Friday, 1st December 2023

Osun communities on edge over alleged land grabbing by monarch

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
23 July 2023   |   4:27 am
When The Guardian visited the communities, fear, pain, anger and despondency were visibly written on the faces of the victims of the monarch's alleged high-handedness.

The signpost erected by the community since 2013 PHOTO: GBENGA AKINFENWA

• Land Owners Seek Gov Adeleke’s Intervention
• My Accusers Should Go To Court – Monarch

The unpleasant development of land grabbing in IleOgbo, Oke-Osun and other communities in Aiyedire Local Council of Osun State has put the residents on edge. The age-long record of the area as a peace haven, where inhabitants live in harmony and comfort, has been shattered, giving way to human rights abuses, injustices, intimidation and harassment. GBENGA AKINFENWA, who toured some of the communities, paints a picture of the despair, anger and disappointment on the faces of the people.
Once peaceful and hospitable areas, Ile Ogbo, Momu, Eleni, Obielu, Oke-Osun and a good number of communities in Aiyedire Local Council of Osun State are becoming unfriendly and dreadful for the residents. Not even the indigenes are comfortable with the turn of events as the harmony that reigned in these communities for decades are fast disappearing. Indigenes and landowners are currently in dilemma, groaning at their losses to alleged land grabbing, intimidation and harassment by the monarch, the Olu of Ile Ogbo, Oba Abeeb Adetoyese Agbaje, a.k.a Kadara, Arowo Okun Joye II, whom they claimed has been enriching himself with the commonwealth of the communities.

When The Guardian visited the communities, fear, pain, anger and despondency were visibly written on the faces of the victims of the monarch’s alleged high-handedness. It was learnt that he uses the police to intimidate and arrest members of the communities at the slightest provocation.

The Guardian learnt that the monarch forcefully takes over ancestral lands, which are the main resources of the indigenous families – majority of whom are farmers. For instance, it was alleged that the monarch single-handedly sold several acres of land belonging to the Salami-Adeoje family in Eleni community; an action that has been heating up the area. Unfortunately for the family, proceeds from the land are their main source of livelihood; hence they have been living in abject poverty since it was taken away from them three years ago. Painfully, 59-year-old Mr. Biliaminu Salami-Adeoje, who acts as the custodian of the land, is visually impaired.

In an emotion-laden tone, Biliaminu, who narrated what he described as injustice meted out to him and his family to The Guardian, said the monarch sold about 100 acres of their family land.

“I am visually impaired, I cannot do any job,” he said. “It is the proceeds from crops I cultivate on this land – cocoa, palm tree and other cash crops – that I use to feed my family.

“When we heard that the monarch has sold the land and I went with my family to plead with him, he replied us in Yoruba, ‘Obi t’oba ti ka la t’orun, ti o ba ti b’ole, ko pada s’orun mo’, meaning it is not possible to reverse the sale of the land. We pleaded further with him, but he declined.

“At a point, we sent emissaries to him. We even consulted a lawyer to write him, informing him that we were not selling our land and that whatever structure the buyers have erected on the said land should be demolished and the land returned to us. With that action, he claimed we instituted a legal action against him. He made us understand that if we sue him, we will never win because all the lawyers in Osun State, including the judge are his ‘boys’.”

Biliaminu recalled that the problem started about three years ago, adding that they had been going forth and back on it since then. He stated that last January, the monarch invited them after the family drove away the purported buyers from the land.

“We went to meet him at Ile Ogbo and he promised to convene a meeting between us and those who bought the land within eight days, claiming he wasn’t aware that such large number of acres was taken from a single family. He said he was not a wicked man to have taken such a large chunk of land from only one family.

“Since that January till now, we’ve not heard anything about the meeting. What we saw about a month ago was the presence of one man who came with soldiers and started videoing the entire land. It was rumoured that the man came from abroad. Some people even said maybe he was the buyer. With that, we thought the monarch would call us as promised but he never did; there was no news and we decided to take a step. The step was sending away those working on the farm to let them know that the land is not for sale,” Biliaminu recounted.

