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EXPOSING THE MODUS OPERANDI EXCESSES, MENACE OF LAND SPECULATING KILLER SQUAD

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-By Charles Ideho

The menace of land grabbing in the country, particularly the Southwest region of Nigeria, is one albatross that often leaves sorrow and tears on its trail.

In this report, Charles Ideho examines the contentious issue of land grabbing through the use of land warriors popularly called “Ajagungbales” in Yoruba land or the “Uwvie Boys” in Delta or the CDAs in Edo, in the Southern part of the country; the menace posed by the “land warriors” to investors and the aboriginal inhabitants of the lands in question; the legal framework put in place by respective state governments in the geo-political zones to arrest their criminal activities and the hapless situation victims still find themselves, notwithstanding various laws emplaced to check their activities and the obligations imposed by section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution to the effect that the security and the welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.

As the spate of insecurity in the country continues its upward trend with no signs of abating soon, the menace of land speculators is gradually taking the centre stage, while the relevant authorities appear helpless, or have decided not to be bothered.

If otherwise, how does one reconcile a situation in which gun-wielding, daredevil miscreants and street urchins threaten to mow you down over your supposed property with all those who are supposed to protect you looking the other way? 

Femi Akinlade, a US based Nigerian, escaped death in the hands of some of these land agents in 2019.  He was lucky to be alive to recount his horrifying ordeal in the hands of the miscreants sent to chase him and his building engineer out of a property he genuinely bought when he returned home to commence development on it.

According to Akinlade, he had acquired an acre of land at the Magboro area of Ogun State, somewhere along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway at the sum of N3 million.

At the time he purchased the land, he had reason to believe he had bought it from the aboriginals of the land.

Having met with the Chief and some of his kinsmen, accompanied by a receipt signed by heads of the family, Akinlade thought the deal was sealed.

However, upon visiting the property a couple of months after in company of his building engineer, they were accosted by a group of youths, who brandished guns and machetes at them and ordered them out of the property or be ready to die. To demonstrate that they meant business, they shot sporadically into the air.

When he stormed the home of those he had purchased the land and demanded why he should be dispossessed of his property, he was told that another piece of land was available as replacement.

The land in question turned out to be a swampy area that couldn’t be easily accessed. He paid several visits to the land ministry afterwards for any form of reprieve (it was during the administration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel), but he got none. Frustrated and defeated, he returned to his US base, losing his investment, but keeping his life.

Imafidon Reuben, another Europe based Nigerian had his nose bloodied through similar circumstance by the notorious land cartel.

According to him, he bought a large 100 acres of land in 2010 from a community called Iwoye, ensconced between Ilaro and Owode area of Yelwa land in Ogun State.

The land was meant for the establishment of an international campus of an American black university based in Maryland, the United States of America.

He said he paid a whooping N45 million out of a sum total of N60 million they were asking for.

Six months after this money was paid, Imafidon was chased out of the land like a common criminal the day he went there to show his family members his proposed investment.

Characteristically, the land was not only lost, Imafidon also received numerous death threats until he was compelled to give up the land, and the plan for the illustrious project truncated.

Again, no justice came his way.

Scenarios of this hue are not peculiar to Akinlade and Imafidon, it abounds everywhere, particularly in Southwest Nigeria, notorious to be the epicenter of land grabbing in the country.

Their modus operandi

Investigations revealed that these land warriors operate like a cartel. They are well organized criminally, with their infectious tentacles spread across the gamut of the criminal justice system which includes but not limited to high-ranking police officers, serving and retired top military brass, management cadre, civil servants in the Lands and Survey Departments and judicial officers as well, being not oblivious of the fact that their activities will ultimately end in the courts!

According to an insurance broker and victim of community land warriors who simply identified himself as Femi, he said: “One of their major philosophies is that if you are adept at flouting the law, you must equally be proficient at defending yourself.

“Therefore, they often take up the services of the best lawyers money can afford (SAN inclusive), they endear themselves to facilitators who are well connected to the seats of power through all manners of inducements, in the same vein do they coalesce with some avaricious first class traditional rulers who would sometimes initiate a  phantom crisis of boundary violence that may prompt some compromised highly placed government officials to deploy the machinery of government to move in and do their biddings,”

“Against the backdrop of being benefactors of law enforcers, they find no big deal in disregarding court orders with impunity.

