OPEBI LAND GRAB: ‘COURT WILL FIX LAGOS STATE’S EXECUTIVE LAWLESSNESS,’ SAYS UBANI
Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Vice President, Mr. Monday Ubani has vowed to contest the decision of Lagos State Government to back alleged land grabbers over the controversial parcel of land at Opebi, Lagos.
In a rejoinder to his indictment by the State Government over the land tussle, the leading human rights activist insisted that the alleged land grabbers were using the machinery of the government to perfect the land grab, adding that he is confident that the courts will redress any injustice done to his client.
Below is the full text of the statement made available to CITY LAWYER.
RE : OPEBI LAND TUSSLE, LAGOS STATE GOVERNMENT JUSTIFIES ACTION FOR THE UNLAWFUL EXECUTION OF COURT JUDGMENT ON DISPUTED LAND. – UBANI’S RESPONSE
I have just seen the Press Release of the Honourable Commissioner of Information and Strategy of Lagos State, Mr Gbenga Omotosho concerning the land grabbing episode at 1, Folorunsho Kuku Street, Opebi in which Lagos State erroneously got itself entangled and illegally helped notorious land grabbers to chase away the rightful owner of a land and put the land grabbers into physical possession.
Despite my alarm that this action is patently illegal and wrong, the State Government through its Officials have been trying hard to justify this illegality having succeeded in using the state apparatus to commit the heinous illegality of “enforcing judgement” over a land that was never part of the alleged judgement of the Supreme Court.
I was away on Christmas holiday when the Lagos State Government led by one Engr Omotosho used bulldozer, trucks, towing vans and great number of policemen and thugs to chase away the legitimate tenants of the landowner and towed away all the vehicles at the site where they have been working for many years. When we were informed of this development, I raised alarm where I was holidaying and it was widely publicised both in mainstream and social media. Several government officials including the present Commissioner for Information and Strategy reached out to me over the issue and I promised to be back to Lagos to address the issue if they were ready to redress their error.
I returned to Lagos on the 10th of January, 2021 and on the 11th of January, 2021, I attended a meeting presided over by The Solicitor General/Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Mrs Titilayo Shitta-Bey. It is important to point out that, that is the only meeting I attended over this issue, therefore the statement that a Committee set up by Lagos State Government sat from 4th of January to 1st of February 2021 is clearly news to me. I was never invited to any other meeting other than the one of 11th of January, 2021 which had some officials of several ministries and the Surveyor-General of Lagos State in attendance.
At the said meeting I raised the issue that:
1. Lagos State Government cannot “enforce” court judgement as that is the work of the Sheriffs of the court. I am proved right because after the invasion in collusion with Lagos State Government officials, the Meadows’ Family, the supposed judgment creditor, has gone back to court to ask the court re-issue the “warrant of possession” for them to carry out execution on Folorunsho Kuku Street that was never and had never been part of the subject of judgement of both at the trial and at appellate Courts. The matter came up two weeks ago, that is last January, 2021 which is several weeks after the illegal invasion by the land grabbers in collusion with Lagos State Government officials.
2. The Surveyor-General’s report that my client’s land fell into the subject of the judgement at the trial court was seriously objected to by my humble self because the surveyor-general based his report upon a FORGED SURVEY (it was never part of the proceeding at the trial court in Suit No ID/513/80). This purported survey plan upon which the surveyor-general based his report was never used, tendered and admitted in evidence in that case. I have a complete copy of the entire court proceedings that took place on that case and a complete set of all the surveys that were also tendered and admitted in court. I also have the court judgements which never made mention of a purported survey plan drawn by one Suveyor Ogunbiyi in 1981 which is the wrong survey that the Surveyor General of Lagos State has used in his report which the Special Task Force on Lands Grabbers acted upon. I made this particular point clear to the Committee, but my findings were that the Committee members from Lagos State Government came to the meeting with a mindset to clear their names and present a report to the governor that will clear their mess by insisting that they acted upon the purported survey that never existed during the trial of the case.
At that point I felt that the Committee cannot resolve the issue as it was set up purposely to clear their “mess” and not to mete out justice as this press release from the Commissioner of Information and Strategy justifies my position. The Land grabbers have taken over the land and have set out to sell the land (if they have not sold everything) to persons that are very close to this State government as my investigation reveals.
Let me address seriatim the other issues raised by the said Commissioner in his press release.
a. “That the Committee invited all the parties between 4th of January to 1st of February, 2021”. MY RESPONSE. As stated earlier, I was invited only on the 11th of January, 2021 and I attended only on that date and not aware there was any other meeting involving parties to this issue. The truth of the matter is that Lagos State Government cannot ordinarily be a judge in its own case. We accused Lagos State Government of aiding land grabbers to take over my client’s land illegally and it is preposterous that the said Lagos State Government through the Ministry of Justice was investigating the matter that we alleged is committed by The Special Task Force on Land Grabbing that is a Unit under them! What an irony?
b. “That the Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers acted upon a petition on behalf of the Meadows to eject occupants of the land which harbors shanties, mechanics and miscreants”. MY RESPONSE. This is clearly laughable. The mechanics that were there were rent paying tenants to the owner of the land, and the property in question was fenced round with a big gate. The mechanics are known within the Estate and are lawful tenants who pay their appropriate dues and levies to the Landlord/ Resident Association. The chairman of the Estate Mr Steve Omamole has testified to that effect.
Upon what basis in law will a State Government act upon a petition of a private citizen to eject fellow citizens without complying with due process and law? Since when did Lagos State Government constitute itself into a law court to engage in recovery of premises on behalf of other citizens? The more the Lagos State Government tries to justify this brazen illegality, the more they get themselves completely soiled in this embarrassing impunity!
c. “That the Petitioners tendered copies of judgements obtained from various courts, High Court, Suit No LD/513/80, Court of Appeal – Appeal No. CA/1/92 and the Supreme Court – SC /146/1995) and other documents showing their title to the land to substantiate their position”. MY RESPONSE. This was the most embarrassing of all the statements in this press release. I ask again, when has Lagos State Ministries or Agencies become the law court that enforce judgement of the court? If it is true as alleged that the Petitioners have these judgements, why can’t they go to court to enforce their judgements? When did they obtain these judgments? Have they enforced them before? Why did they not complete the execution? Why are they now waking up from sleep to enforce 41 year’s judgements in 2020 on a different address with a different survey? Is the Commissioner of Information aware that this same Petitioner was in court two weeks ago(this January, 2021) to ask the court to re-issue warrant of possession over the same property that Lagos State Government have purportedly helped them to enforce judgement in December 2020? Is Lagos State Government aware that the Survey Plan with which they deceived the Surveyor General to act upon in order to write that our client’s land forms part of the subject of judgement was never part of the proceeding in Suit No ID/513/80? Please note that the Hon Commissioner erroneously described the suit number as LD/513/80.
Further question will be what other documents did the petitioner show to the Lagos State Government as alleged by the Hon Commissioner that got the Special Taskforce On Land Grabbing convinced that my client’s land formed part of the subject of the judgement of the Courts in favor of the judgment creditor? Could it be the survey OGEK 1911/81 drawn by one Surveyor Ogunbiyi which the Chairman of the Taskforce Mr Arole said he got from the Court but which was never part of the proceedings in Suit No ID/513/80? How can a whole government agency believe in a document that was never part of the proceedings during trial and chose to act on it? What irks me in this whole mess is the brazen inability of the Lagos Government Officials to appreciate the gravity of this blunder. Their bold-faced attempt to justify this illegality is clearly amazing, shocking and alarming!
d. “That the Coordinator of the Lagos Task Force confirmed the authenticity of all documents presented by the Petitioner and obtained approval to embark on the enforcement in conjunction with other government agencies whose representatives were part of the Committee set up to establish facts of the matter – Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Ministry of Transportation and Office of the Surveyor- General, Lagos State”.MY RESPONSE. It is important we note that from this statement, Lagos State Government has admitted that they were the ones that helped a land grabber to chase away the legitimate owner of his land using state apparatus. Secondly, I ask which of the documents did the said Coordinator of the Lagos Taskforce confirm as authentic? Is it the judgement, the survey or the court proceedings? How does a judgement obtained on over 12 acres of land at Abule Onigbagbo cover a land in Opebi? Assuming but not conceding that Abule Onigbagbo has suddenly become Opebi, what survey plan was used to determine that the judgement of the trial court covered the land situate and lying at No 1 Folorunsho Kuku Street, Opebi which is a subject of a certificate of Occupancy obtained from the same Lagos State Government since 1989?
