We Die So Omo Onile May Live [1]

#1
Land grabbing has become a menace in many parts of Nigeria, especially in Lagos, South-West Nigeria. Lagos grabbers (popularly called Omo Onile) have constituted a nightmare for land buyers and property developers. They appear at virtually every stage of land and property development to make illegal, frustrating and sometimes, impossible demands. In this report, KEMI BUSARI investigates the habitual business of land grabbing in Lagos State.


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Military signpost on the land


She looked dejected as she motioned tardily to the chair where the interview would be conducted. Moving as though life had been taken out of her, but indeed, the essence of existence had been robbed of her more than a year ago.

Dressed in simple gown of what many would call an ‘SU dressing’, she seemed totally cut out of fashion and the reason for this was quite discernible from her weary look; of what use were fine dresses when the best man in her world had been killed by the power that was?

The pictures of the husband still hung on the wall, the portraits clean and novel as if it was hung a minute ago. Like the picture, the memories of events that led to the ‘silent’ murder of her husband remains fresh in her mind, garish in her face.

She has suffered in one of the crudest manifestations of sheer gluttony, if not the crudest. She is caught in between two worlds; the mundane world which sings to her only songs of sorrows and a world of rage, retribution which explains her courage while the interview lasted.

More like a moving zombie, she balanced herself on the chair with a questioning look which surrounds her world as though a death sentence had been passed on her; of what use is living when her husband has been killed over a six plots of land bought by his sweat? Of what use is living, when suddenly she becomes the father and mother of 5 children with nothing or no support? Of what use is living, when in the face of obvious innocence, the law has decided to wave its wand against her? Of what use…when the omo oniles have decided to take life out of her living?


Sheer corruption, mere injustice

In Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria, it is common to see or hear of a group of young men gather at construction sites demanding unaccountable levies and fines. Right from the day a potential landowner shows interest in possessing a piece of land, he begins to pay to land grabbers popularly called Omo Onile (the children of land owner).

With a larger percentage of the state covered with water, the struggle to annexe the little existing space gets fiercer and bloodier by the day.

Plots of land in modern Lagos could be acquired through two major means: either from the government which are usually formal, secure and very expensive, or from families which are relatively cheaper. However, the disadvantage of buying from families, who usually have an Omo Onile structure is that while you pay once to acquire land from government, you continue to pay to hold the Omo Oniles off your land even after being issued a receipt.

The payment starts with the Omo Oloko fee (children of farm owner fee) after a buyer has been issued a receipt for his land. From there, he goes on to pay the foundation fee, first decking fee, second decking fee, third decking fee, roofing fee, fence fee, transfer fee, receiving of form fee and the payment goes on, on and on.

Should a land owner decide to bring sand, cement and other building materials to his land, he has to pay before it is allowed and in general, the payment depends on the area in question and level of compassion of the selling family; the amount ranges from thousands, millions to hundreds of millions.

Defiance or threat of legal action would not in any way intimidate an Omo Onile. They employ every means to making sure that they receive ‘their lawful money’ from would-be-buyer of their lands. Intimidations, evictions, attacks are some of the ready instruments they used in driving home their demands.

More often than not, an Omo Onile attack leads to deaths, deaths of innocent people. Such was the case of Pastor Chinedu Okoli who died on the 12th of April 2015.

We paid, paid and paid, yet no receipt

When it was still a family of seven, Pastor Chinedu Okoli and Wife Nneka Okoli Lived with their 5 children in a rented apartment at No. 109 Glory Estate, Isheri, off Ijegun Ikotun, Lagos.

The family had saved up to purchase 6 plots of land in which husband and wife had planned to situate their church; Christ is The Deliverance Fire Church but the Omo Onile Would not allow the dream to live.

Struggle with Omo Onile didn’t all start in Isheri, the family had started the church ministry while in Ago on a plot of land purchased in 2005. The church blossomed and enjoyed good membership until sometime in 2010 when Omo Onile came to lay claim of ownership to the land. Stating that they are acting under the authority of a king, the occupants were asked to vacate the land.

After several physical and diabolical assault on the land, the couple sought the help of the police who were able to settle the rife. The land was later sold and the proceeds invested in purchasing six plots of land at N2, 650, 000 ($5699, at N465 to 1 Dollar rate) from Idowu Asho family in Adeojo Area of Alimosho Local Government of Lagos State.


The piece of land at Adeojo Area, Isheri-osun, Lagos Inset Mrs. Nneka Okoli.jpg
The piece of land at Adeojo Area, Isheri-osun, Lagos Inset: Mrs. Nneka Okoli


The drama started right at the point of issuance of receipt. Since the land was purchased to construct buildings for the church, the couple decided to write the receipt in the name of the church.

Upon lawyer’s advice that the name be changed since the church was not registered, the couple decided to approach the Idowu Asho family to request for another receipt written in Mr. Okoli’s name. They were however dazed to sub-conciousness when the representative of the family requested for N500, 000 ($1075) in order to issue another receipt.

In a grim voice, fighting back hot tears Mrs. Nneka Okoli recounted the series of events that preceded the murder of her husband.

“Our first agreement was to pay N400,000($860) for a plot making N2,400,000 ($5161) for the six but after we had already paid, they called us and said it is N500,000 ($1075) for a plot, we pleaded and they allowed us pay N250,000 ($538) more.

“We instructed them to write the receipt in the name of the church. Some days after we collected the receipt, the lawyer came and ask us if we had registered the church, we said no, so he advised us to use either of our names instead. The lawyer called them to change it for us and they agreed. We returned the receipt with the hope that they will issue another in my husband’s name but that was not the case, after one week, they told us that to get a new receipt, we must pay N500, 000 ($1075).


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A copy of the receipt written in the church's name

The couple offered to pay N100, 000 ($215) but the family declined, insisting on the initial amount. After several attempts to convince them, they decided to let the receipt bear the church’s name. After this, the couple were requested to pay N400, 000 ($860) for the survey, N800, 000 ($1720) for job card and N500, 000 ($1075) for the family receipt in which they paid promptly.

However, the couple was dealt another blow when the family in connivance with their ‘trusted’ lawyer and some ‘self-acclaimed’ estate agents withhold the receipts. ‘For three months, my husband keep going to meet them, yet they didn’t give us.’ She said in a shattered tone.

The struggle continued until early 2015 when Pastor Okoli fell sick, got bed-ridden and was unable to go out. Worried they may lose the land if laxity is entertained, Mrs Okoli kept visiting the agents and the family. The pestering yielded a result, the family receipt was issued but the survey and receipt for job card were still in their custody. Not even a plea visit to the palace of the Oba of Isheri would change their mind.

The heaviest blow was finally dealt on the couple in March 2015. All the while they had been struggling to get documents for the land, they did not visit the location. So, on this fateful day, they decided to go to the location. Alas! Construction work had commenced fully on the plots.


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A plot of the land fully developed to a storey building and fenced


Swindled by Police

When the daunting reality continued to be unbearable, the couple resorted to legal action against the Idowu Asho Family and the conniving agents. They contacted Barrister John Aroh who decided to render his services free but requested N700, 000 ($1505) to prosecute the case; N500, 000 ($1075) to contact the police and another N200, 000 ($430) to pay an officer who would fast-track the case.

Even at the offer of N200, 000 ($430), Barrister Aroh declined to render his services. Thus, the couple headed for the Nigeria Police Force investigation Department, Alagbon, Lagos State.

Mrs Okoli recounted the experience with the police: “when we got to Alagbon, they told us to make a statement, we did and they took information about the land. They told us that they have to write a petition. They informed us that even though we have a lawyer, they have to write the petition their own way so that it would be attended to in Abuja.”

The couple were told that the petition will cost N50, 000 ($108) and that they will also take ‘something’ for the service rendered for that day. Mr. Okoli gave the police N5, 000 ($11) and two weeks after, precisely on the 12th of April 2015, he breathed his last.

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A copy of the N50, 000 petition


Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, SP Dolapo Badmus in a swift defense of the force noted that it is not the duty of the police to write petitions on behalf of anybody.

“People need to be enlightened on what to do and how to it, it is not the duty of the police to write petition. Tell me the name of the person that signed it? If you (the reporter) are asked by the police to pay for them to write petition, will you?” she questioned.

Several attempts to get further clarification were abortive as calls and messages put through to her were neither answered nor tended to.


'They killed my husband while I was praying'

In January 2015, the Okoli’s family, previously living Abaranja, had decided to move in to an apartment in Isheri. Unknown to the family, the 3 bedroom flat in which they rented belonged to an accomplice of the 'Omo Onile.' Worse still, 2 of the three occupants of the other flats were allies.

To further intimidate the couple several attempts were made on their lives and that of the children. Mrs. Okoli recounts the gory incidents in a breaking voice depicting an inner pain resuscitated by memory.

“Throughout the first three months we packed in here, it was like war. They come around with OPC (Oodua People’s Congress), they will surround the house and fleet pepper spray on our apartment. Sometimes they will be burning things we don’t even know, day and night. This aggravated my husband’s health condition.

“On the evening of 11th April 2015, my husband’s condition became worse and we decided to take him to the hospital, we raised alarm and our neigbours, three of them came. I asked one of them to help use his car to transport my husband to the hospital, he declined, citing an excuse.

“Hours later, the health condition remained the same so I decided to pray. The three of them connived and entered my husband’s room. They pretended as if they were praying, they had something in a bottle they gave to him in form of anointing oil. That was what my husband drank, and after that he died.

“It was around 2am in the morning and my children who were sitting close to the room’s door started shouting, calling them to open the door but they did not answer. They finally opened around 4am and one of them, came to me and told me to come and see my husband, that he is dead.

“As if that was not enough, around 6am in the morning, the Omo Onile agent called me and said that he heard what happened, that after they have finished dealing with me, I will know that they have family. I was dazed for words, I didn’t believe that my husband would be killed just like that.”

The neigbours were identified as Mr. Chinagoro, Mr Johnson and his mother while the agent bears Adesoye Adeyemi.


Re –swindled by the police

Two days after Mr Okoli’s death, the police called his wife to come for the petition. She was shown the petition but instead of the petition to have as content the statement made by the couple, the police had ‘twisted the information to suit themselves.’ The N2, 650, 000 ($5699 ) land was put at N15, 000, 000 ($32258). And she was instructed to allow it be if she wants to get back her land.

“After my husband’s burial, they told me to come again. They said that I should pay N100, 000 ($215) so they could arrest the Omo Onile disturbing us, I paid but in the end, they made no arrest, they only sent letters inviting the Omo Onile family to Alagbon. When the Omo Onile, appeared, they kept worshipping him. They just collected money and did nothing”


Lawyers are Omo Onile

When it all seemed that hope was totally lost, Mrs. Okoli had to re-contract Barrister John Aroh, the lawyer who had initially backed out again. An initial sum of N100, 000 ($215) was paid to him but he did ‘nothing.’ And after much struggle, the N100, 000 ($215) was retrieved. Thus the need to contract another lawyer.

Barrister Kennedy Osunwa was contracted in September 2015 and in the beginning, he appeared promising.

“He told me that the first thing is to register the church and to do that, we need N700, 000($1505), I told him I have N100, 000 ($215, the one received from Barrister Aroh) but he refused. So, I sold all the Keke (tricycle) which I relied on in feeding my children. In the end, I raised N350, 000 ($753).

“He started following me to Alagbon and at a point, he called me that he wanted to discuss something with me. He told me that the case is getting serious and for him to continue, he had to sleep with me and also take a plot of land from the six, I refused and afterwards, he withdrew.”


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Barrister Osunwa


The next station for the widow was that of Barrister Helen Ibeji who agreed to take up the case Pro Bono with n request that she be given a plot of land in the end. ‘I agreed and we signed some documents,’ Mrs Okoli admitted.

“But as time goes on, she called me that we have to make another agreement. She said that she will sell the land to her brother at N500, 000 ($1075) per plot (as against about N5 to 7million current worth) and that she is no longer good with a plot, that she will have to take two plots if she must continue with the case.”

However, the allegations were denied by the lawyers. While Barrister Osunwa admitted to receiving a sum ‘around N350, 000 ($753)’ he denied receiving the money for the purpose of church registration.

“I collected money from her but it was not for the purpose of registering the church. The money was to file a case which I did. The case entered appearance but along the line, there was a preliminary objection that she could not lay claim to the land in the name of the church.”

Barrister Osunwa added that a romantic relationship with her client is ‘not possible’ because ‘she knows my wife and I will never do that.’

In her defense, Barrister Helen admitted that there was a formal agreement between them for her to prosecute the case free and get a plot afterwards but she never requested more.

“I have copies of the signed agreement with me. We both agreed that I would take a plot and at no point did I request more and I never said I would sell land to anybody. The woman is contradicting herself.”

