Hard Lessons From Magodo Homeowners’ Predicament
From Sam Egburonu, Editor
As the face-off between Magodo homeowners and Lagos State Government, which dates back over 35 years, peaked this new year, concerned observers have wondered how far the Land Use Act, 1978 can really protect an investor in real estate?
The case has also raised fresh concerns over repeated cases of some state governments taking over individuals and families’ land, presumably ‘for public purpose’ as provided for in the Land Use Act, only to allocate and sell such land to friends, family members and cronies of the governors and other powerful government officials.
GENESIS OF THE CURRENT IMPASSE
In the case of the Magodo Phase 2, innocent Nigerians, who bought the affected plots from Lagos State Government and who were issued Certificate of Occupancy (CoO) by the state governor are today, on the verge of losing their hard earned investment, aside the possibility of being forced out of the multi-million naira houses they built over the years.
It is also instructive that these homeowners bought the affected highly priced plots of land allegedly unaware of the long history of litigation that has trailed it.
It has been reported that at the beginning of the Magodo/Lagos State Government land transaction, many decades ago, the then military government in Lagos State acquired the land from the original owners for ‘overriding public interest’ as the Land Use Act provides. It has also been reported that the original landowners complained that they were not compensated but that they “watched in utter disbelief” when they “saw Lagos State Government partitioning the land for sale to friends and associates of top government officials.” This became the genesis of the prolonged disagreement with the government over what the original landowners described “betrayal of trust.”
LONG YEARS OF LITIGATION
As would be expected, the original landowners sought redress in the High Court, which upheld their plea. In it’s reaction, the Lagos State Government approached the appellate court in a bid to upturn the ruling of the trial court but the state government lost to the original land owners. The matter was later taken to the apex court for a final ruling.
Just six years ago, the Lagos State Government also lost to the original owners at the Supreme Court, which, among others, reportedly reached a judgment that specified certain plots of land be given to the original land owners.
Reports on the recent invasion of Magodo 2 by a team of heavily armed policemen that accompanied bailiffs from the Lagos High Court to enforce the Court’s judgement, said their mission was to take possession of the contentious property. As the other year 2021 drew to a close.
Nigerians watched with utter disbelief when heavily armed anti-riot policemen that accompanied the bailiff took strategic positions within the highbrow Magodo community. The drama became more dreadful when it was reported that some youths, alleged to have been recruited by the Shangisha Landlords Association, the original landowners, actually moved from house to house and inscribed the phrase; “Possession Taken” on the affected buildings.
It would be recalled that when the original landowners first dragged the then military government of Lagos State to court for acquiring the area for public use but instead later selling the same land to top government officials and their cronies, the court had, according to some reports, ruled that “both parties should maintain the status quo in the area.” The original landowners said that in utter disregard of the court order, the state government continued to sell the land to unsuspecting investors.
In its final judgment, the high court ordered the state government to give the Association and its members 549 plots of land as a matter of “first priority”. Dissatisfied with the high court judgment, the government approached the appeal court which affirmed the judgment of the lower court on the matter “and ordered that Lagos State should, as a matter of first priority, give back 549 plots of land to the original land owners in the Shangisha Landlords Association.”
The matter later went on to the Supreme Court which also affirmed the judgment of the lower courts. The Supreme Court judgment was handed down six years ago but the Lagos State Government, according to reports, allegedly refused to execute the judgment.
WHAT LAGOS STATE GOVERNMENT SAID
In an attempt to clarify its position on the matter, the Lagos State Government has issued a statement, signed by the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, in which the government condemned the execution of the Supreme Court’s judgement.
In the statement, titled, ‘Illegal Enforcement of Judgement by Shangisha Landlords Association in Re SC/112/2002 between Military Governor of Lagos State & ORS v Chief Adebayo Adeyiga & ORS’, the government said the declaratory judgment of the Supreme Court only recognised the Judgment Creditors as being entitled to first choice preferential treatment in the “allocation and or re-allocation of plots in Shangisha Village.
“The judgment only relates to allocation of 549 plots of land and not possession of any land.”
The full statement reads: On the 21st of December, 2021, it was reported through social media platforms that the Shangisha Landlords Association with stern looking Policemen took over Magodo Area of Lagos State in purported execution of a Supreme Court judgment.
“It is a known fact that judgment was delivered in 2012 by the Supreme Court in Military Governor of Lagos State & Ors. Vs. Adebayo Adeyiga & Ors in Appeal No: SC/112/2002 wherein the Apex court affirmed the judgment of Court of Appeal and High Court delivered on the 31st December, 1993 in Suit No: ID/795/88 wherein “I hereby enter judgment for the plaintiffs against the defendants as follows – 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 person(s) 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 and Housing and Development Matters, Lagos State.
