How a widow in Lagos retrieved land from land grabbers

Six plots of land located at the Isheri Osun area of Alimosho Local Governmnet Area of Lagos State was initially owned by the Idowu Asho family in Adeojo Area, Lagos.

But, sometime in 2014, the family sold the land to Mr. and Mrs. Okoli at the rate of N2, 650, 000 and an additional N800, 000 was paid for family receipt and another sum of N400, 000 was paid for survey.

However, the family refused to transfer possession of the land; a development which prompted a publication in The Nation Newspaper in December last year.

Five months after the publication, Mrs Okoli has finally regained possession of her land.

Reacting to the development, Mrs Okoli said: “We had no services of any lawyer; it was just the grace of God.”

The retrieval process began in August last year when Mrs. Okoli wrote a petition to the State Governor Akinwumi Ambode. But the drab and procrastinating attitude portrayed at the Governor’s Office was enough discouragement.

Three months after issuance of the letter, she finally got the audience. She recalled the experiences.

‘’I wrote the letter and I submitted it at the Governor’s Office. After some months, they directed me to the Ministry of Justice. The case was taken up by the Lagos Task Force on Land Grabbers.

“They called them Omo Onile and they responded. After our first interviews and meetings, the Lagos Land Grabbers Task Force decided we should settle it amicably and gave seven days to do that. They called me to a meeting with their lawyer and offered another piece of land in a different location, I rejected it. Later, they offered money which I declined; I told them I want my land.

“I went back to the ministry and complained but to my surprise, everything started changing. They stopped giving me audience like before.’’

According to Mrs. Okoli’s account, the change in attitude cannot be unconnected with the involvement of a prominent king who is said to be backing the Omo Onile in the whole “business.”

“Anytime I got to the ministry, they kept telling me to come back and they did nothing,’’ she recalled.

However, the story changed when the publication entitled “We die so Omo Onile may live” appeared on the pages of this newspaper.

“I was so downcast and there was nothing I could do until the day the reporter called to inform me that the story has been published. I called the chairman of the task force and he told me he has seen the publication. They summoned another meeting immediately and to my surprise, the said Oba who didn’t show up for any of the previous meetings was in attendance.

“At the meeting, a lawyer in the ministry came with one of the publications and told them to stop the hiding game. At this point, they gave up and the ministry assigned a surveyor who followed me to survey the land.

“Weeks later, the result of the survey emerged and it supported my claim on the land. A final meeting was called on March 9 and the ministry ruled that the land belongs to me.’’

Even though Mrs Okoli had, in early stages, employed the services of three lawyers, the actual process of retrieving the land did not involve a lawyer.

“All through the journey, there was no lawyer; it was God and the Ministry of Justice, the task force and the publications. I wrote the petition on my own without the help of a lawyer.

“The publications really shook them. It was a turning point and without it, I don’t think it would all have happened the way it did. When I tried to show them that it has been published, they told me they have already seen it. At the same time, people who read it started calling me and some even offered assistance. The publication exposed the matter. Before, the issue was handled in secrecy but having it published dealt the needed blow and I owe the retrieval to the publication in this paper.”

‘How we intervened’ – Lagos Task Force

In a resolution marked LSSTF/LG/2016/324 issued on March 17, this year, the Lagos State Special Task Force on Land Grabbers noted that after due investigation, the land has been discovered to belong to Mrs. Okoli.

The resolution indicates that “the office resolved that the petitioner should go and take possession of her land and nobody should disturb her possession. If anyone disturbs her possession of the land, she should report to the Task Force for further action.’’

Reacting to this, Alternate Chairman of the Lagos State Special Task Force on Land Grabbers, Mr. Jide Akinpelu said the retrieval process though tedious did not involve aggressiveness.

He recounted: “When we received her petition, we invited the two parties and through our meetings with them, we discovered that she and her husband truly bought the land. We were able to establish that the people who sold the land to her kept saying the land sold to her is different from where she is claiming.

“We also found out that they gave her survey plan upon payment and with this, we started work. We sent the survey to the Surveyor-General and we also instructed him to follow both parties to the location of the land.

“The Surveyor-General submitted his report and it established that she is right about the location of the land. We confronted the Omo Onile and told them that where they are pointing to be her land is not hers. We issued a resolution that she should go and take possession of her land and report to us should there be a case of disturbance.”

Akinpelu also praised The Nation Newspapers on publishing the story while debunking claims of connivance with the Omo Onile while the retrieval process lasted.

“We are quite encouraged by your work and it spurred us to put more effort. We also encourage other media houses to do same.

“Apart from your publication, there was another where she alleged that we have compromised. The general opinion in the office was to allow the powers that be investigate whether we have compromised or not but I quite understood the state of her mind having lost her husband. We decided to forge on hoping that the outcome of our investigation will vindicate us and that is exactly what happened.”

‘She must take possession immediately’ – Lagos lawyer

Commenting on the development, Legal practitioner, Lekan Alabi described Mrs. Okoli’s victory as a good development in the annals of the State Government and admonishes her to take full possession immediately.

“Now that case has been settled, the first thing for her is to take full possession of the land and if she doesn’t need it, she should sell it and invest the money.

“There is scarcity of land in Lagos, you cannot just say you have six plots of land and do nothing on it. Even the government can take over the land for public use and she won’t get enough as compensation.

He also praised the State Government on the development while noting that any further trespass on the land becomes a criminal offence.

“If the Omo Onile goes there again to disturb her, it has become a criminal offence because the state has determined the owner of the land.

“The state government has performed its responsibility under the 2016 Property Protection Law and I think this is a welcome development. I commend the effort of the Attorney-General who sponsored the bill and the courage of Governor Ambode to give his assent,” Mr Alabi said.

With this development, the Lagos State Government has demonstrated its readiness to check the extortionist and criminal tendencies of land grabbers. However, more is still expected of the Akinwumi Ambode-led government in bringing solace to other victims of land grabbing in Lagos State.”

Source: The Nation