We Die So Omo Onile May Live [2]


Social Member
In the Ijora axis of 21st century Lagos, landlords paid twice to acquire plots of land. From 2009 till date, house owners have paid millions of naira to acquire plots of land which ironically does not give them the right of ownership but lease. KEMI BUSARI, in the concluding part of this story journeys into the clan of the Ojora Royal Family, the legal aspect of land acquisition and the prospect of a growing city devoid of Land grabbers.

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Ojora signpost erect on a piece of land

Sometime in 2009, residents of Orile Iganmu, Coker, Aloko Sarage, Oso-Olodi, Imoro and other adjoining settlements in Lagos State woke up to a strange inscription on the walls of their buildings; 'LD/ 562/72, possession taken, 13/7/2009.'

Painted in red, many pondered in ignorance what the figures and letters designated but a few who could decipher the court ruling were quick to explain. “The Ojora has finally won the court case and we don’t know what steps they will take next.” A landlord who was fully involved in the 2009 ‘surprise’ recalled.

READ PART 1 HERE: We Die So Omo Onile May Live [1]

The land dispute had started in 1972 and spanned for 37 years before a ‘final’ Supreme Court ruling was obtained in 2009. The Orile Iganmu Community laying claim to land in the kingdom on the argument of long occupation while the Ojora Family on the other side claim ownership by the declaration of title under native laws and a 1918 plan issued by Herbert Macaulay, then frontline nationalist.

According to the Supreme Court ruling, the land in dispute forms a portion of the large areas which belonged to the Ojora Chieftaincy Family absolutely under the Yoruba law and custom. In the early 20’s, the colonial government approached the Ojora Family and requested to acquire some pieces of land at the Iddo Island of their property and the request was granted.

Upon agreement by the family and the colonial government, a lease dated 19th December 1925 was issued. The lease granted a large parcel of land, earlier owned, to the Ojora Family in place of the acquired land.

As civilization continued to grow, settlements continued to germinate on the ‘Ojora land,’ giving in to ‘new owners’ by virtue of their long stay on the land. The new owners did not only stay, they sold out parts of the land and for years, they existed as original land lords.

Waking up to the reality that their land may be finally striped of them, the Ojora Family charged the Orile Iganmu community to court in 1972 and recorded victories first in High Court of Justice in 2000, Appeal Court in 2005 and the Supreme Court on the 3rd of July 2009. A week after the court pronouncement, the family swung into action, all properties on the land were marked with the court order.

What do they want to make out of this inscriptions? Are we to buy ‘our lands’ again? Do they want us to leave totally? The landlords ask rhetorically.

The questions were answered few days later, when the Ojora Family called for meetings and it was decided that each property owner in the kingdom pay in order to retain a lease possession of his land. It must be lease, because, according to the tradition, Ojora Family doesn't sell out their land.

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The inscription on one of the buildings

Ojora Royal Family: the Heavenly Lords on Earth

The 2009 inscription is still apparent on some of the buildings; one of such buildings is that on No. 3 Ogunmola Street, owned by Late Mr. Ogunmola.

Mathew Ogunmola, the third son of the family who was part of the payment process recalled that it took the family up to a year before the ‘over 700,000’ ($1505)could be paid.

“We paid in installments and I can’t recollect fully the amount we paid. I deposited N200, 000 ($430) three times into the account they told us to pay into and when they came again to tell us that our payment was not complete, my brother who is a priest dressed in his full priesthood garment and went to the palace. He had some amount of money with him and he begged them with the money and they issued us the receipt.”

Investigations by this reporter revealed that nobody in the said areas ever escaped payment of the re-acquisition of his land. However, the payment varies, depending on time and approach. While the Ogunmolas paid about N700, 000 to secure their fathers' property, landlords under the Coker House Owners Association, CHOA, paid N520, 000 ($1118) to secure their plots, the cheapest according to sources in the kingdom.

Mr. Lateef Oke, The Public Relations Officer of the association revealed more on the possession process and the secret of favourable bargain.

