29, 2021 / 08:37 AM / OpEd by Yomi
Fawehinmi / Header Image Credit: FreedomOnline
The recent events in the Shangisha area of Lagos, specifically in relation to the challenge to the land in the Magodo Phase 2 estate, highlight the challenges of Land acquisition in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos State. However, as with many other issues in Nigeria, there are numerous misconceptions surrounding the case. My intention is to write a three-part article on this topic. This first one is about the fact about the case. The others will be about lessons learnt.
The Kernel of the Issues
The suit was filed before the High court of Lagos State on the 17th of June 1988. The trial in the suit commenced in May 1993 and judgment was delivered on the 31st of December 1993. There were several plaintiffs including those who sued in a representative capacity for themselves and on behalf of other members of Shangisha Landlords Association. There were four defendants in the case. The plaintiff sought for declaratory order as follows: -
"An order that members of the Shangisha Landlords Association whose lands and/or buildings at Shangisha Village were demolished by the Lagos State Government and/or its servants or agents during the period of June 1984 to May 1985 are entitled to first choice preferential treatment in the allocation and/or (as soon as possible) re-allocation of their particular plots as agreed in the meeting held on the 16/10/84 with the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Development Matters."
The court accepted their plea. Lagos State was unhappy and went into appeal. The judgement in appeal at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division was delivered on 25th of September 2001. The court dismissed the appeal of Lagos. Lagos then went to the Supreme court. In the leading judgment delivered by OLUFUNLOLA OYELOLA ADEKEYE, J.S.C. the Lagos appeal was dismissed (again).
1. The summary of the claim of the plaintiffs/respondents was that members of the Shangisha Landlords Association purchased various plots of land from the different families who owned the entire Shangisha Village. They built their houses on the plots and were in possession for several years. The Lagos State government in a demolition exercise from June 1984 to May 1985 destroyed their properties and displaced them. That that were not served with any contravention or demolition notices before the demolition of their houses.
2. After the demolition, The Association made representation to the Governor of Lagos State culminating in several meetings and an agreement was reached to resolve the outcome of the demolition exercise.
3. Lagos State claimed that "Shangisha village is a part of the 7,300 acres of land compulsorily acquired by the Lagos State Government by Government Notice No.236 of 14th October 1969 published in the Lagos State official Gazette No.35 Vol.2 of 24th October 1969. As a result of the acquisition the land became vested in the Lagos State Government by virtue of the public Land Acquisition Vesting order of 1976 published as Lagos State Legal Notice No.7 of 1976 in the Lagos State Extraordinary Gazette No.25 Vol.9 of 18th June, 1976". Lagos state claimed that the plaintiffs/respondents were not physically on the site at the time of the acquisition. "They squatted and erected buildings on the land without the knowledge and approval of the Lagos State Government. As no building plans were issued to them to erect the illegal structures contravention and demolition notices were duly served on the affected buildings and structures before the Lagos State Government carried out the demolition of the illegal structures."
4. The major issue was the claim of the landlord association that Lagos State offered to each of the appellant's alternative plots of land in substitution for the land from which the respondents had been evicted. Lagos State refused to honour the agreement. Lagos State however claimed that they "only offered alternative allocation of land to people who were legal owners of their plots unlike the respondents who were squatters. They were not physically on the land in 1969 when the land was acquired and they did not have any known legal interest in the land"
5. A very important point is on Exhibit P25. It's a letter signed by O.P. Adeyemi (Mrs.) for Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice dated the 17th of May, 1993 and sent to the Executive Secretary, Land Use and Allocation Committee, Block 13/12, The Secretariat, Ikeja. A part of the letter reads: "Meanwhile the government allottees could not take possession of their properties. In order to save the government from further embarrassment you are hereby advised to find alternative plot of land for those who were physically present on the land before the demolition exercise of 1984/1985. We are not giving these people consideration as of right but just to keep them off from disturbing the government allottees. Further please, note that they should be made to pay like any allottees. Please expedite action". Lagos offered 50 plots; the association rejected it.
6. The Court held that: "The issues transcended ownership of the land. It was whether or not the defendants agreed to allocate alternative plots of land to each of the 549 plaintiffs having regard to the manner in which they were evicted and their structures demolished." The court went on to give an order of Mandatory Injunction "that the said defendants shall forthwith allocate 549 (five hundred and forty nine) plots to the plaintiffs in the said Shangisha village scheme in the Shangisha village aforesaid."
