagos State Properties Protection Law 2016.

In his words, “Section 13 of the Law gives the Taskforce the power to arrest and prosecute land grabbers.

However, because the Taskforce believes in the principle of natural justice, we give the alleged land grabbers the grace of stating their claim. In handling Petitions we receive, the Taskforce uses different means such as victim/offender mediation and reconciliation.

On how the issues are trashed out, he explains that parties are invited for meetings, to crucially determine if truly there is an encroachment on the subject property. If there is, the taskforce, he said would then determine whether the said encroacher will be prosecuted or not.
“The Taskforce is currently prosecuting 35 Court cases at the Special Offences’ Court and State High Court.

The parties are at liberty to reconcile, settle or resolve the issue(s) raised in the petition.

However, depending on the urgency of the Petition, the Taskforce may seek the assistance of the Police to enable the Petitioner take peaceful and quiet possession of the property thereby protecting the Petitioner’s life and right to Property.

There are instances where it is necessary the taskforce liaise with the Surveyor-General’s Office, the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LABSCA), the Lands Bureau and the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development and other relevant Government agencies.

According to him, there is a need for the government to create public awareness of the implication of the activities of land grabbers to reduce the menace of land grabbing in the society.

Speaking on the development, a real estate lawyer, Bayo Owojori observed that the taskforce on land grabbers seem to be challenged by lack of staff, ineffective communication channels and lack of enforcement power, hence, the rising cases on land grabbers within the state.

Owojori who noted that he has series of complaints on land grabbers that need urgent attention, urged authorities to address the issue with a ‘strong political will’ and ensure that high degree of bureaucracy in process is reduced drastically.

“In terms of carrying out enforcement and trying to stop grabbers the taskforce has been very ineffective. For government to make the law work, it needs the political will, empower the taskforce with law enforcement agents.

There is for effective communication through dedicated telephone lines so that people can reach those lines whenever there is a land-grabbing incident. We need to get the law enforced and make the agency to be prompt.

The agency is working but they still incapacitated by lack of staff, enforcement power and effective communication”, he stated.


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