“It is obvious from the declaratory judgment of the Supreme Court that the judgment only recognized the Judgment Creditors as being entitled to first choice preferential treatment in the “allocation and or re-allocation of plots in Shangisha Village.
“Several attempts by the State Government to resolve the matter amicably have been on even before the judgment of the Supreme Court was delivered. It is therefore not surprising that the Supreme Court held on page 27 of the judgment thus;
“… 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 counsel to 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 State Government engaged the Judgment Creditors between 2012 – 2015 and made proposal to re-allocate land to the Judgment Creditors at Magodo 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.
“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.
“Noteworthy also is the pending application for interlocutory injunction dated 1st December 2020 before the Court of Appeal in Appeal No. CA/L/1005A/2018 seeking an order restraining Chief Adebayo Adeyiga and others (including their agents, servants privies or howsoever called, particularly the Police) from entering into, giving direction, taking possession or in any manner disturbing the quiet enjoyment of property owners in Magodo Residential Area Scheme.
“The Lagos State Government has equally observed that the execution was carried out by unknown Bailiffs as the Sherriff of the High Court of Lagos, where the Judgment emanated, were not responsible for the purported execution carried out on the 21st December 2021 at Magodo. The purported execution is therefore contrary to Order 8 Rule 17 of the Supreme Court Rules 2014 and Section 37 of the Enforcement of Judgment and Orders Part iii of the Sherriff and Civil Process Act, LFN, 2004.
“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.
“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.
“The State Government enjoins the general public to remain calm especially Residents of Magodo Residential Area, while investigation into the unwarranted incident is being carried out with a view to prosecuting any person found culpable. The Lagos State Government has the high regard for the rule of law and will protect the interests of all parties.”
POSITION OF SHANGISHA LANDLORDS ASSOCIATION
It has been alleged that part of the outcomes of the attempt to execute the Supreme Court Judgement, was curious emergence of alleged ‘frivolous CoOs’ in Magodo GRA Phase 2 in Lagos. This allegation, NewsOrient was told, compelled the original owners of the land to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Chairman of Shangisha Landlords Association, Chief Adebayo Adeyiga, also confirmed this to journalists while reacting to reports by Magodo Residents Association that it was not aware of the Supreme Court judgement mandating the Lagos State Government to return 549 plots of land to the original owners of the area.
Chief Adeyiga stated that any CofO issued after 1998, after the judgement was passed, is null and void. “We are aware that Governor Babatunde Fashola did not sign any C-of-O nor did Governor Ambode, following the judgement.
“So, how did the present occupants of Magodo get the C-of-Os? We have done our audits and have found over 600 C-of-Os that are fraudulently obtained.”
The Landlords Association of Shangisha also wants the Supreme Court to make a pronouncement that will enforce the execution and possession of their land. They said “the claim by the Magodo Residents Association that it was not aware of the judgment reached in 2012 was untrue.” They alleged that “the Lagos State Government that sold the land to them, was fully aware of the Supreme Court judgement.”
Pa Adeyiga said, “Civil Servants in collaboration with some government officials fraudulently acquired the land in the course of the legal battle to reclaim the land.
“We will not take responsibility for their lack of due diligence before purchasing the land.” He also alleged that a former governor of Lagos State, Sir Michael Otedola, “had instructed the Civil Servants to give us our land, but this was ignored. After obtaining the Supreme Court judgement, the Magodo Residents Association declined to pay ratifications which is the practice all over.”
Adeyiga added that when the land was under litigation, the state’s Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development was also a party, and as such, it cannot issue a building approval. Regardless, he said almost 600 buildings inside Magodo have building approvals. “There is no doubt that all these buildings did not exist in the face of the law.
“Also, if the residents association claims to have gone to court and secured an order of status quo, why should they continue to build and sell lands when the entire land is a subject of litigation?
“If you go into Magodo today, you will see that constructions are still going on and the Magodo Residents Association has continued to deny us the benefits of our Supreme Court judgement while they continue to make money.”
The Shangisha Landlords’ Association is asking, among other things, that the EFCC probes the illegal CofOs issued in Magodo regarding over 500 illegal buildings.”
According to him, “We don’t have any problem with Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu who is ready to give us back our land but with the Civil Servants that have usurped our land and telling the Governor that there is no more land.”
As the battle for the ownership of the affected plots of land in the Lagos highbrow Magodo community rages on, more critics of Land Use Act have come out to point out openly the shortcomings of the highly controversial law. This current case has, among others, shown clearly that even possession of Certificate of Occupancy duely issued and signed by a state governor may not be enough security to get undisturbed peaceful enjoyment of land in Nigeria as contemplated under the Land Use Act. The big question today therefore is, how would a prospective land buyer in today’s Nigeria fully secure his investment?