An insurance executive in Lagos, who sought to relocate to Ota, Ogun State, and probably bring along foreign partners for a new firm, was held back by reports of the violent activities of land speculators. He gathered that these land grabbers, otherwise called Omo onile, were a force to reckon with if you wanted to develop your legitimate property either for business or for residential purposes. He told me he had acquired the land and was ready to move to Ota but was scared that heavily armed rival gangs of these indigenous speculators would stall the project and frustrate his expatriate partners. Eventually he spiked the idea.
Who lost? A superficial verdict would be that our man lost the opportunity to open new frontiers in business in Ogun. Really? The ultimate loser was the Ogun State government which had left the vandals unchecked. It lost the taxes that the projected insurance firm and its employees would have paid into its treasury; it also blew the chance to depopulate the labour market; it gave the impression Ogun was not habitable nor was it safe for investment, business and tourism, all massive revenue earners and employers of labour.
But last week, good news came when Governor Ibikunle Amosun took a firm step to outlaw that perception of his state as the den of the criminal activities of the Omo onile. He signed the anti-land grabbing bill into law with quite stiff penalties for its infringement. Imprisonment for 25 years or death sentence awaits anyone found guilty of the offence of land robbery.
The law prohibits “forcible entry and occupation of landed properties, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed properties, armed robbery, kidnapping, cultism and allied matters incidental thereto…” According to the law, death sentence applies when a life or lives are lost in such forceful take-over of land. Kidnappers also risk life sentence.
After signing the bill into law, Amosun said the state would not be a “comfort zone for criminals.” He had tough words for them. He declared: “We want to let people know that Ogun State would not be comfort zone for any criminal or so-called Omo onile (land grabbers). They have engaged in maiming, killing and lawlessness. But now the law will go after them. We are now having enabling law to prosecute and anybody that runs foul of this law, of course, will have himself or herself to blame… I want to believe that with the operation of this law, criminals will run away from the state.”
The Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Iliyasu, said at the signing of the law in Abeokuta: “This is a clarion call to all criminals, armed robbers, kidnappers, cultists and so on that there is no place for them in Ogun State. They should relocate because there is no room for them. We are ready to enforce the law.”
The birthing of the new law taming the land grabbers has excited residents, investors and tourists with Ogun, notably Ota, as their destination. Ota, in particular, has been economically and developmentally stagnant for decades due to the reign of terror put in place by the vandals called Omo onile. They sell and re-sell the same land many times over to a thousand and one persons. They encroach upon occupied property and break down perimeter fences to make way for new and exorbitant transactions. They exact outrageous levies when you start to develop your property. And during construction they move in again to demand even more killer sums. They form violent gangs that disturb the peace of the community. They maim and kill when resisted. In a word, they are a law unto themselves, forming parallel governments where they operate.
Their existence has retarded the development of Ogun State. For a state contiguous to Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous boasting the largest economy, Ogun ought to be benefiting immensely from this proximity. But investors do not want to come in, fearing they would be grounded by the land robbers. They are apprehensive about their personal security and safety. They fear for their families and what might happen to the enormous capital they would be pumping into their planned undertakings.
The economic weights of their businesses in Ogun would lead to the resurgence of the economy and the empowerment of the citizens. In turn, these would enlarge the purse of the government to enable it attain massive social and economic renaissance. This is what Ogun State needs in this era of economic recession.
The activities of the Omo onile are particularly harmful to two of Amosun’s Five Cardinal Programmes, namely Increased Agricultural Production/Industrialisation and Rural and Infrastructural Development/Employment Generation, respectively the third and fifth objectives. Pray, how do you achieve these strategic programmes when land, the major ingredient for the success of these ventures, is in the killer grasp of criminals?
Those who want to heed Amosun’s call to move into the state to reside there or run their businesses are now assured that they have a government that would use the rule of law to shield them from murderous marauders.
A good government is known by its ability to protect and secure its citizens as well as save them from the fear of those who would prey on them and their legitimately earned money. Indeed, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states this unequivocally in the early lines Chapter 2 of the document. Providing “security and welfare of the people” is the “primary purpose of government,” according to the sacred scroll.
The next step of the Amosun administration is to establish a task force statewide to patrol the inner communities and enforce the law. The presence of members of this task force will check the gathering of the land grabbers as they are wont to do when planning to molest the citizens. The government should also set up active helplines to reach when there is a violation of the new statute. That is how the neighbouring Lagos State is implementing its own anti-land gabbing law it promulgated in August this year.
––Ojewale, a writer, sent in this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org.