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I HAVE BEEN DETAINED TWICE, REMANDED IN PRISON CUSTODY OVER FORCE TO TAKE OVER OUR LAND BY A USURPER – OTUNBA GBENGA KUTI

Otunba Gbenga Erikitiola Kuti, the current head of Sanmolu Royal Family.

Otunba Gbenga Erikitiola Kuti is one of the descendants of the Sanmolu Royal Family of Ikorodu, Lagos. In 1960, the government of Nigeria acquired about 153 acres of land from his family, as well as from three other families, for telecommunication purposes. Several decades after, when the capital of Nigeria was relocated to Abuja from Lagos, the government returned the land to the families. However, an attempt by one of the families (the Regun Chieftaincy Family) to allegedly violently take possession - by all means possible - of the entire 148 acres that the government returned to them, has pitted that family against the other three, with the dispute resorting in the death of a 27 year old man, whose own family has been thrown into endless mourning.

In this interview with our Editor-in-Chief, Chas Ideho, he speaks on the genesis of the dispute, the constant violence, one of which claimed a life, the multiple litigations, and current efforts by the three families to get justice.     

Excerpts: 

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Otunba Gbenga Erikitiola Kuti. And I happen to be one of the descendants of the Sanmolu Royal Family. Sanmolu Akasolori was my maternal grandparent who happened to be a part owner of the vast (precisely 153) acres of land acquired by the federal government in 1959/60 for telecommunication purposes. Even when it was under acquisition, our forefathers were still allowed to farm on the land. This is because, out of the 153 acres of land, the telecommunication company only made use of 5 acres on which they erected a mast and a workshop. And as I said earlier, despite being under acquisition, our forefathers were allowed to farm on the remaining part of the expansive land. I must state that NITEL as an entity, which occupied the land had no legal identity as the land was acquired by the Nigerian External Telecommunications (NET). As at the time of reference, the capital of Nigeria was still in Lagos, and not in Abuja, where it is today. So when the capital of Nigeria moved to Abuja, the federal government felt that there was no need to leave the headquarters of its external telecommunications in a coastal area when the capital has been moved to the hinterland. They relocated NET to Abuja, and as a consequence, the government had no need for the land any more. According to the relevant laws, if government acquires any land that is not for industrial, or for housing estate purposes, and the government no longer has any need for the land, ownership of the land reverts to the original owner(s) that is the families from whom the land was acquired. In this case, the said land was acquired from four families and gazette accordingly. These four families include: 1. Sanmolu Royal family, 2. Aro Efolu 3. Otuseko, and 4. Ajisedaraneka (the Regun Chieftaincy Family). These are the families, all from Ikorodu, from whom the federal government acquired the land.

When the federal government relocated NET to Abuja and the land reverted to us, it was the Regun family that knew about the land reverting to us. We learnt that they have moved in without informing any of the other three families. When we later got to know about it, I personally called the head of Regun family, Chief Kamil Adisa Dada. I and my former Olotu, had a discussion with him. And he told us that some people had encroached upon the land and that he had taken them to court, that we should allow him finish the case before we could settle down and know what to do next. But I told him we wanted to join him in pursuing the case, that is, to be part of the court process. He said we should not worry, that the case had reached an advanced stage, and that they were just awaiting judgment. We made a proposition to him that since he must have incurred legal expenses, prosecuting the case, we would jointly give him five acres of land to compensate him. He agreed to this on the day I spoke with him. But about two weeks afterward, he said he would no longer accept the offer we made him, that the only offer he would accept would to divide the entire land amongst him and us on a 50-50 basis. That is, he takes half of the remaining 148 acres, and the other three families take half.  

How many acres belong to the Regun family?

Their own portion of land is precisely 20.8 acres, while the three families jointly own the rest, which is far larger than theirs. We disagreed. So since everyone knows their portion of land, we decided to move in to take possession of our own part. When we moved in, they started harassing us with the police, and even went as far as using the military to harass us. Then the aggrieved three families collectively went to court against the Regun family and one faceless company called PIPE.

What is PIPE’s connection in this?

They claimed they acquired a portion of our own land from the auctioneers.

You said earlier that Kamil Adisa Dada told you that they were awaiting judgment they instituted against those who had encroached upon the land. Have they got the said judgment?

No, they haven’t. That particular case and the one we instituted against them are still pending in court. In fact we will be in court on the 16th of this month Apirl 2021). It may interest you to know that there are more than 15 cases bordering on that land. Even among the Regun family, about six different factions have sued each other. These are suites filed by some aggrieved members of the Regun family regarding their own land. As a result of this, the Chief Judge, perhaps having seen that the filing multiple suites was a clear abuse of court process, saw the wisdom in narrowing down the parties involved to a few. He then gave a directive that all the matters concerning the land should be consolidated to narrow them down so as to enable him determine the true ownership status of the land. What this means is a situation in which all the disputing parties within the Regun family would be merged as a single party, same would be done with the Sanmolu’s family (my family), and the all other parties respectively, so that it can be much easier to legally determine the case.  For example since Kamil Adia Dada I the head of the Regun family, any judgment obtained either in favour or against his family would be on behalf of his family. The same thing would be in case of the other families.

Did all the parties involved agree to the planned consolidation?

The Regun family disagreed, and objected to it. Regardless, the Judge, asked us to be in court on the 16th to April to decide whether to hear the cases consolidated or to hear all of them individually.

How long have you been in court over this case?

Since 2015. And while the case remained in court, the Regun family continued to sell the disputed land.

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When exactly did the Regun family move into the land?

They moved in, in 2015. But we got to know about it in 2016. And it was that same year we invited him to a meeting with his secretary, which he honoured. There was a time the former head of my family, Alhaji Lawal was nearly kidnapped at about 5.30 in the morning by mobile policemen. They came with an unmarked vehicle, they were in mufti. He was going to his mosque or the early morning prayer when he was accosted. He raised the alarm which drew a crowd to the scene. The policemen aid they were deployed from Abuja to effect Alhaji Lawal’s arrest. But we found that quite improper. There was not warrant o arrest, and he was not told why he was being arrested. And why would a team of mobile policemen be ordered to arrest someone with no criminal records at 5.30 in the morning?  Why would you ambush a man in the manner in his neighbourhood?

Did you find who might have ordered the policemen to arrest him?

Well, we found out that they were not from Abuja, as they had claimed, but from Adeniji Adele Police station on Lagos Island. We were able to follow their unmarked vehicle when they took Alhaji Lawal, and realized threat they were not from Abuja. Needless to say that we paid some bills that day we were able to secure his release, and took him to the hospital.

Back to the land issue.

Yes. Regardless of the fact that all parties were asked by some lawyers raised concerns and asked that we maintain status quo, while we obeyed, the Regun family continued to sell lands and massive structures were being erected all over the place. The Judge, Justice Lawal Akapo, delegated the Assistant Chief Registrar, with about eight lawyers representing the various families and other parties, to go to the site for assessment. They were about to identify 53 buildings! From the time a ruling was given for everyone to maintain status quo, they were able to erect 53 buildings in violation to that ruling. As a consequence, they were marked or demolition. Even after the buildings have been marked, they kept on selling lands. And when we realised that the demolition order was not carried out, we petitioned the Task Force on Land Grabbing, because at that point, they’ve penetrated so many portions of the land. Immediately the Regun family members sight us around the place, they will either call Odoguyan Police Station or they will call Zone 2 Annex at Ladegboye. Before you turn your head, our boys would be arrested. For that reason, we decided to stay away so as not to put any of our people on harm’s way. They capitalized on that and continued to sell lands. But later on the Task Force moved in to demolish the marked properties. They (our opponents) went to Alagbon to allege that it was the three families that hired bulldozer to demolish the properties. On Friday, 10th January, 2020, I was picked up by the police from Alagbon. I was accused of malicious damage, that I went to demolish some houses, an accusation that I flatly denied. It was the Task Force that moved in to carry out the demolition order on the marked houses. At the end of the day, I was locked up over the weekend, which they said was necessary to enable them carry out investigation of our opponents’ claims a well as mine. I was kept in detention until Monday 13th January, 2020, when I was released on bail; that was on the eve of my birthday. Later on we had to call Ebeyemi, the head of the Task Force who made it known to the Police at Alagbon that the demolition was done on the approval of the governor and the Attorney-General of the Federation.

