By Oluwatoyosi Ogunrinde
LAND-related crises are not uncommon in Nigeria. They are, probably, as old as the society and rooted in structural, historical and socio-economic dynamics; and often compelled by growing urbanisation. Though a national challenge, land-related crisis is more pronounced in Lagos State.
Considering its status as the nation’s commercial and economic hub, buying a piece of land in Lagos and putting up a structure on the same is usually herculean. The situation is, however, further complicated by the confrontational actions of land grabbers and land speculators popularly known as Omo-Onile.
Omo-Onile’s activities became more pronounced in Lagos with the expansion of the metropolis, courtesy its ever- growing population. They operate via force, deception and intimidation to gain access and control over increasingly scarce land. In this way, they are key actors in exacerbating tensions, including conflicts between landowners, buyers and private investors.
In many cases, land conflicts have led to the destruction of lives and property as well as the displacement of people, particularly in the rural parts of the State. Activities of land grabbers are not only illegal, but anathema to societal development, peace and progress.
They speculate on land with little or no recourse to land use laws, as they even engage in the illegal sale of official land to unsuspecting individuals. They sometimes even dispossess people of land that are legitimately bought from the government. They also sell lands with no proper planning or cognisance of a mapped out environmental outlay. This ugly trend is particularly common in the state’s satellite settlements.
In order to curb their nefarious activities, succeeding governments in the state have devised various strategies. One of such is the enactment of the Lagos State Property Protection Law on August 15, 2016, which prohibits the forceful entry and illegal occupation of landed property, and violent and fraudulent conduct in relation to landed properties in the state.
The law seeks to eliminate land grabbing in its various forms that include forceful possession of landed properties, encroachment, illegal sale and resale of land, illegal use of law enforcement agents and vigilante groups to enforce judgements, misconducts by professionals in land transactions, writing of frivolous and false petitions, unlawful demands by ‘Omo Onile’, touting and other ills.
Specifically, Section 2(1) of the law prohibits the use of force or self-help to take over any landed property or to engage in any act inconsistent with the proprietary right of the owner. The law criminalises the use or threat of violence for the purpose of securing entry into any landed property either for oneself or for another, without lawful authority. The provisions of the law in Section 4 criminalises any encroachment on peoples’ properties and provides for fine not exceeding N5 million or five-year imprisonment or both, against any such encroachment.
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Currently, through the instrumentality of the law and other institutional frameworks, the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration is waging an all-out war against land grabbers. At every available fora, Governor Sanwo-Olu describes land grabbing as criminal and primitive, pledging to completely eliminate the evil practice from the state.
As the disruptive activities is driven by inadequate property rights, the administration has fast-tracked the process of issuance of Certificate of Occupancy, C of O. Precisely, on May 29, 2020, the government published over a thousand C of Os that are ready for collection, the highest figure ever at a go, thanks to the e-process. With the C of O, property owners are legally covered from the activities of dare-devil land thugs.
Another measure put in place is the initiation and launching of the Lagos State Real Estate Regulatory Authority, LASRERA.
The office is saddled with responsibilities such as the preparation of rules and regulations for the practice of estate agency and other connected matters in the state, identification of persons eligible to be licensed as estate agents and renewal of annual licenses, sanction of unlicensed estate agency practitioners, as well as the investigation of complaints and petitions against licensed estate agency practitioners, amongst others.
From all indications, government is winning the battle against the menace of land grabbing in the State. As at May 27, 2020, when the Sanwo-Olu administration marked its first year anniversary, 350 land grabbing cases had been successfully resolved, while over 600 others are at various stages of resolution. This has, no doubt, sent a strong signal about the determination of the present administration to rid the state of the evil of land grabbing.
To sustain the current tempo, government has equally strengthened the State Taskforce Against Land Grabbing. Consequently, the Agency has stepped up its game by working harder to stem the tide of land grabbing in the State.
The Taskforce, in recent time, has successfully mediated in many land grabbing cases. These include the Ejigbo land grabbing case, which was well-celebrated on social media. Popularly known as the Adeoye’s case, the state government swiftly intervened in the case by ensuring the arrest of the three alleged land grabbers involved. Others include the arrest and prosecution of a land grabber at the Ogudu GRA Residential Scheme II as well as the recovery of land from a grabber at Ojota, among others.
In sum, all measures put in place by government to tackle the notorious issue of land grabbing in the state is in line with Governor Sanwo-Olu’s pledge of ‘Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy’. This is an integral part of the administration’s T.H.E.M.E.S (acronyms for Traffic Management and Transportation, Health and Environment, Education and Technology, Making Lagos a 21st Economy, Entertainment and Tourism and Governance and Security) developmental agenda.
Hopefully, all stakeholders will join hands with government to sustain the tempo and effectively rid the Centre of Excellence of the nuisance of land grabbing. Residents are, thus, enjoined to comply with the Land Grabbing Law and report any issue relating to the menace to the concerned authorities, rather than resorting to self-help.
Ogunrinde is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja