The prominent civil society group- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) hereby recall that the whole country, nay the whole world, watched in utter shock and disbelief, as bulldozers of the Lagos state government yesterday, maliciously and mercilessly brought down several multi billion naira fully built up and occupied choice properties, located on Rockview street, Ajao Estate, Lagos apparently without due and necessary legal notification to the owners and residents thereof. A very pathetic scene to watch, particularly in a presumed constitutional democracy that Nigeria supposedly is.
Political Background to the Debacle:
It is proper to begin this press briefing by giving some necessary political background information against which this whole macabre event can be better appreciated. In February and early March this year, Nigeria went through a general election, which turned out to be particularly acrimonious in Lagos state, pitching as it were the Yoruba ethnic stock against their Igbo counterparts, particularly after Labour Party’s Peter Obi handed down a ‘surprising’ defeat to the ruling party’s candidate, Bola Tinubu, right in his home base of Lagos during the presidential poll. This is a state the said Tinubu has held sway for almost two decades. It is therefore not surprising that this proved a very bitter and difficult pill to swallow for the largely Yoruba supporters of Bola Tinubu, who went on an all out vengeance mission against the Igbos, who they physically prevented from voting in the subsequent gubernatorial elections through verbal and physical intimidations, destruction of their businesses and outright killings of them in many instances. The Lagos APC war mantra was that the Igbos want to take over Lagos and must not be allowed to do so! For instance just before and immediately after the elections, some markets and businesses owned by Igbos were set ablaze brazenly! It is apparently this war of attrition that the Lagos state government is continuing to prosecute through the ongoing demolition of legitimately acquired houses belonging to Igbos, in a most inhuman and brutal manner, on the apparently lame excuse of being too close to aviation fuel pipelines. The main fear is that this is just the beginning!
- Legal Background and Implications of the Demolition exercise:
This section is to show how nearly impossible it is for these people to have successfully settled on this Estate for upwards of a decade, without the clear and unambiguous approval of Lagos state government and will be treated under three headings namely;
- Legitimate Acquisition of the Property by the Owners. Ajao Estate generally and Rockview Street in particular, is not a run of the mill high density settlement that accommodates all sorts of illegal and unapproved structures. It is a well laid out low density residential area occupied by enlightened lower and upper middle class populace, who know the requirements of due process of the law themselves, or can readily afford the services of lawyers and other professionals in the Real Estate sector. It is therefore most probable that the acquired these properties legitimately, through valid purchases from original owners or immediate past occupiers whose root of title can easily be traced to the aforementioned original owners. They must have obviously gone through the painstaking process of legal search at the appropriate lands registries, through their lawyers, as well as securing all the necessary legal and governmental approvals, going through the rigorous process of bargaining, perhaps after engaging the services of estate valuers to put a price on the property, making due payments for the properties and obtaining appropriate receipts, signed appropriately by the authentic representatives of the owners. Thereafter, they would have engaged the services of land surveyors to produce necessary survey plans to properly delineate their respective properties, at no inconsiderable cost. Then the Survey Plan, is filed at the Lagos state Surveyor General’s office, for charting and issuance of Land Information, where apart from the usual bureaucratic delays, humongous fees of all sorts are assessed and paid. Next, they definitely would have followed up with the preparation and engrossing of appropriate title documents as required by the Conveyancing and Property Laws of 1959 as amended, or the Land Use Act 2004, respectively, again by lawyers upon payment of huge professional fees. Such documents include Deeds of Assignment, Deeds of Conveyance, Powers of Attorney, or outright application for Certificates of Occupancy. Don’t forget that which ever option or route they individually decided to take, they must have a priori apply for the ubiquitous and cumbersome state governors consent, (under section 22 of the Land Use Act 2004), without which no land in Lagos state or any other state in Nigeria for that matter, can be alienated. It is a well known fact that under the Land Use Act, which has since been incorporated into the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, hereinafter referred to simply as the Constitution, land in every state is vested in the governor which he holds in trust for the benefits of the citizens of that state. This is a process that takes months and years in some cases, to accomplish, particularly in a metropolitan state like Lagos State. This is notwithstanding the humongous Consent Fees, Stamp Duties, Filing Fees, Neighborhood Improvement Charges and other sundry Fees, that will have to be paid, before the Title Deed can be perfected or the Certificate of Occupancy, issued.
To put this whole process of legitimately acquiring these properties in perspective, it may be necessary to state briefly the three stages involved, namely;
- Obtaining of Governor’s Consent to Alienate Property in Lagos State.
This entails the filling of Form 1C, obtainable from the Lands Registry to be duly signed by both the vendor and the buyer and thereafter proceed with the following steps namely;
a. A covering letter to the director of lands.
b. Payment of consent fees after inspection and registration.
c. Current tax clearance certificates of both the vendor and the buyer.
d. A building plan for an already developed property.
e. Six copies of the Deed of Assignment or any other form of Title Deed.
f. Up to date payment of ground rent and legal charges.
g. Payment of development levy.
h. Receipt of payment of charting and endorsement fees.
i. Certified True Copy of the seller’s Title Deed.
- Stamping of the Title Deed.
This is necessary to make the Title document admissible in evidence in a law court, as provided under section 22 of the Stamp Duties Act.
- Registration of the Title Deed.
This must be done at the Lands Registry within 60 (sixty) days of the issuance of governor’s consent and amongst other things goes to show the whole world that the property belongs to the buyer and that it is not encumbered by any other interest, legal or equitable, neither are they subject of government acquisition.
- The Stage of Physical Development of the Property. Then comes the critical stage of developing these properties, with the government imposing all sorts of requirements and charges as well as collecting all sorts of fees. These include Building plans and their approvals, one form of physical inspection or the other and charges accruing and payable thereon, review and approval of any envisaged changes to the original building plans etc. Not forgetting the inspection and approvals of architectural drawings, survey plans, bills of quantities, electrification designs and plans, plumbing designs and so on and so forth. All these while, the Lagos state government did not remember that these buildings were built either too close to fuel dumps or their pipelines. Absolutely incredible.
- The Right of Government To Acquire Any Property For Public Purpose. Under the Lands Use Act 2004, the state governor has a right to acquire any land within the confines of the state but only for public purpose. As far the ordinary eye can see, there is no urgent basis for government acquisition of the affected properties and in the unlikely event such a basis exists, adequate notice notice had obviously not been given as can clearly be seen from the viral video clip wherein, the distraught woman painfully lamented her inability to retrieve any of her properties including vital documents.
- Conclusion. Despite the clearly weak and obvious afterthought of a defense being preferred by some Lagos state government officials regarding the close proximity of the affected properties to a fuel pipeline and the claim that the buildings were erected on FAAN’s property, it will be extremely difficult to convince any right thinking person, that the whole exercise was not politically motivated, coming so closely after the very bitter and acrimonious as aforementioned. Therefore to avoid the imminent floodgate of litigations that will soon be opened against the Lagos state government by the hapless victims, governor Babajide Sanwoolu should instruct his Attorney General to enter immediate negotiations with these hapless law abiding citizens, whose only offense happens to be that they are of the Igbo ethnic stock, for payment of adequate compensations without delay. To be forewarned is to be forearmed!!!
COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA). MAY 1ST 2023.