7. The learned trial Judge, Balogun J. (Rtd) relied on the plaintiffs/respondents unchallenged evidence to enter judgment for them in the following term: "In the end therefore and for the simple reasons I have given, I hereby enter judgment for the plaintiff's against the defendants as follows: 1. A declaration that members of the Shangisha Landlords Association whose lands and or buildings at Shangisha village were demolished by the Lagos State Government and/or its servants or agents during the period of June, 1984 to May, 1985 are entitled to the first choice preferential treatment by the Lagos State Government (before any other persons) in the allocation or Re-allocation of Plots in Shangisha village and I make the order against the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th defendants (particularly the Lagos State Government and Land Use and Allocation Committee) as agreed in the meeting held on 16th October, 1984 with the Ministry of Lands Housing and Development Matters, Lagos State.......
8. The Supreme Court held that "Exhibit p25 and the meetings with the members of the association had committed the government to giving the respondents replacements for their plots of land. It will be inequitable to resile from such representation. As a matter of fact, Estoppel by conduct/representation can readily be invoked in the circumstance" The court went on to that that "This court appreciates the magnanimity of the Lagos State Government in the proposals to effect an amicable settlement of this matter. The ball is now in the court of the respondents who has a statutory duty to advise them properly to give the government their maximum co-operation in the execution of this judgment."
The summary of the case is therefore that the courts held that Lagos State agreed to allocate alternative plots of land to each of the 549 plaintiffs/respondents having regard to the way they were evicted, and their structures demolished. These plots to be given were to be inside the Magodo scheme and not anywhere else. In addition, the State Government has identified Chief Adebayo Adeyiga (who is one of the Judgment Creditors) to be the one that misled the Nigeria Police in attempting execution of the Judgment. It was him and not the Landlord association. Remember there were many parties to the suit. Some were on their own while other sued on behalf of other members of Shangisha Landlords Association.
The Role of The State
As can be seen from the above, it was Lagos State that caused all these problems. Lagos State government carried out the needless and unfortunate demolition and then agreed to allocate land to the people but failed to do so. Rather, the land was allocated to others. This reminds me of the Biblical case of Ahab and the vineyard of Naboth.
Let me commend the officers of the police, Governor Sanwo-Olu, and the Mayoress of Ikosi-Ketu Local Council Development Area, Samiat Abolanle Bada, that responded to the issues this week. The Mayoress was physically on ground to appeal and call for calm. I am happy no lives were lost, or properties were destroyed. The governor has promised to intervene and resolve the issues. While the government should have acted faster than this, I think its better late than never. For a case that was in court for decades with a final resolution in the Supreme Court, then Lagos State have been most unfair.
A release by the Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice on the 23rd of December is another interesting dimension to the issue. Let me mention a few issues from the letter.
One, The AG is right that the "The Judgment before the Supreme Court was not in respect of declaration of title and the Supreme Court did not in any way grant title to land to the Judgment Creditors. The Judgment Creditors had no claim for possession and none was granted as no survey plan was tendered before the Court. The judgment is not affixed to any land anywhere and only declared that the Judgment Creditors are entitled to allocation of land from the State Government" But that judgement was given in 2012. That's 9 years ago. Why has Lagos State waited this long to carry out the judgment and do the allocation?
Two, He wrote, "v. The State Government engaged the Judgment Creditors between 2012 - 2015 and made proposal to re-allocate land to the Judgment Creditors at Magotho Residential Scheme within Badagry Area which was rejected by Chief Adebayo Adeyiga but majority of the Judgment Creditors led by Yemi Ogunshola, Jelili Yaya and Adeleke Adefala accepted the offer. Due to division within the Judgment Creditors, another round of settlement was initiated in 2016 which culminated in the proposal to re-allocate the Judgment Creditors to Ibeju Lekki Coastal Scheme situate at Ibeju/Lekki which was also rejected by Chief Adebayo Adeyiga.vi. Subsequent to the rejection, the State Government has been in dialogue with majority of the Judgment Creditors from 2019 with a view to reach a concession towards implementing the Judgment"
What was the point disclosing the identity of the people who accepted the offer? How does Lagos State have a case with an association but start listing names of members of the association? I wonder why Lagos state seem to be dividing the folks in this case.
Three, Lagos State was asked to allocate land in Magodo. Why is the State Government making proposal to re-allocate land to the Judgment Creditors at Magotho Residential Scheme within Badagry Area and later in 2016 to re-allocate the Judgment Creditors to Ibeju Lekki Coastal Scheme situate at Ibeju/Lekki. The Supreme Court didn't ask the state to offer them land anywhere else but in Magodo. While I admit that Lagos State won't be able to get enough land in Magodo, isn't that because they didn't carry out the judgment early enough?
Four, he also wrote, "The State Government is therefore dismayed by the action of Chief Adebayo Adeyiga (one of the Judgment Creditors) who misled the Nigeria Police in attempting execution of the Judgment notwithstanding the pending Appeal against the issuance of warrant of possession by the then Chief Judge of Lagos State on 16th March 2017." Chief Adebayo Adeyiga is not the resident association. His actions cannot be presented like the actions of the Landlord association. Isn't it interesting that they also wrote that "The State Government enjoins the general public to remain calm especially Residents of Magodo Residential Area,"? Lagos State is addressing the residents but didn't mention anything about the Landlords.
