Despite the subsisting legislation known as Lagos Property Protection Law enacted by the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration in 2016, land buyers and builders in Lagos are still at the mercy of native land owners known in street parlance as ‘Omo-Onile.’
The Omo-Onile in Lagos is a ubiquitous and possessive god that must be appeased at every stage of any residential or commercial development in any part of the state including rural, semi-urban and urban communities, before any housing development can be continued or completed; hence, he is an interloper that puts a wedge in the progress of most housing developments.
No one Omo-Onile acts alone. He normally acts in a group and the menace of such group is said to be compounding the woes of property developers and builders who are generally stressed out in their bid to get Certificate of Occupancy (C-of-O) and both planning and building approvals from the government.
At that time, it was thought the move was going to check the nefarious activities of the Omo-Oniles, but hostilities have continued in Ogun.
No one Omo-Onile acts alone. He normally acts in a group and the menace such group is said to be compounding the woes of property developers and builders who are generally stressed out in their bid to get C-of-O and both planning and building approvals from the government.
All over Africa and Nigeria in particular, land has traditional importance attached to it because of its link to hereditary and ancestral lineage. But in Lagos, this attachment is taken to a ridiculous and malicious level where the Omo-Oniles are always on the prowl, extorting money from builders at every stage of development including foundation, German-flooring, Lintel level, topping out and roofing.
Not only in Lagos. It is the same story in Ogun State.
The Ogun situation was so bad that in 2016, a former governor of the state, Ibikunle Amosun enacted the Anti-land Grabbing Act, with stiff penalties for its infringement – imprisonment for 25 years or death sentence for culprits.
This wicked practice is made worse by the fact that in Lagos, unfortunately, land is scarce and demand is high; hence; the enormous price tag it carries. With its large-size population, Lagos has a very small land mass estimated at 5,377 square kilometers or 0.4 percent of Nigeria’s total land area.
Land as a factor of production along with capital, labour and enterprise, is unique and most strategic. Its availability plays a pivotal role in the development of any economy and increases investment inflow.
The Omo-Oniles seem to be well aware of all this and that deadens their feelings and enables them to bare their fans while carrying out their unwholesome activities which are frequently cited as a disincentive and discouragement of investment in housing and also an additional burden on builders.
Earnest Ezeogu, a house owner in the Idimu area, a Lagos suburb, recounted his experience with the Omo-Oniles in an interview with BDSUNDAY, saying that he lost a plot of land that he bought for over N3.5 million about eight years ago.
Ezeogu said the land, which he bought in a community called Agodo situated in Egbe-Idimu Local Council Development Area (LCDA), was also sold to other two buyers.
According to him, the controversial Agodo land was his first landed property in Lagos and it turned out to be a lost investment.
He said the money his family invested into buying the property was lost because the Omo-onile person who sold the land to him was fake.
“I spent an additional N1.5 million fighting for the ownership of the land in the court of law only to realise that it was an effort in futility because the other two persons that paid for the same land were also fighting for the ownership of the land. It was family members that convinced my wife and me to move on with our lives and forget about the land because according to them, it was pointless moving forward with the case,” the 48-year-old businessman, in regret.
Ezeogu further said that a lot of people have fallen victim to fraudulent Omo-onile people who pretend to be family members of real landowners.
He said the case with the Agodo land made him vow not to buy land anymore in Lagos until his wife went behind him to buy another land from the Egbe-Idimu area, which is where he built his house today.
He said he would not have agreed to buy the land if his wife had consulted him before going due to the past experience with Omonile in Lagos.
Ezeogu is not alone in the suffering potential land buyers in Lagos go through in the hands of Omo-onile as Johnson Efifong, a Lagos-based sales executive, said he was forced to go and buy land in faraway Ogun State after losing a one-and-half plots of land to greedy Omo-onile in Lagos.
Efifong said he bought one-and-a-half plots of land in the mid-2000s in one of the Lagos suburbs called Ijegun and spent over a million to build a foundation on a swampy land only for the Omo-onile to resale the land to another person because Efifong didn’t have sufficient money to start building on the land at that time.
“Three years back when I was ready to develop the land, I went back to the Baale who sold the land to me and he sent his people to show him another virgin land. I mobilised to clear the land in order to begin construction only for an army officer to appear on the second day with an eviction notice claiming the land was originally his.
“I was forced to go back to the Baale to protest and he told his boys to take me to a new site. The boys took me to a faraway tick forest which is the boundary between Ijegun and Amuwo-Odofin where no single building is. It was after that encounter that I decided to abandon the Ijugun land and go to Ogun State to buy land,” Efifong said.
According to him, he made the final decision to abandon the Ijegun land after an elderly woman called him aside and told him to be mindful of his dealings with the landowners because they can also be diabolical in their actions.
“Many have died in a strange way in Lagos just for fighting to recover their lands from the hands of Lagos Omo-onile. I know of one man in the diaspora who returned from America and bought a plot of land in Lekki for N50 million around the Elegushi in 2013. He fenced the land, put up a gate and started the foundation for the building days later when a man surfaced and started making claims that the same land that the diaspora returnee bought was sold to him first.
“Both owners were still contesting when a military Colonel came with soldiers to evict everybody from the site claiming that he bought the land. The military officer took possession of the land and promised to refund the diaspora returnee the money spent on fencing and the foundation; the man went to fight the family that sold the land to him to get a refund but it didn’t end well as the man started battling strange illness that took his life in the end. So, I’m always skeptical about fighting Omo-onile over land,” he said.
Meanwhile, Femi Olawunmi said he nearly lost a plot of land in the Agodo area because he didn’t know that the land he bought was first sold to a nearby church.
He said it when he wanted to start developing the land the church started contesting the ownership of the land.
According to him, it was God’s grace that helped him to secure the land because the head Pastor of the church at that time was a good man and he asked him to pay the church an additional N1million to buy off the land from the church.
Reselling the same plot of land to multiple buyers is not the only issue with Omo-onile as most of them use the ‘owoda’ phenomenon to extort many builders in Lagos.
Babadeji Afolabi, another house owner in Lagos, said that after paying for the family receipt when he bought his land, the Omonile people were still coming to the site to disturb his workers for ‘owo foundation, owo decking, owo roofing and owo fence.
He said he paid about N200,000 to the Oba to secure the family receipt after buying his land but spent over N1.5 million in total to settle the “owo foundation” (money for foundation), owo decking, owo roofing and owo fence when he was building his house.
According to him, the payments are unreceipted, but the landowner must pay them to be able to continue the construction work if not the Omo-onile guys will not allow workers to work.
A Lagos resident who spoke with BusinessDay on condition of anonymity said: “What annoys me so much is the way they go about it. I wanted to renovate a building that I bought; these people came and demanded a huge sum of money that I should pay. Once they see sand or planks in front of your house, they will swoop on you. They have informant all over the place. I think it has become a syndicate. I am not sure the state government can stop it; you know why? The state government is also busy collecting all manner of levies. To build house in Lagos these days you pay through your nose. So, who will tame the Omo-onile?”