What the self-styled ‘Dr’ Ishola Oyenusi, Ph.D armed robbery, is to armed robbery in Nigeria, a founding father, Jimoh Ishola, better known as ‘Ejigbadero’, is to land grabbing!
As a child, I remember being intrigued about both their stories. Oyenusi and his gang members executed by firing squad at Bar Beach for armed robbery (crowds of people went to watch the execution), and Ejigbadero, sentenced to death by hanging for the 1975 murder of one Raji Oba, in the course of his land grabbing activities.
As the name suggests, land grabbing is forcibly or illegally taking undeveloped land or built-up property that does not belong to one, whether for one’s use or to sell and so on. It also involves demanding from or blackmailing others for fees or levies in respect of their construction or disrupting their construction.
The Lagos State House of Assembly, passed a bill which was signed into law by the Governor in August, 2016, prohibiting the forceful entry, illegal occupation, illegal sales of landed properties, and violent and fraudulent conduct in relation to landed properties in Lagos State. The law which is known as the Lagos State Properties Protection Law 2016 (LSPPL) prescribes fines and various terms of imprisonment ranging from 6 months to a maximum of 21 years imprisonment depending on the offence.
On Monday November 14th, 2016, the Governor of Ogun State signed a similar bill into law. However, the Ogun State law is more stringent than that of Lagos prescribing up to 25 years imprisonment and the death sentence, where murder is involved, and the Ogun State law also covers cultism and kidnapping.
These new laws are a welcome development, as jobless thugs, touts and hooligans known as Omo-Oniles (children of the land owners)(land grabbers), have constituted themselves not just into public nuisances, but criminals, threats to the society and economic development. Especially in the cases of property covered by traditional titles, Omo-Oniles are in the habit of selling land without the knowledge or consent of the family heads and accredited family representatives for land sales. They also resell land that has already been sold by accredited family representatives, to unsuspecting third party buyers, thereby causing trouble between the different buyers, very often resulting in violence, bloodshed and endless litigation.
Section 8 of the LSPPL provides for the offence of selling land without lawful authority, especially Section 8(4) which gives a stiff penalty of 21 years imprisonment to Omo-Oniles who engage in this act of selling family land without the authority of their family heads and representatives, and reselling land that has already been sold. Omo-Oniles beware! The fear of the LSPPL is the beginning of wisdom.
Another specialty of Omo-Oniles is to forcefully gain entry into people’s property when there is any sign of imminent development of their properties. They extort various sums of money at the different stages of development and stop owners from building, if their demands are not met.
In short, land grabbing has taken on different forms and dimensions.
In the case of Ejigbadero, over 40 years ago, he was the toast of a lot of the musicians like Ebenezer Obey and Yusuf Olatunji. Even though he owned a factory that manufactured nails, Jimsol Nigeria Limited, he was a notorious land grabber in the Agege, Alimosho and Mushin areas of Lagos. The interesting part of the story was that this criminal was highly connected within the ranks of the police, so there was no stopping him, until he went too far, and committed murder in the course of his land grabbing activities in Alimosho.
Ejigbadero claimed to have purchased a large parcel of land at Alimosho. He destroyed the crops and cut down the economic trees on the land, in preparation for development. The villagers, of whom Raji Oba was among, were having none of it. They maintained that the crops that had been destroyed, the economic trees that had been felled and indeed the whole expanse of land, belonged to them. They stood their ground that Ejigbadero never bought the land, because the land belonged to them.
Disagreements ensued between Ejigbadero and the villagers, and one evening when Raji Oba was relaxing outside his home with his wife late in the evening, Ejigbadero shot and killed him. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. Obviously expecting to be acquitted, when the High Court delivered its judgement, Ejigbadero was reported to have asked ‘Emi ni won nwi naa ( what’s the court’s verdict)?’ The conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal to Federal Court of Appeal and in 1978 by the Supreme Court. He was executed.
However, the practice of land grabbing did not abate, as the act in itself did not seem to be a crime, unless maybe it resulted in murder, as in Ejigbadero’s case. In Ogun State, the Attorney-General (AG) said that within the last one year, his office and that of the Governor received at least 4-5 petitions on a weekly basis, about land grabbing ‘involving maimings and the destruction to the social fabric’. So in Ogun State, the law was enacted to prohibit forcible possession and so on.
For Ogun State Government, the rationale behind its decision to promulgate the land grabbing law, is its decision to re-invent Ogun State as a new Business hub in Nigeria, which would be difficult to achieve if the activities of land grabbers are not curbed.
The question is, how effective is this law and the enforcement of it? The Ogun State AG reckons that even the enactment of the law will serve as a deterrent, not to talk of its enforcement. In Ogun State, there exists a Joint Task Force backed up by the security forces, to enforce the law.
I am aware of a case in Ikoyi, where someone who you can only describe as a land grabber, has used all means possible to stop an owner from taking possession of his land. Looking at the LSPPL, the land grabber is in breach of Sections 3(1), (3)(a) & (b) as, without lawful authority, on his instructions, his thugs secured forceful entry into another’s property with violence, thereby making them liable to 10 years imprisonment on conviction, by virtue of Section 3 (4)(a) of the same law. The forceful entry was also done with weapons and threats of killing, and those that were on the land were wounded severely, thereby attracting another 4 years imprisonment on conviction as provided by Section 3 (4)(b)(i),(ii) & (iii).
Let’s just say that the land grabber has breached most of the provisions of the LSPPL, including Section 4(1) which makes it an offence for a person to occupy another’s property as an encroacher and refuse to leave on being required to do so by the owner of the property. In this case, the owner wrote to the land grabbing encroacher to vacate the property. This offence attracts a fine of a maximum of N5 million or 5 years imprisonment or both.
We must not leave out Section 7 from the land grabber’s list of offences. It provides that “A person who is on any property as an encroacher and having with him on the property firearms, dangerous/offensive weapons(s) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to ten (10) years imprisonment”. Not only were the land grabber’s thugs armed with metal rods and crowbars, they had firearms, one of which was pointed at the head of one of the owner’s staff with a threat to kill him, if he did not get off the property.
To add insult to injury, the land grabber even built a gatehouse on the property!
If the prison terms are consecutive, the land grabber and his thugs would be looking at about 29 years imprisonment or more and at least a N5 million fine!
Of course, the matter was reported to the Task Force on Land Grabbing at Alausa, (establishment of Task Force is provided for by Sections 12 & 13 of LSPPL), whose office is situate at the Ministry of Justice, Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja. A meeting was held at the Task Force Office and evidence taken from both sides. The matter was also reported to the Police and meetings where both sides were in attendance, were also held. The parties that were severely wounded by the land grabber’s thugs, were brought to one of the meetings with the Police. The Task Force and the Police are still investigating.
So, on the LSPPL and the effectiveness of its enforcement in Lagos, I am waiting to eagerly see and report to you in due course.
I hope that I will be able to bring you glad tidings of great joy, that the LSPPL is indeed, for real in Lagos, and that any Omo-Onile or land grabber that subjects you to anything that constitutes a crime under the LSPPL, if reported to the Task Force on Land Grabbing, will be dealt with accordingly.