Three years after signing the Property Protection Bill into law by the Lagos State government to curb the excesses of land grabbers otherwise known as Omo-onile and checkmate unethical practices in land-related transactions, the menace is yet to see any significant improvement.
The activities of land grabbers have, for many years, been a set-back for the real estate industry as regards land purchase and property development, particularly in the south-western part of Nigeria. The perpetration of this act has disrupted genuine investments in property business in the country, and has adversely affected the ownership rights of individuals.
This means that the new government in the state, being piloted by the duo of Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Babafemi Hamzat as governor and deputy respectively, has a pretty piece of work cut out for them in the state’s land administration.
More than in any other state of the federation, land is a very strategic factor of production in Lagos as it attracts greater value there than anywhere else in the country. It is still not clear, between land and tax, which one is the major source of the state’s estimated N30 billion monthly internally generated revenue.
But challenges remain in the state’s land administration and these come as statutory, bureaucratic and mundane issues.
Omo-oniles extort property owners for inexplicable reasons, and those who muster courage to face them end up being harassed by thugs working for them. They demand cash from property owners to reclaim land and, most times, charge them at every stage of development of their property.
These nefarious acts have inflicted severe pains on a number of property owners, with some losing their precious lives while fighting for their rights. The issue on land grabbing has not been totally eradicated, but Governor Sanwo-Olu has vowed to get rid of the menace.
“One major problem of Nigerian government is that they lack the will to enforce law. Government’s laws are clustered-concept, success on paper, but failure in reality. This is why land grabbing is still on the high-side till now” said Rasheed Osinowo, Chief Executive Officer, Osinowo & Associates.
Two months ago, land grabbers shot three construction workers at a construction site in the Anthony area of Lagos. Two of the victims died on the spot, and the third person was confirmed so. Also, residents of Fowoseje community in the Lakowe area of Ibeju-Lekki in Lagos had, in November last year, decried the prevalence of land grabbers in their community.
Similarly, hoodlums suspected to be land grabbers attacked the Satellite area of Ojo Local Government in July last year, and unleashed terror on residents, vandalizing properties worth millions of naira.
Najeeb Adeyemi, Head of Land Valuation at Lagos-based Ewenla & Mustapha Partners, hinged the menace on lack of practicality of government policies and low awareness of the citizenry about their rights as stipulated in the law.
“The problem is that most of the Lagos State laws are theoretical and have always remained so. It is not usually practical enough to tackle the problem head on,” Adeyemi said.
“Another problem is awareness. Most people are usually not aware of their rights as regards the law. Another is lack of enforcement. This, to me, is usually lack of political will on the part of government to go after defaulters”
A property owner, Tiwalade Obafemi, who owns an on-going building project in the Abule-Egba area of Lagos told BusinessDay about his ordeal in the hands of land grabbers.
“I bought this land early last year from a land-owning family; got the necessary documents confirming me as the legal owner of the property, but I don’t have enough funds to start work on the land. Seven months after the acquisition, the Omo-onile started disturbing me, to pay N200, 000 as one of their family members was not initially in the picture while sharing the sale money,” he added.
PPL, which was signed on August 15, 2016, by former Governor Akinwumi Ambode, prohibits forceful entry and illegal occupation of landed property, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed property in the state and for connected purposes in ensuring enforcement.
The PPL set up a Special Task Force Unit affiliated with the Lagos State Ministry of Justice to arrest and prosecute defaulters.
The section 2, 3 and 5 of the law abolishes forceful or violent take over of any landed property by any individual or agent. It prohibits all forms of self-help and stipulates 10 years of imprisonment for persons who resort to the use of same.
Section 4 is directed at illegal occupation of property, and states that any individual in occupation of a property as an encroacher or derived title or some form of licenses from an encroacher and has refused to leave upon request by the owner would be guilty of an offence.
Section 6 stipulates that the execution of any court judgement must be done in accordance with civil process act or any other law as provided for it and not by any law enforcement agencies, vigilante or ethnic groups. Section 7 relates to the act of encroaching on a land with firearm or any deadly weapon whatsoever. Such a person if found guilty is liable to imprisonment.
Section 11 of the Law is by far the most popular provision of the Law. It prohibits the request for money by anyone acting for himself or acting as an agent in regards to construction activities stating that at no point must they disrupt construction.
However, the section permits the collection of foundation levy by the family head from buyers. Consequently, it shall not be business as usual for land grabbers and anyone who violates the provision is liable to a fine not exceeding N1 million or two years imprisonment or both.
According to Adeyemi, the law is a right step in the right direction in resolving the issue, saying that professional bodies in the industry should come to the forefront by regulating the activities of members.
“The major problem with real estate practice and all these issues is the incursion of quacks. Activities are unregulated, making it an all-comer affair,” he noted.