On the fourth day of a new year, the Federal Government did the unexpected to intervene in a land dispute in Magodo, Lagos. Not only were the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, and Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Abubakar Malami alleged of deploying members of the Police Force to the bereaved community. Not only were the men in black deployed without the awareness of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. But the governor was also made to eat the humble pie after an unidentified CSP who led the team failed to hearken to the instruction of the governor who called for the disengagement of the invited policemen. Without a reason of doubt, this is a pure act of embarrassment and an impression that a State governor is not capable of solving his jurisdiction problem without Federal Government’s intervention.
While the nature of our country’s federalism remains a story for another day, the issue of land dispute, court possession of landed property, and land acquisition by State Government is fast becoming rampant in Lagos. We are now dwelling in a mega city where you can be rendered homeless in a blink of an eye with “ID/795/88-Possession taken today by court order 21/1/21” and its other cohorts slashing and drooling red paint across your fancied mansion, duplex, bungalow, and ramshackle – as the case may be. Taking a stroll around Lagos, one is certain to see good numbers of gothic abandoned houses deprived of life with “Possession taken by court” boldly emblazoned on them.
If one is critical enough, one might likely be faced with histories of disputes, crises, and even bloodshed over the abandoned houses. Aside family issues and cases of Omo Onílè, the manner at which Lagos State Government claim lands without having prior plan for the displaced residents also contributes to embarrassing land disputes. This is what played out in the 38-year land battle between Shangisha Landlord Association and the Lagos State Government.
Travelling back to 1984, Lagos State Government, under the military leadership of Gbolahan Mudashiru claimed good number of landed property at Shangisha – a land that became today’s Magodo Estate. The proposed plan was to construct an international standard hospital. Unfortunately, the affected landlords seemed to have been taken off guard as they watched their hijacked land shared like national cake among top officials and society big guns. Realizing the foul play, the landlords started their judicial journey in 1988.
The disheartening tale was narrated, according to People’s Gazette by the only survivor among the landlords, Chief Adebyo Adeyiga whose current visual impairment came as a result of the struggle to reclaim their land. It took five good years before the landlords were promised to be allocated plots of land in the then new scheme, Magodo Phase 2. But just as some of them would have expected, it was nothing but a gigantic castle built in the air. It was an empty promise made by the then civilian governor of Lagos State, Sir Michael Otedola in 1993. However, to make this promise a bit realistic, a trial court gave judgement in favor of the landlords, ordering Lagos State Government to allocate 549 plots on the land in dispute as first choice preference to the Shangisha Landlord Association – a court order revisited by Governor Sanwo-Olu on Tuesday.
Despite this order, the struggle continued and the case went extra-judicial in 1994. Some members of government taskforces and thugs were reportedly sent to the Chairman of the Landlords Association – an incident which cost Chief Adeyiga his sight. Without taking into consideration the pending status of the case, the disputed land was not short of development as residential apartments kept erecting in what became today’s famous Magodo Estate.
If the Magodo Residents Association can take a careful look at the history of where they claim as their place of comfort, they will realize that the bitterness, anger, and vengeance melted by the landlords are as a result of the emotional havoc wrecked by the deeds of the past administration. They will realize that their comfort and luxury was created at the discomfort of the original residents. They will discover that this is neither a war of paperwork nor a war to be fought with the fact they possess a Certificate of Ownership. It is a war of unfair and inhumane treatment we have all been suffering from time immemorial. It is a revolt birthed out of social injustice and self-centeredness of those in power.
The years of struggles by the Shangisha Landlords Association exposed, once again, the laxity of our judicial system. We operate more of a toothless third arm of government deprived of independence. Our concept of equality before the law is clearly defined in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. All animals are ideally equal, but realistically, some are more equal than the other. Thus, where it takes a big man or woman to get justice within few hours, a common man will have to wait for decades before getting not justice in full, but a taste of it.
In high regard, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu did commendably well while containing the sheer disrespect melted on him by the unnamed Chief Superintendent of Police. On the step towards resolution, the Lagos State Government has also admitted to their flaw and promised to give out 549 plots of land from the Shangisha scheme to the Landlords. To prevent future reoccurrence, the Governor should, however, consider establishing mutual understanding among citizens who are likely to be faced with some unfavorable policies and decisions in the nearest future. The failure of the past administrations to do this result to the embarrassment received by the governor and this will not stop as potential cases might likely arise in the future – particularly from areas like Ajelogo, Takwa Bay, Maroko, and other areas that have been affected by unjust acquisition of lands by the state government.