By Evelyn Usman
The 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Victoria Island, Lagos , has inaugurated a committee to investigate land disputes between serving and retired Army officers and civilians in Lagos and Ogun states.
This move which is on the directive of the Chief of the Army Staff, Major General Farouk Yahaha, is coming on the heels of complaints of harassment and acts of brutality and land related litigations against personnel of the Division.
Inaugurating the five-man committee yesterday, the General Officer Commander, GOC 81 Division, Major General Lawrence Fejokwu, charged members to establish a mechanism for the amicable resolution of land disputes between soldiers and civilians.
According to the GOC, “ Their task is to make sure our personnel, individually, do not get involved in land that they bought rightly or wrongly. Rather, they should complain to the committee so that the committee can help them through such cases. In the same vein, communities who feel that some uniformed people come to harass them can also approach the committee with their complaints, where it will be looked into.
“ We have been inundated with various complaints from both our personnel and communities. It is either the communities run to us to complain that soldiers are invading their lands, or our soldiers are complaining that they bought lands over time that have appreciated and the communities resold such lands and want to relocate them to other lands. This is taking another step towards solving the problem of land disputes in 81 Division’s Area of Responsibility involving our personnel both serving and retired”.
The GOC however, clarified that sometimes, soldiers who go about harassing communities, were discovered to be impersonators. He said with the committee on ground, Army personnel, whether serving or retired are not allowed to tackle land disputes themselves.
He stated that “ The idea behind this committee is that any personnel within the division’s area with land issues should approach the committee, tender documents and the committee will look at it and if it is valid, the committee will go as 81 Division representatives to resolve the issue.
“If a soldier runs foul of a land purchase agreement, the committee will tell him the same. It is also a forum where issues will be aggregated and data generated. If our data tilts to the fact that the problem lies with soldiers not taking physical possession within stated timeframes, it is left for us to begin to educate our soldiers on areas they run afoul of the law. So, once you buy, try to begin to develop. If, on the other hand, we find out that the communities are trying to take advantage because the land has appreciated, we will also move as a division to tell them they cannot do that to our personnel.
“These agreements sometimes should be made flexible. For instance, when will a soldier who may be in theatre of operation for two or more years have time to come and develop a property he bought within a year? We hope this approach will solve the problem of communities trying to revoke land already sold to our personnel on the one hand and on the other, stop the idea of soldiers taking laws into their hands out of frustration”.