Beyond what trailed the exchange of words between Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) at the disputed Magodo Estate Phase Two, was a land dispute that has lingered for over three decades.
The land, which was reportedly taken over by a military governor for public purposes ended up in the hands of privileged individuals.
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The recent crisis arose from a court judgement, which favours judgement creditors involved in the land dispute.
While the judgment creditors insist on taking over possession of the plots of land, the residents and occupants of the disputed lands protest what they called “illegal possession of their properties.”
The deployment of policemen from Abuja further raised the tension that has characterised the area since last month when the judgment creditors moved to take possession of the properties.
To forestall the imminent breakdown of law and order, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu stormed the area on Tuesday where he invited all parties for a peaceful resolution of the impasse.
However, the governor had an encounter with a Police CSP heading the team sent to the Estate reportedly by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami.
The encounter generated a media frenzy and a supposed defiance of the orders of a governor by a junior police officer, which was termed as a show of ‘disrespect’ to the governor in the first place.
Since Tuesday when the video went viral, there have been mixed reactions.
Daily Trust reports that there has been tension in the popular Magodo Estate after the Shangisha Landlords Association, acting on a Supreme Court judgment, moved to take over possession of hundreds of plots of land in the estate.
After the failed attempt by the judgment creditor to take over the properties last month, the development took a new twist this week when armed policemen deployed from Abuja allegedly moved to effect the court judgment.
They were once again resisted by the landlords and residents who protested the move.
How the dispute over Magodo Estate started
It all started in 1984 when the then military Governor of the State, Air Commodore Gbolahan Mudasiru (now deceased) acquired the plots from the original owners on the pretence that it was being taken over for overriding public interest. The government reportedly promised to build an international hospital on the land- only for it to allocate the plots totalling 549 to government officials and wealthy individuals.
The association took the government to court in a bid to recover the plots of land. The case dragged from the lower court to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of the landowners. The Shangisha Landlords said contrary to some news reports, they are not land grabbers but they have followed the due process of the law to recover what rightfully belongs to them.
Chief Adeyiga recalled that they were forced “To sue the Lagos State government sometimes in June 1988 in suits ID/795/88 Chief Adebayo Adeyiga and six (6) others versus the military governor of Lagos State and four(4) others in Lagos State high court, Ikeja.”
He added: “The Association applied to the court for an order to sue and prosecute the case in a representative capacity and was brought before Honourable Justice W. A. Oshodi. It was granted on the 21st of November 1988.
“While the case was going on, the Lagos State government refused or neglected to obey the court order to maintain status quo, rather they and their cronies intensified construction activities. This forced us to apply for an interlocutory injunction, which was granted by the late Honourable Justice A. L. Balogun on 19th October 1992.
“By this ruling/order of the courts, it was expected that the Lagos State government and the Association would respect the court of the land and refrain from allotting or further development on the land, pending the determination of the substantive suit, but they refused.
“On the 17th of May 1993, while the case was still pending in court, the then civilian Governor of Lagos State, Sir Michael Otedola, gave the executive order for the release of our land to us, which was not also complied with by the state of Lagos State government officials.
“On the 31st of December 1993, the trial court gave judgment in favor of Shangisha Landlord Association as represented by the Chief Adebayo Adeyiga and six) others with a mandatory injunction order on the judgment debtor (Lagos State government) to allocate 549 plots on the land in dispute as first choice preference to the association.
“On the 16th of March 1994, while the appeal against the said judgment was pending, the judgment debtor applied for a stay of execution, which was granted by Honourable Justice Rosaline Omotosho, and she ordered both parties to maintain status quo.
“Based on all the above facts, we humbly stated that we have by all means done and exhausted what is expected of law abiding citizens of the nation by following due process in this matter but the government of Lagos State has not deemed it necessary to obey court orders.”
South West governors reaction
The South West Governors’ Forum condemned the altercation with the governor in a statement signed by Governor Rotimi Akerodolu of Ondo State.
They asked President Muhammadu Buhari to call the Inspector General of Police and the minister of justice to order over the forceful implementation of the Supreme Court judgment, which awarded 549 plots of land to the judgment creditors who are the Shangisha Landlords Association.
Attorney General Malami reacts
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami in a statement by his Media Aide, Umar Jibril Gwandu on Wednesday faulted the reaction by South West governors over the matter.
He stated that “The role of the executive is, in this respect, simply to aide the maintenance of law and order in due compliance with rule of law arising from giving effect to the judgment of the apex court of the land.
“Let it be known that the issue is regarding a Supreme Court Judgement that was delivered in 2012 long before the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in office at a time when Malami was not a minister.
The judgment was a reaffirmation of the judgments of Court of Appeal and High Court delivered on 31st December 1993”.
He said the governors’ reaction came to his office as a surprise and as vituperation of ulterior motives of some political class who derived pleasure in dragging the name of Malami in the mud to achieve some sinister objectives.
According to him, his office would appreciate if the Coalition of the Governors will help to unravel the circumstances preventing the Lagos State Government from enforcing the court order despite several attempts from 2012-2015 and the so-called settlement initiative started in 2016.
He added: It is a common knowledge that execution of the judgment and orders of courts of competent jurisdiction, and the court of last resort in the circumstances remains a cardinal component of the rule of law and the office of the Attorney General wonders how maintenance of the law and orders in the course of execution of the judgment of the supreme can be adjudged by the imagination of the governors to be unruly”.
Moves for reconciliation
Following the meeting on Wednesday, it was agreed that the state government would compensate the Shangisha Landlords with 549 plots of land.
The committee set up by the state government to resolve the Magodo dispute, chaired by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, would meet with the judgment creditors (Shangisha Landlords’ Association) today.
In the resolution of the meeting signed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, it was also resolved that the Surveyor- General of Lagos State, Permanent Secretary Lands Bureau and Hon. Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development are to immediately identify available plots of land within the Shangisha village scheme.
“The committee is also to identify how the available plots of land are to be accessed and whether any infrastructural development is necessary to access the land.
“Upon identification of available and accessible land, the state government is to immediately allocate the land to the 549 judgment creditors.
“In the event that there is no available and accessible land within the Shangisha village scheme to allocate to all the 549 judgment creditors, the state government, in agreement with the judgment creditors, will provide alternative plots of land,” the statement added.
Speaking on the matter, a constitutional lawyer, Kayode Ajulo said, “What’s expected of the governor by his oath of office is to ensure that the judgment of the court is executed or find a way of appeasing the judgment creditors, that’s ensuring justice is done to all parties.
“Whereas he is seen giving contrary orders to the Judgment enforcement team led by the CSP in a way to compromise the interests of the judgment creditors. Save for his immunity, he ought to be arrested and charged for contempt of the court.
Public Affairs Commentator, Adeola Soetan, said it was interesting to see that the “rich also cry” as demonstrated by the protests by the property owners at Magodo.
He recalled that the Ojora family once won a landmark Supreme Court judgment over a five-decade land dispute during the Fashola government.
Soetan said, “How did they resolve with their new tenants including NBL, 7UP, many estates and over 35 communities with Baales and Kings in Ijora- Costain- Iganmun that time? He asked the government to check into its record and see how it was resolved.
“The ultimate way out is for the government to embark on massive housing projects for the citizens that are affordable by the people on mortgage. All these scanty government housing estates that are beyond the reach of the struggling masses and working class can’t work. Late Lateef Jakande did massive low-cost housing schemes before in just four years as Lagos State governor,” he added.
As the government meets with the Shangisha Landlords, there are high hopes that the judgment creditors would accept the proposal towards amicably resolving the issues.
So beyond the surface and the encounter between the Lagos State governor and the police at Magodo, was a deep-seated fight for justice and the failure of Lagos State government to resolve a matter that lingers for almost three decades.