By Azu Ishiekwene
This is a local story and it’s personal. I’m involved. And because I’m involved, I thought the best way to tell it is to hear it from persons who have a more intimate knowledge of the story; those who have lived in Magodo Shangisha GRA Scheme II, Lagos, for well over two decades. The three respondents, the first of whom is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, have asked that their names should not be used. I’ll simply describe them as Respondents I, II and III.
Keep in mind as you read this, that land title in a Government Reserved Area (GRA), is supposed to be the most secure, having both the government-issued Certificate of Occupancy and the gold standard of the government seal of quality assurance.
Yet this GRA you’re going to read about – located just opposite the official seat of power of the Lagos State Government – has been invaded four times by trespassers with the aid of hoodlums abetted by an occupying police force.
This last time, they came with bulldozers, chains and big padlocks. They came on the watch of 200 policemen from Abuja to execute a writ of possession which they refused to produce.
Yet, those who have cited the purported writ say it does insist on Magodo, the GRA they have besieged for nearly two weeks, in defiance of a personal visit by the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who is supposed to be the chief security officer of Lagos. It could be your GRA next:
“On December 21, 2021, some land-grabbers in the company of hundreds of armed policemen invaded Magodo GRA Scheme II in Shangisha, Lagos State. They came with thugs, fake bailiffs, spray paint cans, and bulldozers.
“There have been many versions of what happened on that sad day, with varying degrees of falsehood and inaccuracies. The most incredible of them all is by Adebayo Adeyiga, which has gone viral, turning the truth on its head.
“He made up a fancy story about the so-called displacement of the early occupants in 1984 under the auspices of the Shangisha Residents Association at the time led by Chief Adebayo Adeyiga, their purported maltreatment at the hands of subsequent governments, and so on and so forth – a typical David-v-Goliath narrative, deliberately meant to curry sympathy and incite public anger, while hiding the facts in plain sight.
“But the facts contradict him. There was no acquisition to build any hospital and no valid claim to a title in the first place.
“In 1969, there was an acquisition of the totality of the land area from Ojota, Ketu, Magodo, Agidingbi, Omole. It was an extensive acquisition by the Lagos State Government and compensation was duly paid to the main owners then, while a few of the villages were excised.
“Unfortunately, either through error of commission or omission by the Lagos State Government, they did not follow up with the physical possession of the properties. As a result, trespassers – including those now claiming to have been dispossessed in Shangisha/Magodo – took advantage.
“For a very long time, the government did nothing, so trespassers proliferated. People who had nothing to do in the place started selling and buying land already acquired by the government and started building.
“There were no title documents or approved building plans; they simply took the law into their own hands. Until 1984, when the military government of Mohammadu Buhari government came. Air Commodore Gbolahan Mudashiru was the administrator for Lagos at the time. It was his government that took steps to reclaim government land that had been encroached upon.
“Shangisha was part of it and the properties were demolished, save for a few. It was in the course of the demolition that the Shangisha Landlords Association, led by Chief Adebayo Adeyiga, came into being and tried to use sentiments, knowing full well that they were squatters.
“They begged for compensation, not as of right, but on humanitarian grounds. They engaged the Lagos State Government not as radical or original owners of the land, but for the fact that they had built properties, pleading for compensation on compassionate grounds. These are the same people who are now claiming that the government deceived them that it was going to build hospitals in Magodo only to displace them later: a matter that clearly does not lie in their mouth as squatters!
“If the government had not listened to them at that time, nothing would have happened because they cannot derive authority over a faulty foundation; they were trespassers.
“Unfortunately, the government did not document those they were giving allocation; they were submitting names and the government was allocating until it decided to put a stop to it. That was when they decided to go to court. In the court, they put their membership at 549, not taking into account those that had already been given allocation.
“So, it was not right for them to go to the public and say that because they are poor, the government had taken their land and given it to the rich. It is a fallacy; they don’t have any title in the first place.
“Adeyiga is from Ijebu Irolu in Ogun State. But unfortunately, the case was brought to a Lagos court through the Ministry of Justice that was negligent in terms of following up to defend the interest of the State, and judgement was given.
“The judgement was affirmed by the court of appeal. But what is in this judgement? The judgment of 31 December 1993 said Lagos State was bound to give them preferential allocation of 549 plots. By the time of this judgement (which was between them and the Lagos State Government), the government had designated Magodo as an Estate and started allocating the land.
“The government started issuing Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) in 1986. By 1993, the Lagos State Government had allocated to them about 300 vacant plots in Magodo, even though they were claiming 549 plots. Some of those families opted out, saying Adeyiga could not represent them. But Adeyiga rejected all offers, insisting on a phantom 549 plots!
Respondent I (again)
“If the Lagos State Government is not honouring the court judgement, the lawyers of the disputants know what to do. There are so many remedies, including the committal proceedings in respect of the judgement of the Supreme Court.
“Instead, they have decided to wage a war on Magodo residents. Even as you read this article, policemen from Abuja on the orders of the Inspector General of Police are camped inside Magodo and families continue to live in fear and apprehension!
“We were not party to the judgement and the judgement did not say the judgement creditors should go to Magodo, spray paint on occupied properties with families inside, and lock us up, and deploy bulldozers to level our properties!
“On December 21, 2021 when they invaded (for the fourth time), we asked them for the writ of possession or the survey attached to the judgement, but they could not provide any! What they came to do here was plain impunity abetted by security forces for whatever reason.
“If a judgement of the Supreme Court is going to be enforced and the necessary machinery of the Nigerian police is being called for purposes of assistance, it is incumbent on the police authority to ask for the warrant which must show identifiable properties.
“In this case, there was nothing – and yet we have strong reasons to believe that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN), is aiding and abetting this illegality.
“Of course, we are for the rule of law and the obedience of court orders. But isn’t it curious that in spite of allocations given to these fellows by the Lagos State Government (according to the Lagos Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice), they have refused to accept the olive branch: It must be Magodo or nowhere else! We can almost see the hand of the snake in this undisguised hostility as we are hearing that some persons have been promised juicy plots in Magodo, at all costs!
“There is a legal maxim that the law will not compel the performance of an impossibility, but that is exactly what these trespassers are determined to do!
The reporter who conducted the interviews inside the Estate was briefly arrested by the Abuja police and detained for “videoing” them supervising the thugs and invaders. Only the timely intervention of the Force Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, saved the day.
Another update at press time indicated that there might indeed be a resolution of the dispute after Governor Sanwo-Olu held a meeting with all the parties in his office on Wednesday. The agreement, in principle, to allocate land to the judgement creditors is a good and bad thing: good because court orders should be obeyed; and bad because, in this instance, a message has been sent that hostage taking is a permissible means to an end.
Residents whose rights were violated and properties marked and locked up as part of the hostage process, will do themselves a world of good by taking the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation to court.
That’s one way to prevent this nonsense from happening again.
Ishiekwene is the Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP