Ambode and pains of owning property in the city

Patience Jonathan wielded a lot of power and influence. Her husband, Goodluck Jonathan, was the President of Nigeria until 2015 when he handed over to the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari. Now out of power, Mrs. Jonathan may have to chant more than “there is God o!” to retrieve her properties from the hands of government agents.

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The former First Lady, through her lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, had claimed that the Federal Capital Territory Administration demolished her property in Abuja. But the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) denied this claim, saying the FCT authorities only demolished a chalet on the premises because there was no approval for the structure. Truth will eventually smile, as the matter is already in court.

In Lagos and many other cosmopolitan areas, government’s demolition of properties is a routine thing. And there are different reasons for doing so. Currently, the Lagos State government has demolished some buildings at Oshodi to make way for the reconstruction of the Oshodi end of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.

Demolition or not, if you have not got land in the city, you would feel incomplete. That is why the struggle to acquire it is strenuous. Even when you have the money, you still have to contend with different forces, including the original inhabitants of the land, called Omo-oniles, and government agents. If you buy land, you must settle them. When you start building, you must also settle them, from foundation to roofing.

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An ugly scenario happened in October 2015. Ibeju-Lekki villagers reportedly went on demonstration against what they called the forceful takeover of their land by the Lagos State government. The police were called in. There was a clash. And the then managing director of the Lekki Free Zone Limited, Mr. Tajudeen Disu, was killed.

To curtail the unwholesome acts of the Omo-oniles, the Lagos State government, in 2016, signed the Lagos State Property Protection Law and also set up a special task force on land grabbers. But this has not deterred them as they still operate in different parts of the state.

This is partly why some people choose to buy land directly from government. But even government schemes, sometimes, develop some hiccups. For instance, in 2011, the Lagos State government has sold some parcels of land under different schemes. One of them is the Oko-Orisan Scheme. The state sold it as prime land because of its location. While the Ikorodu scheme, for instance, was going for about N700,000 then, the Oko-Orisan scheme went for about N3.5 million. Capital development levy alone was N2.8 million.

About seven years after, Oko-Orisan scheme subscribers are yet to take physical possession of their land. Having made all the payments and processed all that needed to be processed, some of the buyers, rather than get the certificate of occupancy, started hearing rumours that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had placed an embargo on the scheme.

What could have happened? The Special Adviser to the Governor on Urban Development, through the immediate past Commissioner for Information in Lagos State, Steve Ayorinde, offered some explanations. Ambode’s aide said, “The governor did not place an embargo. What we explained is that we are reassessing the scheme in order to put in infrastructure. The amount they paid for the scheme cannot provide the required infrastructure.”

After seven years, the value of land is supposed to have appreciated greatly. But here, the reverse appears to be the case. From the government’s body language, the subscribers should gear up to make more payments even when they have met all the contractual agreements. It’s like buying and obtaining receipt for a commodity at a stipulated price, only for the seller to come back later to ask you to pay more because the goods have appreciated.

Talking about appreciation, land does not always appreciate in value. A typical example is an estate called New Dawn, marketed by the defunct Afribank Estate in 2009. It was at a place called Magboro in Ogun State. The Punch newspaper’s head office is actually located in that area.

The name, New Dawn, was so alluring that many people rushed to buy without even going to physically see the land. After some years, when Afribank started going under, it handed over to a committee to manage the estate.

So far, it is not yet dawn for New Dawn Estate as there is no sign of development in the area.

Last year, I made moves to sell my own portion of the New Dawn, which I bought then at about N1.5 million. I contacted a potential buyer. During inspection, the man massaged my feelings by saying some nice things about the estate. According to him, it is a place for the future and the government would soon construct a road that would link it straight to the Kara Market side of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. I was happy to have seen a good buyer. But subsequent calls and messages to the man entered voice mail.

In spite of the problems associated with buying land in Nigeria, people can’t do without it. Of course, you need land to build a house. You need it to build factory or any structure for that matter. It is a money-spinner any day.

That is why people are ready to kill or sacrifice their lives to either acquire or defend their landed property. Land has pitched one community against the other. It has engendered serious enmity among friends and siblings.

Recently, the deputy governors of Anambra and Enugu states, Dr. Nkem Okeke and Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo, respectively, attended a reconciliatory meeting between Owba Ofemmili in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State and a community in Ezeagu, Enugu State. Of course, land dispute was the topic. At the meeting, Dr. Okeke advised Ndigbo to stop giving undue attention to land.

But the problem is not domiciled in Igboland alone. The other day, a police team from Zone Two, Lagos, invaded one Peace Estate in the Ago area of the state. They arrested people indiscriminately, including some executive members of the estate, and took them away. On enquiry, the police told the leadership of the estate that their action was based on a petition from Madam Efunroye Tinubu, who claimed ownership of the land where the estate is located.

On hearing this, the Onitire Chieftaincy family of Itire, through their solicitor, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN, issued a public notice claiming ownership of the said property. In the statement, the Onitire family quoted different court judgements confirming that the family has title to the parcels of land in question.

According to the Onitire family, based on the court judgements, Ijeshatedo, Aguda, Itire, Ori Okiti, Idi-Apa, Abule BabaEgun, Abule Goroso, Odo-Asumowu and other surrounding areas belong to the Onitire family. They advised the general public to report any form of extortion, hooliganism or criminal trespass on their land to the nearest police station. They also appealed to the Lagos State government to call the agents, trustees and/representatives of the Efunroye Tinubu family to order so as not to throw the residents of the state into chaos, panic and confusion.

Many other individuals have had to buy land, fence it and then come back later to behold another person building on the same land. In 2015, I made part-payment for a duplex in Ikeja. I consummated the transaction with the lawyer to the landlord, one Barrister Chris Chinwuko. Unfortunately, the landlord died that same year. Soon after, I got a bank alert, which was a refund of the money I paid.

That was how I got wind of the fact that the property had been resold. In October of that same year, agents of the new landlord came to pull down the roof of the building and the fence without notice. I was living in the house then with my family. Ironically, when I called the then Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, he told me that the police would not intervene because it was a civil matter and that the police would only come in if there was a breach of peace.

This experience actually facilitated my movement into my own house. Though acquiring property in Lagos and other major cities is not easy, it is still better than being a tenant. Governor Ambode has tried by coming up with laws against land grabbing and has substantially made the process of issuing land titles easier in the state.

Sometime last year, for instance, he signed cumulatively, a total of 4,445 electronic certificates of occupancy (e-C of O). The only snag is that it appears he is always looking for where to increase rate and make more money for the state.

In all, it is better for every landlord to strive to get his C of O. When you are able to perfect your titles, you have peace of mind. And if any government or its agent tries to give you any Madam Patience treatment, you confidently give them a sucker punch.

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