”Most times, they drop names of the high and the mighty in the society, including, in some cases, past Heads of State, Presidents, leaders of ruling party and other society’s heavyweights, to intimidate opponents and genuine land owners,” he added.

According to another source, a top civil servant but who craved anonymity because of the very sensitive nature of the issue, he said there is no document relating to land title deeds that they cannot forge.

“Every document ranging from government-approved survey plans back-dated to distant past, sometimes covering a century, counterfeited Certificates of Occupancy and spurious official gazettes, pose no difficulty to them,” he added.

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These individuals are found in nearly all the highbrow states of the southern part of the country. Their modus operandi is similar in nature, and they are known by different nomenclatures depending largely on the states or geo-political zones in which they are domiciled and operate.

In the South West, they are known as omo onile, dreaded for their fearless approach to their operations. And for the fact that property transactions in Lagos State were once greatly hindered by the activities of these Omo-Onile and Ajagungbales, the Lagos State government under the administration of former Governor of the state, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode on the 15th of August, 2016, signed into law, ‘the Lagos State Properties Protection Law’ which sought to curb most of the negativities plaguing the real estate sector.

The 15-section law, which according to its long title is aimed at prohibiting forceful entry and illegal occupation of landed properties, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed properties in Lagos State and for connected purposes, was enacted to save would-be property owners and investors from being harassed and exploited by land grabbers.

The main objective of the law is to ensure that investors, businessmen and the general populace carry on their legitimate land/property transactions without any hindrance or intimidation henceforth.

In times past, many land grabbers have resorted to the use of ‘ajagungbale’ in the state to obtain or recover land.

Many have lost their lives in the process while some have been maimed for life and several more have been traumatized after having their land seized and resold without a dim for compensation, not to mention those locked in a cycle of unending court cases over trespass to their land.

This practice of the use of force or self-help or engaging in any act inconsistent with the proprietary right of the owner to take over any landed property has now become prohibited by virtue of section 2 of the Lagos State Properties Protection Law.

Consequently, any person or group of persons who use force from the commencement of the Law, or who has used force to take over a landed property in the State before the commencement of the Law and still remains in possession of the said property three (3) months after the commencement of the Law commits an offence punishable by ten (10) years imprisonment.

“The law, notwithstanding, land warriors have continued unhindered. They chorus to whoever cares to listen to them that, “Everybody in government has a price.  We are all after what we will eat.”


In Edo state, they are called CDAs. In order to curb their excesses, Governor Godwin Obaseki on Wednesday 12 April 2017, signed into law a bill prohibiting forceful and illegal occupation of landed property by community development associations, CDAs, in Edo State.

The governor subsequently proceeded to the palace of the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, to present a copy of the new Act to the monarch to honor him for his strong campaign against land grabbing while in the same vein appointed a former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to head the enforcement task force and supervise all matters relating to the law.

The Oba, Omo N’Oba Uku Akpokpolo who in his coronation speech, had decried the land grabbing that had characterized the CDAs, also acted in line with the state government to outlaw the activities CDAs by a traditional fiat, in the form of a community curse placed on anyone, individuals or persons working as a group. The curse was administered by elders and chief priests of the land.  

In Delta State, the story in not different. The perpetrators of the crime are called Community Boys. In Warri for instance, you cannot erect even a structure as insignificant as a kiosk, or caravan, as it’s so called, without you being compelled to part with money for them.

It has been a running battle between the Delta state government and a certain group of these individuals called “Uwvie Boys”, around Effurun area of the town who often compel property owners irrespective of their status to cough out varying amounts of money at every stage of construction work on a building.

In Lagos State, even with relevant laws banning their activities still subsisting, they continue to carry out their acts, often engaging the services of hit gangs or enforcers infamous for their viciousness when carrying out their assignments. 

There is no limit to the quantum of violence they can unleash to take over any assigned land.

And in some cases, multiple deaths resulting from their operations are a child’s play.

Once they are given an assignment and are adequately mobilized financially, properties are destroyed without recourse to the level or stage of development the properties have attained.

Investigations show that in order to give a dint of credibility to their nefarious involvement in land grabbing deals, many of the land speculating kingpins of the Omo Oniles, often call themselves surveyors, a profession they deploy to oil their activities.

A good case in point is one Benson who was reportedly apprehended by the police while parading himself as a surveyor in a Hilux vehicle with police number and uniform and using same to terrorize the people of Oko-Olomi community and 13 other villages in Ibeju lekki area of Lagos state under the pretext that he was working for Toll System Ltd, an organization enmeshed in the controversy surrounding the acquisitions of a whopping 1700 hectares of land covering 13 ancestral villages on the outskirts of Lagos.

