By Dapo Akinrefon
THE St. Mathew Daniel Family of Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government Area of Local of Lagos State has appealed to the Nigerian Army to obey a court order which ruled in the family’s favour.
A Lagos High Court had ruled in favour of the St. Mathew Daniel Family granting it approval to take possession of 58-hectares of land which had been a subject of litigation.
Mr. Agboola Anjou, the chairman of Grand Children of St. Mathew Daniel Family, at a recent interactive session wondered why the Army authorities refused to vacate the family land near the 56 Signal Command, Nigerian Army, Mile 2, Ojo Road, Ajegunle, Lagos inspite of a court judgment.
Anjou, who spoke extensively alongside the family lawyer, Mr. Remi Atoyebi of Matanmi Chamber, urged the Muhammadu Buhari led administration to wade into the matter.
Anjou said: “The 58-hectare land is a subject of Lagos State High Court decision. After that judgment, which ordered the Army to relinquish the land but as people of power, they decided to fence off 58 acres illegally. The court also ordered the army to pay our family some compensation of the sum of N20 million in 1993 for illegally encroaching on the Land which they have paid.
“However, they fenced an extra 58 acres and the court ordered them to give it back to the family. However, the army has refused to give it back to the family. At a point, they released the land to us which Mr. Makun Alabi, one of the family’s grandchildren signed for, but the army still did not vacate the land up till this moment. The Land is now a haven of bunkering, the NNPC pipeline that passes beside the land is now being used to scoop fuel. Over forty trailers are parked on the land by oil barons who pay royalties to the Army.”
The land, measuring 627 hectares was given to the St. Mathew Daniel Family of the AjeromiIfelodun Council Area by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in a judgment delivered on Friday, the 28th of February, 1986 by Justice Dahunsi Oluggbemi Coker in a suit number SC.80/1984 and was unanimously adopted by other members of the panel namely: Justice Anthony Nnanezie Aniagolu, Justice Augustine Nnamani, Justice Mohammed Uwais, Justice Adolphus Godwin Karibi-whyte, Justice SaiduKawu and Chukwudigu Oputa.
According to Anjou, after the Supreme Court verdict, the family took over the land and it was divided into two blocks: A and B. A was divided into 12 covering the entire children of the late patriarch, Chief St. Mathew Daniel and B was divided into twelve – all shared among the children. For block A, it was about 11 acres per children while B was divided into 36-acre per children
After the children shared the land among themselves, however, the Authority of the Nigerian Army through the 56 Signal Command at Mile 2, Ojo Road, Lagos, encroached into about 58 acres and fenced it amongst the land legally acquired by them leading to the family dragging the Army Authority to Court before Justice A. Ade Alabi of Lagos High Court sitting at Ikeja in 1991.
The court action against the Army with number LD/2659/91 which dragged for two years was finally decided in favour the St. Daniel Family on Wednesday 1st September 1993.
The case, filed by one Chief Francisca Adeyanju – St. Mathew Daniel on behalf of the St. Mathew Daniel with the Nigerian Army, the Minister of Defense, the Chief of Army Staff, the Minister of Works and Housing and the Attorney General of the Federation as Respondents.
In her ruling ordering the Army to vacate the land, Justice Ade Alabi, aside lampooning the Army for unlawfully taking possession of lands belonging to civilians, awarded cost of N2,000 against the Respondents.
The court also ordered the authority of the Nigerian Army to pay the sum of N20, 400, 000.00 as fine to the St. Mathew Daniel Family for illegally encroaching the Family land, almost a decade before the verdict.
Investigations conducted confirmed that the fine, a total of N21,296,696 debt was paid by the Central Bank of Nigeria to the family through their lawyer, Mr. Tunde Seriki of Tunde Seriki & Co into a United Bank of Africa Account Number 201-18454-7 on 15th September 1996.
However, after several appeals, the authority of the Nigerian Army, in the presence of the public and the press, handed over the 58.228 acres of land were handed over to Barrister Mako Alabi-St Mathew Daniels by Major General S.E Asemota, the then Commandant, Nigerian Army Signals, Ojo, Lagos 30th November, 2011 amidst joy and elations by the family.
Family lawyer speaks
The family lawyer, Mr. Remi Atoyebi accused the Army authorities of refusing to vacate the property.
Atoyebi said: “As a result of our struggles, the then Chief of Army Staff in 2011 had ordered that the Army should obey the court judgment and release the land to the family. Some of senior Army Officers protested but the Chief of Army Staff stood his ground and commanded them that the land must be released on or before November 30th 2011.
“Now, despite the fact that one Brig. Gen. Davis on behalf of the Nigerian Army handed over the land to our clients on Nov 30, 2011, the Nigerian Army Signal Command didn’t allow our clients access to the land. Rather, they put various trespassers on the land.
“Today, there are some people occupying the land illegally and paying to the army royalties monthly.
“Another illegal occupier of the land currently occupies the Canal Lane axis with Nigeria Army Signal Command installed a gate to protect the operators inside. Success also act as representative of the Army before the people doing illegal businesses on the land, collecting royalties and remit back to Army on monthly basis.
“Though we don’t have first-hand information about what they are doing inside but one can see hundreds of petrol tankers packed inside and moving in and out. This makes one suspect that they are doing something that has to do with petroleum products there. We are told by people around there that bunkering activities is being perpetrated therein.
“On about two occasions some people interested in developing the land went to inspect the land, the people carrying out illegal businesses on the land phoned Nigerian Army Signal Command at Mile 2 who sent their men to arrest them. They were released later and warned not to come back again.
“From confirmed information we heard, the trespassers on the land are able to remain on the land. They portray the land as though it belonged to the family and yet, they would not release it after 8 years.
“So in essence, they presented the land to the family in the full glares of the camera and documents were signed over both by the family and the army but ever since the army has not allowed the family to develop the land.”
However, when contacted, the Commandant, Signal Command, Nigerian Army, Mile 2, Ojo Road, Lagos, Col. A.O Ojo said though the testimony of the St. Mathew Daniel Family is filled with lies, he said he is not permitted to speak on the matter. But when contacted, an army source said that only the Army Spokesperson is permitted to speak on the matter of this magnitude.
Efforts to get the response of the Army Spokesperson, however, proved abortive.