Why is the said judgement creditor the owner of only the 6 plots of my client’s land at No 1 Folorunsho Kuku Street, Opebi and not the owner of all the adjoining lands on left, right and its surroundings, more so when the judgment of the trial court was for over 12 acres of land? Most importantly is how did the Coordinator of the Special Task Force conclude his investigation and establish that the Petitioner has authentic documents when he knew that there were persons present in the property whose interest on the property he could have requested for in order to give every party to the matter a fair hearing? Was Lagos State fair in using all those above mentioned agencies to grab a citizen’s land without given the citizen the opportunity to explain the reason for his presence on the property? The tenants on the property have been there for over 20 years overlooking the property for our client. They have evidence of paying land charges up to date, in fact in 2019 they received a letter of commendation from Lagos State Government for prompt and regular payments of their charges.
In all these, to us, is the shocking revelations coming from the contradictory press releases coming from the various ministries of Lagos State over this impunity perpetuated by Lagos State Government over the land in Folorunsho Kuku Street, Opebi. Fact checks on the reasons advanced by the Ministry of Physical Planning is different from the one given by the Ministry of Transport and the one given by the Ministry of Environment differed from the one given by the Special Taskforce on Land Grabbing. Finally this last one released from the Ministry of Information and Strategy contradicts the earlier one issued by the Ministry of Physical Planning which alleged violation of physical planning laws. Whosever and whatsoever made Lagos State Government, the Centre of Excellence to engage in this brazen impunity and their recalcitrance justifying this illegality shall be revealed sooner or later.
e. “That the Meadows family (the Petitioner) was also invited to the Committee and it was established that after the execution of the judgement of the High Court of Lagos State, some mechanics and miscreants dislodged them from the land, and all efforts to remove the trespassers had proved abortive until the petition to the Lagos State Special Task Force”. MY RESPONSE. It is unfortunate that this press statement has clearly indicted the Lagos State Government as aiding and abetting land grabbing in Lagos State. How can someone who has a certificate of occupancy of 1989 with lawful tenants who pay their dues, one as Mechanics to the Local Government Area with receipts, two, with evidence of receipts of payment of land use charges to the State Government and three, with evidence of receipts of payment to the Landlord/Association of the Estate be described as miscreants worthy of being dislodged by the State Government? How can anyone justify this type of illegal act by the Lagos State Government? Under the military, an attempt like this by the Lagos State Government to treat a citizen like a miscreant was frowned at by the Supreme Court in the famous case of Ojukwu V Lagos State Government, and we are now under democracy where the constitution and the rule of law should prevail!
What is very interesting about the narrative above about the said Meadows Family is the several lies that this said family have told the court on why they want the court to re-issue warrant of possession to go back to execute the 41 years judgement. In one instance, they told the court that they did not have money to complete the earlier execution, hence they are now ready financially to complete it. In another application before the court, they told the court that they have completed execution but that the people on site agreed with them to vacate, however they have refused to vacate after the agreed time. In the third application before the court they told the story as re-told by the Lagos State government on their behalf that the alleged miscreants dislodged them after a successful execution. Which of these stories are true? We found out through our investigations that the family through their various counsel did abandon all these fraudulent applications anytime the court raised issue about the genuineness of their strange requests. Even if they are true, which I am not conceding, which area do they want to carry out the execution? Is it on the area for which judgement is entered or upon another area which was never part of the judgement of the court? Interestingly the Courts on which these strange applications were made usually suo motu raised these issues and the next thing is that their lawyers will abandon the application abruptly and run away. We have evidence of these. This was their method of trying to levy execution on a place they never procured judgement on until they found Lagos State Government as a good ally. The question will be why would Lagos State Government lend itself willingly for this type of infamy?