Faithfully hopeful, totally hopeless

After issues with the police and lawyers, Mrs. Okoli lost patience, severed further relationship with them.

As at August 2016 when this reporter visited the location of the land in her company, a plot had been developed into a storey-building and fenced. The other 5 plots now have foundation and a military caution signpost stands erect like a military man forever on duty.

Mrs. Okoli is left to cater for 5 children. The first set of twins, Christopher and Mary Okoli,18, have gained admissions into tertiary institutions but no fund to make them carry on. The second set of twins Michael and Mark Okoli and the last female Glory Okoli who all attend the same secondary school have dropped out due to a N182, 000 ($392) debt.

In a last hope of retrieving the land, the widow submitted letters at the Office of the Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, and Ministry of justice, yet, justice keeps eluding her.


Blood on the land

The gory picture of the unknown motorcyclist lying dead, killed by bullet which ripped through his skull still holds fresh in the memory of residents of Isiu Community of Ikorodu North Local Council Area of Lagos state.

It was a Friday and the landlords and residents of the community had decided to stage a peaceful protest to challenge the perennial intimidation and forceful takeover of their farmlands by Omo Onile. But the protest was hijacked by hoodlums who were allegedly contracted by the trio of Alhaji Soro Alabi, Alhaji Mutairu Owoeye, and one other simply identified as Jimoh.

Armed with machetes, guns and other harmful objects, the hoodlums made a full attack on the community in the process killing an innocent motorcyclist.

Chairman of Isiu-Eweye Development Association, Opeyemi Taiwo said that ‘apart from the death of the okada man, two other people have been killed since the struggle started.

“Mutairu Owoeye is the one that sent hoodlums to our community. The method he uses is to kill people and drop the corpse on the land he wants to grab. He will then charge the land owners to court and sell their plots while they rot in jail.”

He added that some innocent residents, numbering three have been arrested on the case and that the community seeks the help of government to prove their innocence and make them remain on their lands.

Just like the unknown motorcyclist, Ganiyu Adebayo, one of the landlords of Temidire Area of Lagos State was not lucky on the day hoodlums attacked their community. He was shot and died instantly.

One Alhaji Rasak Olaniyan was said to have led hoodlums to the community while the landlords held a press conference. The confrontation that ensued during the conference was however quenched by the police only for the hoodlums identified as Waidi Awolu, Ganiyu Raji, Wasiu Olori Esho, Araba and Deputy to come back in the evening with weapons, leading to the death of poor Adebayo, hospitalization of many and destruction of properties.

Another drama ensued on the 20th of July, 2015 when one Rasaki Olatunji, a police informant better known as ‘Alhaji Gay’ was reportedly killed in Temidire Community during a protest by landlords and residents.

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Left: the protesters Right: Rasaki Olatunji

This incident led to the arrest of the Baale (Traditional ruler) of Temidire Community, Nojeem Abioye and his son Wahab Abioye. The duo are still remanded in the Kirikiri Prison as at September 2016.

Chairman of Temidire Community Development Association, Elutipe Taiwo said the community can no longer stand the threat of Omo Onile.

“He (Rasak Olaniyan) has been terrorising the community. He wants to take over the whole community and we ask if he has any court order saying he is the owner, he has none. Our Baale and his son are still in police custody. We seek justice for the dead,” he said.

The case is still in court and neither of Temidire nor Isiu-Eweye Community knows what side of the cutlass the law will approach them with. And the cases of Omo Onile goes on, on and on.

As Mrs. Okoli concludes the interview, her eyes still harbours the redness of inner tears. She is still unsure of how she’ll cope with father-mothering of the five children.
 
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RemmyAlex

RemmyAlex

Social Member
Curators
#2
Omo onile issue is a very alarming case in Laos and Nigeria as a whole. If quickly not checked, it will give room to advance fraud and enroachment of peoples' hard earned sweat. Good, Governor Ambode outlawed it soon.
 
Samguine

Samguine

Moderator
Staff member
Curators
#3
Omo onile issue is a very alarming case in Laos and Nigeria as a whole. If quickly not checked, it will give room to advance fraud and enroachment of peoples' hard earned sweat. Good, Governor Ambode outlawed it soon.
Government officials, security agencies are even part of it. They collect a certain percentage from the omo oniles
 
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