He expressed sadness that in the last two years, he has practically been begging for food, as he had no other source of living. “I cannot see; my children are in school. There are palm trees on the land, which I usually sell to those making palm oil; and then cocoa and other cash crops. That’s where I earned my living. But in the last two years, I have been living from hand to mouth. I do not have access to the farm again; the monarch has taken away my food and source of living. During the last Sallah festival, as a Muslim, we couldn’t celebrate because there was no money to buy ram and cloth. There’s no money for school fees, no money to eat.

“We had a meeting with a representative of the buyers, one Mr. Kehinde Kolade, who works with the Federal School of Surveying, Oyo State. We told him we are not selling our land. He promised to come back to see us. It’s already three years now; we didn’t see him. The only thing we saw was the construction of a garri processing factory, a pen for piggery and cultivation of crops on the land.

“We erected a signpost here in 2013. It was an agreement among all land owners in Oke-Osun – Ile Ogbo, Iwo, Oluponna that we are not selling our land. Nigerians please help me; don’t let me die of hunger, I cannot see.

“I am appealing to all Nigerians, our state Governor, Nurudeen Ademola Adeleke, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and human rights activists to come to my aid. Please, rescue me from Oba Ile Ogbo; assist my family,” he said emotionally.

When The Guardian visited the land in question, it was noticed that the front part had been converted to a garri processing factory, which had three different structures. One of the structures housed the staffers, the second was used for garri processing, while the third was still under construction.

About 75 metres away from the factory, on the same row, a new building, which looked like a piggery had also been completed. The building had a water tank mounted on scaffolding. The entire right flank of the land, where the Salami-Adeoje palm trees and cocoa plantations are, was being used for cultivation of cassava to service the factory, while the far end of the land was used for maize cultivation.

Biliaminu’s aunt, Madam Nusiratu Salami, who claimed that the land was sold out in connivance with the community’s head, the Baale, said: “The first thing we heard, at the initial stage was that the monarch warned that we shouldn’t come near our land. The day I came with my nephew – Biliaminu, I had to put him in another community to unravel what was really happening on our land, since he couldn’t see. I hired a commercial motorcycle, which took me round the entire land and I went to meet the Baale, who told me he wasn’t in the know of those who snatched our land.

“He said the only thing he knew was that when he and the Baale of Obielu community went to settle a dispute at Laitan community, on his way back, he saw some people surveying the land. He claimed he was forced to return to Obielu to inform the Baale that the land belonging ‘to our Iwo people’ was being tampered with, and they needed to send their people. Our Baale did not in any way support us to fight this injustice; he’s behind the monarch who sold our land.”

A septuagenarian member of the family, Pa Basiru Salami-Adeoje, also said: “The monarch intentionally came to cheat us on our land. What he has done to us could be likened to stripping us naked because our source of living and existence is tied to this land.

“The first sign we noticed on the land was the presence of a cat tied inside the farm; it was even the Baale that came to my house to inform me of the development. When we got there, we were warned not to kill the cat. When I consulted some people, they warned that the cat shouldn’t be left to spend up to seven or nine days in the farm, advising that it should be killed. I went with the Baale and a pastor to untie the cat, but on the seventh day, the Baale fell sick. On the 15th day, I also fell sick; it was around 11pm that the sickness started and I was rushed home the second day.

“I was taken everywhere but there was no solution. It was on September 15, 2019, that I was forcefully discharged from the University Teaching Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, without any solution. We eventually met a Good Samaritan who told us the sickness was beyond the issue of hospital. They asked if I quarreled with anyone, I said no. I told them the only issue was the land matter. That was where it was revealed that it was the evil work of those planning to sell our land. They planned to kill me.

“It was the fourth day after I was taken away from the village that they began to sell the land, to the extent that my people, who ought to be on ground to resist the sale, were rushing me everywhere at the time. There was nobody that sees me that would not cry because of the extent of the sickness.