f. “That Ubani did not also provide any document to justify that the land belongs to Circle Nigeria Limited. The Committee also ascertained that the ex parte order submitted by Mr Ubani was in the name of Circle Nigeria Limited but the C of O attached thereto was in the name of Kayode Owoseye Akingbade – two different entities”. MY RESPONSE. This part was the most ridiculous. I ask again, has Lagos State Government Officials taken over the responsibility of the court of the land? Is it not funny that in one breadth the Hon Commissioner admitted that a court of competent jurisdiction granted our client an interim order and in another breadth he is querying our documentary evidence to obtain the order? Is the Hon Commissioner of the view that i got the order without documentary evidence to show ownership of the property by Circle Nigeria Limited? Is the Hon Commissioner by his assertion here querying the competence of the learned Judge who granted the order of injunction? Is the Hon Commissioner trying to rewrite the ruling of the court, which is actually what they did by invading our client’s land in collusion with the land grabbers. If I may ask, is the Hon Commissioner saying that if a legitimate land owner with a certificate of occupancy sells his land to a subsequent purchaser who has a deed of assignment coupled with being in possession for a period spanning over 20 years, that that person is in the eyes of the law a trespasser and a miscreant? Honestly I do not seem to get the argument of the Honorable commissioner on the issue of a certificate of occupancy bearing a name different from the subsequent purchaser. It again speaks volume on the desperation to justify this brazen illegality.
g. “That all the Survey Plans from both the Meadows family and that of Mr Ubani’s client revealed that the subject land falls within the Meadows’ family land; and that the land on which enforcement was carried by LSSTF falls within the parcel of land for which Meadows family obtained judgment in their favor in Suit No LG/513/80” (I am sure he meant ID/513/80). MY RESPONSE. When I appeared at the Committee on the 11th January, 2021 I saw the desperation of everyone from the State Ministries to justify the illegality hence their recourse to a survey plan that was never part of the proceedings, I counseled myself to follow process and procedure and allow the State Government to continue in their quest to justify themselves. The truth of the matter is that the survey plan made available to the Surveyor General to chart the alleged composite plan which gave him a wrong result and report was a fake survey plan as it was never part of the court proceedings in Suit No ID/513/80. All my atfempt to point out this fact to the Committee was rejected because the Committee had already made up its plans to JUSTIFY THE ILLEGALITY THAT TOOK PLACE ON THE 31ST OF DECEMBER 2020.
Sincerely speaking when I noticed the desperation of the Lagos State Officials over this land issue, we had counseled ourselves to pursue this matter legally in the court of law, but the current press release from the Hon Commissioner has made this rebuttal very imperative to avoid a situation where lies unrefuted will be taken as truth.
I am amused by the accusation that I used social media for sympathy and blackmail. I am not seeking for anyone’s sympathy but for truth to be unveiled. Secondly I am a lawyer of reputable standing and not known for blackmailing. It will be wise for the Lagos State Government to admit this grave error and correct the injustice rather than engage in smearing a name of a lawyer that is out to pursue undiluted justice for his client. Social media is open to everyone and the Lagos State Government have just used it to convey their opinion, even though, wrongly on this issue.
I am a firm believer in Lagos State as a Centre of Excellence and I think I have contributed my own little quota to the development of the State especially pertaining to the election of this present government both at the centre and at the State level. However, I will not be intimidated in pursuing the rights of any of my clients by any government official whose office is only temporal as the State will outlive any individual.
The Lagos State Government through their officials acted wrongly in the manner they dispossessed a citizen of his land. They need to check their process and procedure in investigating cases of land grabbing to avoid aiding and abetting land grabbers in perpetuating their nefarious acts. The State Officials erred gravely over our client’s land episode and it is alarming that instead of redressing the manifest injustice, the Centre of Excellence is digging deep in infamy and encouraging anarchy. The people who grabbed our client’s land have sold out all the land to desperate buyers with the aid and assistance of the State Government. This is clearly evil, unlawful and a dent on the good name of Lagos State. That they are trying to justify this is terribly alarming!
However due to my profound respect and love to the current governor, His Excellency Mr Jide Sanwo-Olu, a complete gentleman i would have said more on this issue, but I am restrained to hold my gun powder dry. I am too sure that he is yet to know the whole truth about this sad episode.
Conscience is an open wound, only truth heals it.
A word is enough for the wise!
Monday O. Ubani Esq,
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