“The possession process was tough. Police and other forces were deployed to the area. Maybe they thought there would be a counter attack but thank God there wasn’t any. The first thing they did was to call all landlords for a meeting. At the meeting, they informed us that they had won in court and we should come and re-purchase our lands.

“From there, the dialogue began in 2010 and after several meetings and bargaining, we settled for N520, 000 ($1118) per plot and N320, 000 ($688) for half a plot. Other people paid well above that but ours was the cheapest. The reason for this is that we didn’t show any act of resistance. Some of our people are still paying the money till today.”

The landlords were allowed to pay in installments but an initial payment of N100, 000 ($215) had to be made to show intention. However, when it appeared that some people were not ready to pay, the Ojora family waded a wand of their law. The Ojora agents took law into their hands, in most cases, parts of a building roofing was removed, in others, the gates were chained, leaving narrow paths for people to pass.

We are magnanimous – Ojora Family

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Ojora of Ijora, Oba Fatai Aromire

The payment would have been exorbitant had the Ojora of Ijora kingdom, Oba Fatai Aremu Aromire, heeded to the advice of other family members who wanted either total destruction of all properties on their land or a full payment for acquisition.

The family later agreed to the king’s position but in the long run, some landlords charged the family to court, with the claim that the land which had been purchased long ago belonged to them and repayment unfair. Oba Aromire beamed more light on this.

“It was long years of legal battle. We won in three different courts; the High Court, Appeal Court and the Supreme Court. We have our warrant of possession and by that, we have every right to the land.

“In the first place, my family wanted us to demolish all the houses there but I stood in defence of the people. If I demolish all the houses, who are we going to rule over? This decision later backfired because the people I was fighting for later charged me to court and thank God we won again.

“When it appeared that some were not ready to pay, our consultants started handing out some forms of threats, like removing parts of roofing and other kinds of punishment. The one that owns the land also owns whatever is on it, that’s what the judgment says.”

Annual lease payment has started in Orile

In the Orile axis of the Ojora kingdom, payment started early as many were apprehensive of losing their land. The early payers paid more, as much as N1, 500, 000 ($3226) per plot, according to investigation.

As haggling intensified, the amount was reduced and continued to reduce until it stabled at N750, 000 ($1613) for a plot. Many, if not all, have paid fully and the yearly lease renewal has started fully.

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Ojora caution on a piece of land at Doyin, Orile

Mr Shehu Yahaya, one of the landlords in the communities, shared his experience: “When we got to this area, we bought land from Orile Iganmu. I bought mine in 1972 and paid to the Orile Family. But at a point, the Ojora Family came with the court order and asked all of us to pay.”

According to him, most of the landlords paid N750, 000 ($1613) for a plot while worship centres like mosques and churches were excluded. As it was in Coker Community, the payment was for lease and not outright ownership.

Mr Adewale, a dweller in the community, explained that the yearly lease payment started about 4 years ago. “The yearly lease is very comfortable for us to pay. Some pay N2, 000 ($4.3) and some pay N1, 500 ($3.2),” he said

But what use is a yearly lease after a double payment to acquire a land? Oba Aromire explained why the family has decided to be taking a ‘meagre’ amount as lease from the landlords.

“It is true that we ask them to pay lease every year. Ojora family doesn't sell land, we only lease it out. The reason for this is to cater for the next generation. We collect a meagre amount and deposit it into the bursary account of the family. Each year, we select children from different ruling houses and other children dwelling in the community and use this fund (lease) to send them to schools.

“It doesn’t mean that we’ll later chase them away from the land. So far the lease is paid, landowners are secure.”

The urge to pay the money in a way resulted in hike of rent. “Before the judgement, a room self-contain cost between N60, 000 ($129) to N80,000 ($172) but it is now as high as N120,000 ($258) to N150,000 ($323),” Mr. Adewale added.

In some instances, landlords take advantage of the order, connive with the Ojora consultants to send out tenants. In any of the cases, a landlord after receiving full rent from his tenants would ‘bribe’ and ‘invite’ the consultants to come and remove his roofing so that the tenants would either leave to pave way for another rent or contribute to pay.

Matthew Ogunmola has witnessed these several times. “Some landlords are wicked and many of them took advantage of that order. Apart from increasing rent, they also chase tenants away.

“Even tenants do their own too. I was in a house one day and the consultants were in the process of removing the roofing by the order of one of the consultants who happened to be a tenant of the said house. I was surprised and asked him why he was doing that, he said he was only doing his job, that he knew how to settle his landlord later.”

The Land Use Act and Omo Onile

The Land Use Decree of 1978, later incorporated into Nigerian constitutions as the Land Use Act made some bold steps in attempting right what was perceived to be wrong.

However, over the years, the constitutional sanctity of the Land Use Act has raised a lot of controversies because of the strict interpretation of some of its provisions. To an extent, some of its provisions corroborates the activities of Omo Onile.

The Land Use Act in section 5 vests all lands in the hands of the Government and does not allow for the private ownership of land by individuals or corporation. The Governor of each state has the power to allocate urban lands, and local area councils have the power to allocate rural lands. Individuals and private developers must apply for certificates of occupancy that will allow them to use the land for certain period of time for a fee.

Further, the law states that Governor in granting right is that he cannot grant a statutory right of occupancy, or consent to its transfer, to any person under the age of 21years, except to the legal guardian or trustee of such a person.

Moreover, for purpose of residency, the act allows individuals to acquire portions not more than half of a hectare.

However, the decree turned act has remained a sore point in Nigerians quest to acquire land for building in most urban areas. The Land Use Act has affected physical planning negatively in the sense that it created artificial scarcity of land as the previous landowners have not allowed the government to enter their lands to survey and allocate land to applicants as stipulated in the Act. In this case, Omo Onile states his price and without choice, the buyer pays as much as he requests.

Under the Act, the overwhelming powers granted the governors over land have been blamed for the country’s seemingly insurmountable housing problems. Most of the time, the Certificate of Occupancy (C-of-O) which confers ownership of land on individuals are given to the highest bidder (usually Omo Onile) instead of those that actually need the land.

In some states, obtaining a certificate of occupancy has become a Herculean task. Some state governments have even given and cancelled certificates of occupancy on flimsy excuses.

The ‘Under 21’ and ‘half a hectare’ rule is obviously impracticable in Nigeria. Commenting on the deficiencies of the law, Mr. Lekan Alabi, a legal practitioner noted that the act in ways contributes to the activities of Omo Onile.

“The evil doers (Omo Onile) usually capitalize on the weak laws and implementation. There is a general term that land cannot be stolen because, one can only steal what is moveable. Many of our lawyers use this in court to argue and win cases for Omo Onile.

“The Land Use Act and policy inconsistency allows for this. We don’t have proper documentation of our lands. In a situation whereby the government properly allocates land and keeps a good record of them, there won’t be any case of grabbing. Even if there is an attempt, such will be foiled in no time.”

The Lagos State Property Protection Law

On the 15th of August 2016, Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode dealt a big blow on Omo Onile by signing into law the Lagos State Property Protection Law and the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Law.

The former to check the extortionist and criminal tendencies of land grabbers and the latter to boost security of lives and properties in all the Local Government Areas of the state.

“The Lagos State Properties Protection Law will give legal backing to the operations of our law enforcement officers. The main objective of this Law is to ensure that our investors, businessmen and the general populace carry on their legitimate land/property transactions without any hindrance or intimidation henceforth, the governor said with renewed assurance that the “law will eliminate the activities of persons or corporate entities who use force and intimidation to dispossess or prevent any person or entity from acquiring legitimate interest and possession of property.”

The law provides in section Section 2(1), that –“no one shall use force or self-help to take over any landed property or engage in any act inconsistent with the proprietary right of the owner in the State. Anyone who commits such offence is liable to ten (10) years imprisonment.”