An Engineer who called himself Akinlabi Ogunsakin and who says he’s privy to their mode of rackets alleged that it might surprise not a few to learn that many of the so-called registered developers who dot the media space as Property Merchants and providers of Lands and Homes to prospective and unsuspecting buyers belong to this fold.

“It is often difficult to suspect they are quacks until you buy a land only to hit a dead end when you find yourself up against another deadly group claiming to be the rightful owners of the land, brandishing court judgments, which oftentimes are fakes,” he said.

Ogunsakin hinted that perhaps the most sophisticated corporate fraudulent method of land grabbing yet is that carried out by highly placed government officials, bolstered by the so-called professional political godfathers while acting in criminal concert with some greedy traditional rulers.

He said if an influential politician is interested in a land and wants it at all cost, he deploys every means possible to achieve his obsessed aim.

READ ALSO: MY WIFE SLEEPS WITH OUR LANDLORD, MAN CRIES OUT

One of the methods, according to multiples sources, to achieve such aim is that a point’s man goes to the Lands Ministry to make enquiries about the parcel of land in focus to determine if the land, especially in villages lying in prime commercial areas has approved survey plan, has government markings or is documented in any gazette.

“Woe betides such a village or villages if they are not. He moves in to forcefully acquire it,” one of the sources told this writer, adding, “He proceeds by filling papers and application pertaining to the unfortunate villages for acquisition by government for public good which typically would include schools, hospitals, recreational centres, courts etc. He makes sure that all the documents are signed by all the substantive officers related to land matters including even the governor. How he gets that done is another story”.

Another source alleged that without recourse to the fact that the villages have been existing for centuries with ancestral sites, homes and even historical monuments, the greedy land grabber moves in to take possession of the land, armed with the forged documents to sack the villagers under the pretext that the age-long occupiers of the land have been occupying it illegally or that they never existed at all.

The source disclosed that they carry out their dastardly operations in the dead of the night with bulldozers caterpillars, pale loaders, to clear the debris of the demolished properties.

“Next, numerous tipper trucks are brought in to ferry away the remains of the rubbles. Ironically, these operations are usually supervised by heavily armed security operatives especially the Police Mobile Force unit, assisted by the most notorious of the entrenched local hit gang,” he said, adding “in the heat of the melee, the unfortunate villagers would flee for their lives, too weak to put up any resistance. Shortly afterwards, the entire place is condoned off by fierce-looking anti-riot policemen.

“The villagers, if they are lucky to regroup, could head for media houses, bearing placards with varying protest messages to raise public awareness.

“They often do not get justice as lawyers they approach for legal representation may end up asking for fees that could cost them a leg and arm. Or they could come to terms with paying the legal fees in kind, namely, agreeing to forfeit part of their land to the lawyers should the case be won for them in court.

“There are often three lifelines available to the hapless indigenous land owners: The Press, The Police and the Court.

“If they get to the press, the media would carry out its investigations, make some discoveries, try to balance its stories and publish. How far this can go is another question, especially with impunity by various arms of government crawling all over the place.

“If they approach the police, their case would receive no useful attention, the police, most times, having been compromised.

“And approaching the courts offers no reprieve. The reason is that the matter could drag on for ages with no end in sight. Examples abound of lingering land cases that have spanned ages, even dating back to two generations,” he added.

“Meanwhile, as the case lingers in court, the land grabbers would proceed without delay to sell the illegally acquired land and by the time the judgment is given in favour of the villagers, all those who started the case would have been long dead and the entire place turned into a new town occupied by illegal landlords.

“Examples of such cases abound. The likes of Pa Adebayo Adeyiga, Alhaji D Ashitu, Ekundayo Kuponiyi and a host of other Shangisha Landlords Association who got judgment against the Lagos state government are either dead or very old.

Also contributing, Keffas Abidemi said “a good case in point is the travails of the Okunu Eleku family, owners of Oko-Olomi village and 13 adjoining communities in Ibeju lekki area of Lagos state.”

According to the source who backed up his story with a copy of petition written by the Chambers of R.P Ogundele & Co to the Inspector-General of Police in August 2016, the people of the villages who had been living peacefully for over a century woke up one morning in April 2016 to the noise of bulldozer Caterpillars and a horde of heavily armed policemen accompanied by a rainbow of grizzly gangs of land speculators (land grabbers) led by a dreaded suspected enforcer, Mutairu Owoeye and his son, Garba Owoeye .

He said their mission was to take over the entire communities measuring about 1700 hectares which they claimed had been sold to one company known as Toll System Development Company on whose behalf they were carrying the order.

Before the villagers could raise their voice, the earth moving equipment had swung into action pulling down every building in sight including their ancestral shrines and the residences of their chiefs. Those who dared to resist the onslaught were assaulted viciously irrespective of age or sex.

Narrating their ordeals, the Baale of Oko Olomi village, Babatunde Kufuyi recalled the day as a black Sunday morning when human beings were treated like ordinary animals.

I lost my wife who is a police corporal, women were raped, children were assaulted and the elderly ones who could not withstand the rigors of the confusion were left to their fate as everybody ran for their dear lives when rains of gunshots came down in torrents upon the community

Hear him:” I lost my wife who is a police corporal, women were raped, children were assaulted and the elderly ones who could not withstand the rigors of the confusion were left to their fate as everybody ran for their dear lives when rains of gunshots came down in torrents upon the community,” he recounted. 

Another leader of one of the communities, Chief Lateef Eleku told our reporter that in the heat of the melee, the youths of the community headed for the nearest police station to lodge their complaints, but the police could not be of any assistance.

”Apparently disappointed at the failure of the police to save us from the marauders, we decided to contact our lawyer to approach the court for a solution to our problem”

He said their lawyers have been in and out of many courts in Lagos ranging from the magistrate to the state high court and even the federal high court, recording marginal success like exparte injunctions restraining the land grabbers.

He said despite the court orders, they would not obey them and have remained as an army of occupation over their ancestral land for four years running.

 According to another source who simply identified himself as Kufuyi, “rather than obey the court orders, Toll System Development Company has fenced off the entire village during pendency of the suit and caused the deployment of heavily armed policemen to watch over the 1,700 hectares of some people’s hither to villages and communities on a 24-hour patrol.

“The Oko-Olomi people and the neighbouring communities are today living like refugees in different parts of Lagos having been displaced by the henchmen of the land-grabbing cartel.

“In cases, albeit rare, in which judgments are given in favour of the villagers, investigations show that only a few judges deliver such judgments,” he added. 

Rounding up law-breakers

Indeed, there have been arrests and prosecutions of some land-grabbers. But most of the court cases are known to be inconclusive, dragging for decades.

Right from Lagos state to Ogun state to Edo state, the situations are similar.

It is however on record that two suspected land-grabbers Mutairu Owoeye and his son Garba Owoeye alleged to have killed a man on the Gulf Estate, Oko-Olomi, Itanpapa, Ibeju-Lekki, in the Eti-Osa Local Government Area of the state, were arraigned in 2016, before a Tinubu Magistrates’ Court.

The deceased was said to be trying to resist them from taking over his land and got killed in the process. The suspects were however discharged after trial of the charge..

Same year, the same Mutairu Owoeye and his son Garba appeared before an Igbosere Magistrates’ Court over the invasion of Oko-Olomi and 13 other villages in the Ibeju-Lekki Local Government Area of Lagos State.

But they were, again, left off the hook.

Notwithstanding, some measures of successes have been recorded in the bid to rid the society of these undesirable elements.

In November 2019, the Lagos State Special Task Force on Land Grabbers arraigned three suspected land-grabbers before the Special Offences Court for prosecution on a two-court charge over a land-grabbing case at Farm Tank Depot, Ijegun Egba, Satellite Town, Ojo, Lagos.

In the same month, the agency arraigned 19 suspected land-grabbers, comprising 18 male and one female, who trespassed on a land located in Ogudu Phase II Government Residential Scheme on the Kosofe Local Government Area of the state.

In July, 2020, the police in Ogun State arrested three suspected land-grabbers armed with dangerous weapons who invaded and shot at people working on a site in Owolabi Estate, Ota, Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Area of the state.

In January this year, the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), who is also the Chairman of the state Task Force on Land Grabbers, said the agency dislodged some persons suspected to be land-grabbers from a portion of land on Iju Road in the Agege Local Government Area of the state.

Although so much had been done by governments in the Southern part of the country where this crime is prevalent, it is still not yet Uhuru until this crime is stamped out and justice given to the hapless victims of the land warriors.

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