I am happy that the AG wrote that the "The Lagos State Government has the high regard for the rule of law and will protect the interests of all parties." I call on the Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice of Lagos State Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN to stand on the side of justice. As the Commissioner for Justice, you are expected to ensure that justice is not denied anyone at any time. In this case, these landlords got a judgement, but the state slept on it. Justice was delayed with the several appeals that Lagos state filed. Lagos State has again denied the execution of the justice got from the Supreme Court. I think Lagos State owe the Landlord association an apology and prompt allocation of the land promised. Governor Sanwo Olu should help redress the situation. This is a test of Mr. Sanwo-Olu who said that "To be a smart city, we first must be a just one."
The Magodo Residents Association
The Magodo residents weren't part of the suit. However, they are impacted by the judgement. It's the case of two elephants fighting, the Magodo residents are like the grass. I think the residents should change their strategy.
One, I think they lost a great opportunity because they didn't ask to be joined to the original suit. Its ridiculous to imagine they lost that chance.
Two, they are in possession of the land, so they have a slight advantage. However, they are like an adverse possessor and should be aware of such a status in law. I am aware they also have Certificate of Occupancies too. My next article will show how that isn't an effective defense in cases like this.
Three, the residents need to accept their situation. The landlord's association isn't their adversary. It was Lagos state that sold defective property to them that's the Eku Eda. Its in their interest to work with the landlord's association and not against them. Lagos State as the seller is expected in law to guarantee your quite enjoyment of the land. Its Lagos state that should do the needful.
Four, the residents should be fair. You cannot live on someone's land and not acknowledge that the person has an interest on the land. Lagos State acted like Ahab, demolished the properties of people, and sold the land to you. Its just fair to acknowledge the injury that was done and seek for ways to ameliorate it.
Five, I think they should start a triparty negotiation with the landlords and Lagos State. I think the residents need to take charge of their destiny and see to the resolution of this case. They have already suffered loss. No lender in his senses will accept any property from that estate as a collateral any longer. This open awareness of the tussle over property will affect their property value as a science and as a response from the market.
The Landlord Association
I think the landlord's association have been patient. They got judgment years ago, but it seems both the Lagos State government and the resident took them for granted.
They need to avoid resorting to Self -help. They can't take laws into their hands. They should ensure they do the right thing in their quest for justice. The Supreme Court didn't ask them to take possession of individual properties. Rather it asked Lagos State to allocate land to them. So, the residents aren't your enemies. Its Lagos state that you need to face. Don't allow yourselves to be cheated twice. Don't give up. Stand up for your rights. Like Governor Sanwo Olu once said "We are Lagosian... driven by the irrepressible spirit of Lagos,". Don't allow anything to break your spirit and resolve for Justice.
The media shapes opinions. However, they can best shape opinions when they have a balanced view of issues. Some media houses have referred to the Landlords as Omo- Onile. These aren't Omo- Onile's. These are people with a title affirmed by the Supreme Court. Some others have made it seem that the Magodo residents are the victims. These landlords are also victims too.
Most media houses reported that the Shangisha Landlords Association came to demolish the houses. However, that's not fact. What is the fact was that a set of people came to mark houses? They marked it to claim possession. While a bulldozer was brought to the estate, it may be presumptuous that the intension was to demolish houses. Marking buildings for possession doesn't mean they will be demolished. Also, the issues about who led the invasion is still in doubt. It is the association or any of the claimants in the case? In addition, the State Government has identified Chief Adebayo Adeyiga who is one of the Judgment Creditors to be the one that misled the Nigeria Police in attempting execution of the Judgment. Finally, most of the media houses have engaged the estate residents more than the other stakeholders. This imbalance in reporting doesn't help at all in creating adequate information.
In conclusion, I think both the residents and the Landlord association are victims in the case. Sadly, the state government has a hand in victimising both sides. But like it always happens, rather that the victims to work together, they might prefer to work with their oppressor. All Stakeholders must call in Lagos State to end this imbroglio. I think we need everyone at the negotiation table as I think we will keep going round in cycles with these numerous court judgements.
Yomi is the author of The Essential Guide to Land Acquisition in Nigeria. (Published by Poli-G Books, 2015. ISBN 978936993X, 9789789369935) described as a ''reliable navigational tool for both professionals and amateurs'', which can be obtained here. @yomitheprof
Related Links - Yomi Fawehinmi
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4. VIDEO: Review Of Fawehinmi's Essential Guide To Land Acquisition In Nigeria (Pt 2) - ChannelsTV Bookclub, Feb 9, 2016
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