Furthermore, by virtue of section 3(4), “anyone who uses fire arms or offensive weapons or is in any way armed or wounds anyone while committing the act of forced entry is liable to 4(four) years imprisonment.”

Any encroacher who tries to sell the property knowing he has no lawful authority to do so commits a crime and is liable to a fine of N500,000 ($1075) and/or Six (6) months imprisonment. If the person is successful in selling the property, he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 100% the value of the property and/or 5(five) years imprisonment as provided in section 8.

The law also stipulates retributions for agents who sell family land without their consent, illegal occupants of premises, and in Section 9, the law prohibits professionals (lawyers) from aiding conduct that constitute an offence. Under the law, such professionals shall be reported to the relevant bodies for misconduct.

The enactment of this law is highly welcome and expected to bring succor to all lawful property owners in Lagos State. However, many are skeptical of its potency and implementation preparedness of the Task Force.

In allaying these fears, Mr Jide Bakare, the Alternate Chairman of the Task Force explained that the force is ‘not only ready but has swung into action since the day of inauguration.’

“Since inauguration, the Task Force has received up to 300 petitions and we have treated up to 50. In some, we only mediated and settled out of court. There are other agencies working with us such as the Ministry of Justice, Lands Bureau, Physical Planning Office, Police and others.

“The Task Force is completely independent and the State Government has provided enough machineries and finances for us to operate. In no time, the issue of Omo Onile will become a thing of the past in Lagos.”

Police are Omo Onile

Of the over 20 cases of land grabbing examined in this investigation, over 20 have a connection with men of the Nigerian Police as the main instrument of force wielded by Omo Onile.

Investigations revealed that police backing is mostly determined by the highest bidder in terms of bribe offer. Most times, the Omo Onile, who is usually wealthy, wins the battle.

Police connivance ranges from forceful eviction of land occupants, unlawful detention, torture, intimidation.

Sometimes, the police drinks from the two cups, filling their bowels in what could be termed playing a good referee in a bad match

In the case of Mrs. Okoli, the police collected N50, 000 ($108) to write a petition and N100, 000 ($)215) to arrest those victimising her, yet there was no positive outcome. In its complaint of Police brutality, the Isiu Community Association alleged with evidences that criminal suspects who had continually terrorised them were sometimes led to the community by the police and if ever arrested, gained freedom easily.

In some other reported and unreported cases, many have fallen to the ruthless bullets of trigger-happy officers.

Towards an Omo Onile-free Lagos

At the moment, Nigeria has a housing deficit burden of 17 million units hanging down its neck which requires about N35 trillion (over $75 billion) to fund. According to World Bank estimates, Nigeria needs to produce about 720,000 housing units for the next 20 years to be able to close the housing gap in the country.

This target seems herculean and unattainable in the country’s most populous state considering the social milieu of land grabbing. The decadence of land grabbing bestriding the land with its octopus network notwithstanding, all hope seem not lost as responsibility behoves on many to make a better, livable state.

The Land Use Act promulgated 38 years ago is obsolete and requires a total review to fit in to the 21st century business and housing clime of Nigeria.

Still on law, the Lagos State government should as a matter of urgency attend to loophole in the newly-enacted Property Protection Law. For instance, in Section 11 of the law, a family who sells land is entitled to collect a one-off payment as foundation fee. However, the law fails to stipulate the amount, the criteria for determining the amount nor what a potential land buyer should do in case he perceives extortion tendencies.

According to the law, legal practitioners who work in furtherance of the Omo Omile agenda would be reported to the appropriate body. On a better view, the government should work with the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, to stipulate punishments for such lawyers and include this in the law.

In the course of this investigation, it was observed that victims of the obnoxious act of land grabbing are afraid of exposing their tormentors. This should not be the case, victims should be bold enough to state their cases for redress and the government through the Task Force should make available and enlighten them on the provisions of the law.

With these, and an uncompromisable Police Force, there seems to be a glister light at the end of the turmoil tunnel of Omo Onile in Lagos State.