“For nine months, I usually vomited whatever I ate almost immediately. While I was on the sick bed, Madam Nusiratu and other family members were on the move to regain the land, but the monarch repeated what he said earlier that Obi t’oba ti ka la t’orun, ti o ba ti b’ole, ko pada s’orun mo. Since then, the monarch has impoverished us.”

Corroborating what Biliaminu said on the erected signpost, Basiru said they took the step when there was rumour in 2013 that some people were planning to sell the land.

“That was when Oke-Osun community, Iwo, Ile Ogbo, Kuta and Ode-Omu gathered ourselves to protest against the move, which forced us to erect a signpost. It was the same day we erected the signpost that the monarch instructed his men to remove it. The case was taken to the office of the Commissioner of Police, who ordered that the signpost be repaired and returned to our community,” he recalled.

Basiru said that a few weeks before then, they had embarked on a peaceful protest to alert the public to the fact that they were not selling the land.

He added: “It’s been three years now that this land has been sold out, coupled with the unfulfilled promises of the monarch to convene a meeting with us. Constructions started on the land under our nose; people were asking us if we would fold our arms and allow our resources to slip off. That’s the reason we embarked on the peaceful protest.

“When we went there for the protest, we didn’t go with cutlasses or any weapon; we only sent the workers there away. It was after that they raised a false allegation against us that we stole from their factory. Shortly after we succeeded in sending the workers away, I saw the Baale and the factory manager when they came to the factory. I came to meet them and inquired if any of their things were missing and they said no.

“But after two days, around 4:50pm, I saw the Baale and the manager who came in a Mazda bus to pack bags of garri. It was at the end of the day that they alleged that Alhaji Nureni Ajagbe, who was not present during the protest, stole 158 bags of garri. He was remanded in police custody for theft.

“I am appealing to Governor Adeleke and well-meaning individuals to save us from the monarch and help us to recover our land. We are not selling our land. We are also appealing to President Bola Tinubu to intervene so that we can recover our land from the grip of the monarch.”

However, when The Guardian approached the Baale of Eleni community, Chief Jimoh Adegorite, to get his own side of the story, he claimed the land doesn’t belong to the Salami- Adeoje family.

“Iwo doesn’t have any land in Oke-Osun. The land was given to the family a long time ago to farm. They now want to turn it to theirs. They gave them space to farm and suddenly they turned it to their land. The land doesn’t belong to the family,” Adegorite said.

Contrarily, the Baale of Obielu, a community which shares border with Eleni, where the said land is situated, Chief Rasheed Adeleke, confirmed that the land truly belongs to the Salami-Adeoje family. He attributed the genesis of the problem to the order given by the past administration in the state, which empowers traditional rulers to possess lands in their jurisdiction (all lands belong to traditional rulers). According to him, it was the order that led to the arbitrary sale of the family’s land and others in the area.

Adeleke said when the monarch’s men took hold of the land, he joined the Salami-Adeoje family to plead with him. “I went with this family to plead with the monarch not to sell the land. These people are old and this is their only source of income; they can no longer learn any skill. But despite our plea, at the end, they brought some men here, armed with guns. It was what we saw that forced our community to survey all our lands because we don’t want any issue. The problem is too much. We need to cry out now because tomorrow, it may be my turn. We need to rise up and see how we can persuade him to leave the land.

“His men have tried to take land from our community, but we resisted the attempt. I can confirm that the land belongs to the Salami-Adeoje family from time immemorial, even before I was born. This is an inherited land,” he said.

The Baale of Monu, another community that also shares boundary with Eleni community, Chief Akeem Wale Dada, however, said he wasn’t aware of the land issue.

When the monarch, Oba Agbaje, was contacted on phone, he denied the allegation, describing it as false. His words: “I did not sell any land that doesn’t belong to me there. The said land belongs to me. From time immemorial, my forefathers have been installing Baales there and I became monarch 12 years ago. They are just bent on maligning my image everywhere, calling me thief and other names. In this time and age, how is it possible for anyone to just take over another person’s land? They have their own land there where they are farming; the land sold is not theirs.

“On this land, I have five different court judgments. In Oke-Osun, there was a monarch there called Tadese; he installed a Baale there 16 years ago before I became monarch. The Baale was removed. The claim was that Oluwo doesn’t have any jurisdiction to install anyone there, that it’s only Olu of Ile Ogbo that is the constituted authority.

“I plead with you not to write anything that will tarnish my image because I didn’t take their land. If they feel I took their land, let them take me to any court; if I lose, I’ll leave their land. I don’t want any problem with them; they should go to court.”

When contacted on phone, the land buyer’s representative, one Kolade, declined to comment. “I cannot respond to what you are saying on phone. It’s never done anywhere,” he said.

All efforts to speak with the manager of the garri factory proved abortive, as he was not on site during the visit. The Guardian learnt that early this year, the monarch was accused of selling plots of land that his forefathers preserved for the benefit of Ile Ogbo. It was learnt that according to the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Ahoro Oba land, which is meant for the benefit of the whole community has been sold, and the proceed allegedly mismanaged. Sources alleged that the development and other actions of the monarch has not only led to underdevelopment of the town, but has also driven away some indigenes and philanthropists that were passionate about its development.

Some prominent indigenes of the community said the monarch was becoming unapproachable, a development that led to the withdrawal of some prominent members of the Ile Ogbo Unity Front (IUF) since he mounted the throne.

Further investigations revealed that Momu community also got a dose of the monarch’s alleged illegalities. In May this year, the landowners in the village reportedly got wind of a plan by Oba Agbaje to take over some of their lands. This led to a mass protest on May 15, which eventually foiled the plan.

The Guardian learnt that the abusive comments used by the protesters to send the monarch’s representatives away infuriated Oba Agbaje, who ordered the arrest of some individuals, including Alhaji Nureni Ajagbe, Muritala Tadese, Sabitu Adebayo, Niyi Adebayo and seven others perceived as the arrow heads of the protest. Sources within the community showed The Guardian a copy of a letter dated May 20, 2023, signed by the Area Commander, Iwo Police Area Command, ACP Omololu Vaughan, to summon the people.

The letter, titled, ‘Criminal Conspiracy, Defamation Of Character, Obstructing Policemen While Performing their Lawful Duty, Inciting Injurious Falsehood and Conduct Likely to Cause Breach Of Peace’, accused the 11 residents of defamation of character. It was learnt that the monarch dropped the case following pressure from different quarters.

Impeccable sources disclosed that despite the monarch’s alleged human right abuses, the state government almost granted him the authority to install minor chiefs in 31 adjoining towns and villages under his jurisdiction.

In a letter dated May 17, 2023, and signed by Mr. Bashir Oladipupo, on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, Osun State Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, it was stated that arrangements were being made to publish the approval in the state government’s official gazette.

However, a day after the issuance of the letter, the governor issued a statement to denounce it. Sources within the governor’s office disclosed that the development was due to security reports on the activities of the monarch, which came to the knowledge of the governor after the letter was issued. The Guardian learnt that Adeleke was shocked, especially on the issue of land sale, which was generating communal heat across Iwoland.

“The discovery was a result of the plan to gazette the authority to the Olu of Ile Ogbo to appoint chiefs in his domain, according to a letter dated May 17, 2023. But suddenly, the governor stopped the process,” the source said.

It was learnt that Adeleke expressed disappointment that due process was not followed as most villages listed in the letter fell under Iwo town; and the Oluwo of Iwoland, the paramount ruler of Iwoland, which IleOgbo is part of, was not involved or consulted.

Sources at the Governor’s Office revealed that Adeleke saw the letter to the Olu of Ile Ogbo as an attempt to destroy the good relationship he currently enjoys with the people of Iwoland.

“The governor was not happy. He directed the gazetting of the planned prescribed authority to stop forthwith. The management of the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs was directed to stop it.

“The ministry was also warned to stop processing letters on chieftaincy matters without engaging all stakeholders and without exhausting all platforms for due process,” a source in the office said.