In Nigeria, we move on quickly from issues. This often allows our leaders to get away from their evil conducts. Thus, they wait for the next time to again manipulate the minds of the unwary in the country. In January this year when the story broke about the government of Kwara State reclaiming a land it insisted belonged to the government and people of the state, Senator Bukola Saraki and his sibling Hon Gbemisola Saraki — together with their closet friends — let all hell loose.
The Sarakis said the land is their heritage. It was lawfully acquired and paid for by their respected father late Olusola Saraki, they contended. So much media frenzy followed. I watched one of those. But something struck me in that conversation on Channels TV which involved a lawyer of the Sarakis, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, and another Lagos-based lawyer. What struck me was the claim by the Sarakis’ lawyer that they have a right of occupancy document on the land. I recall that the Governor’s CPS insisted no such document exists. I had a doubt sowed into me about the whole issue.
Then the Sarakis went to court to restrain the government from taking possession of or do anything on the land. The court granted them a temporary stay of execution while the case commenced. Then I read about a purported effort of the Sarakites to employ some prominent Ilorin personalities to resolve the issue with the government. I read about the court encouraging the settlement. Then the talks purportedly broke down. I don’t know who is responsible for the break down.
Then the court case resumed. In all of these months, I have been waiting to hear that the Sarakites have presented the right of occupancy they have on the land before the court or even leaking it. Didn’t they tell the world they have one? I saw a government paper the CPS displayed on TV which detailed that the land was allocated but clearly stated the yet-to-be fulfilled conditions that would lead to the issuance of relevant papers like the Right of Occupancy and Certificate of Occupancy. Sarakis have not shown up the world any paper to show they have met those conditions. Media reports of the cases have not reflected they front-loaded anything like that. Are we being played?
Last week, the High Court sitting in Ilorin withdrew the temporary injunction that restrained the government from doing anything on the land. It also imposed a fine on the Sarakis through their firm Asa Investment Limited. The court, led by Justice Adebara, said its ruling followed the obvious lack of diligent prosecution of the case by the Sarakis. The judge, however, stopped short of dismissing the case as requested by the government, preferring to give the Sarakis/firm more time. Fair game. Pronto, the firm filed a notice of appeal against the ruling of the court below. Among other things, it is asking the appeal court for a stay of execution of the ruling of the court below! This is where I have issues.
There is a foul play by the Sarakis which people of good conscience must notice. The request for a stay of execution of the withdrawal of temporary injunction is about the most absurd things I have ever heard. How long does the temporary injunction last? In legal conventions, the temporary injunction does not last more than two weeks! I am aware it could be extended at the discretion of the court. But this has not been extended. Have the Sarakites shown any reasonable grounds to extend such an injunction? No, in my opinion. They have not placed anything before the court to suggest that they truly own the land. Instead, their lawyers, from the ruling of the court, have refused to prosecute the case under the varying guise.
For anyone who understands how land matters work, what their appeal means is that they want to ensure the government is unable to carry out any developmental projects on that land for as long as eternity. That is typical of people who just want to stampede people’s development for selfish reasons.
Their lawyers know clearly that no court will grant a stay of execution on the lifting of the temporary injunction that had long expired. Justice Adebara’s lifting of it was just a formality. But the Sarakis will make sure they go to the Supreme Court to seek something that does not exist. They know how busy the Supreme Court is, so it is a perfect cover for them to keep the matter there for eternity. It is a Machiavellian tactic.
Now they know that the government will want to develop the land since the injunction has rightly been lifted. That is common sense. What the Sarakis are doing with wanting to keep a stale injunction (which no court will ever do) is to label the government before the unwary members of the public as contemptuous of the court. You know, another round of crocodile tears. Nigerians must reject this kind of anti-development behaviour. It is clear, from the above and information in the public, that the land does not belong to them. Its appropriation in the first instance represents one of the worst instances of ‘entitlement mentality’ that characterises the Nigerian ruling elite. They feel they can take over public assets without anyone raising a whimper. This has to stop. The government of Kwara should go ahead to construct whatever it wants to put on the land for public use. Everyone can see through the antics of the Sarakis. If they cannot show any evidence of ownership of the land seven months after they boasted to have same, then whatever they do now is mere façade!
While it is not a bad idea to keep a legacy for Saraki or anyone for that matter, doing so should not be at the expense of the overall development of an entire state or its people.
––Abdullateef writes from Ilorin.