The conduct of a particular police officer at Alagbon, DCP Banji Lawal, clearly demonstrated someone who has been compromised. He was clearly receiving directives of how he should deal with us. At Alagbon, they sent the IPO handling the investigation to visit the site and inspect the demolition carried out. While this was going on, the Commandant of 174 Brigade Battalion ordered the IPO out of the site and gave an order that no further demolition be carried out. We wondered what interests he had with the case. We later learnt that he was given a plot of land on the disputed land free of charge. And because the Commissioner of Police did not want any confrontation between his men and soldiers, he asked that the demolition be halted. It was this that led to my detention over the weekend, on accusation that I was the one the ordered the demolition.

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We were afterwards made to sign an undertaking that none of the four families must have access to the land henceforth. The gate was securely locked. But the following day, the Regun family members went there, broke the key, moved in and continued carrying out activities unhindered. When we informed the officer in charge, Kayode Emmanuel, he said it wasn’t his duty to monitor activities on the land, and that the case he’s in charge of was that malicious damage. Hopefully, based on the petition we submitted at Panti that received an approval from Inspector General of Police to prevent any activities on the land pending the determination of the cases in court, the authorities moved in and succeeded in arresting about 13 Regun boys, who were dangerously armed. They were whisked away to Panti afterward.

Representatives of the other families.

Following this, we were invited to Panti. And we thought it was to further make peace. But before we got there, we later learnt that DCP Banji Lawal had gone to influence AIG Zone 2 against us. And he directed Panti to move our file to Alagbon. At Alagbon, we that were the complainants at Panti become the accused. DCP Banji Lawal told me that I disobeyed his directive not to take the case to another police station. But asked him I he wanted us to fold our hands and watch our opponents on the case to keep flouting court orders and continue doing whatever they please on disputed land? And by his order, four of us, myself, Jamiu Aro, my late Olotu and someone else were locked up again for that weekend. Out of annoyance, our lawyer wrote a petition against constant harassment by Alagbon Police Station. Immediately they got the petition on Monday, they charged us to court on Tuesday, the following day for malicious damage, for N1.2million. We were thus taken to court that day. Unfortunately because our bail conditions could not be perfected that same day, we were ordered to be remanded at Ikoyi Prison. We got released the following day at about 5pm after we were able to perfect our bail conditions. The trauma experienced when we were remanded was what caused the eventual death of my former Olotu. He died in April 2020.

While all these were going on, did the Regun family also maintain status quo?

No. They continued selling portions of the land to our disadvantage. It wasn’t until 13th January 2021 that we gained access to the land.

How did you accomplish this?

We employed the services of an estate management company that was able to present our case/papers in appropriate quarters. The condition was that it’s either all parties maintain status quo until the determination o the case, or everyone should take possession of their own portions o the land respectively. The perimeter survey of the entire land shows the portions belonging to individual families. The Regun family never wanted these. They wanted to be in charge of the entire land, claiming that the whole property belongs to their father. When the land was acquired by the federal government, we were compensated for the crops on the land; they also received compensations as well. And that are documents showing the transactions. About £1,200 was involved. They maintained that the documents we possess are fake. And we told to allow the courts to determine if those documents are indeed fake as they claim. Yet, they do not want the courts to carry out their duty. But because they have been using the influence of having access to some security agents they have compromised, they use them to harass members of the other three families until the bubble burst.

Meanwhile, there was a twist in the case. In March this year, we woke up one morning at about 7am, and behold a detachment of fierce looking, fully armed 15 military police officers stormed the land to prevent us from having access to the land. During the melee that ensued, they opened fire on everybody; to the extent that they killed a 28 year old man; another was shot in the thigh. As we speak, the corpse of the one that died remains in the Ikorodu General Hospital’s mortuary.

We also were able to discover that the officers were dratted from Ibandan. Somehow when they saw that one of them has shot someone dead, they took to their hills. But it happens that one of them missed his way and hid. It was our security man that saw him in his hiding place, and we apprehended him and handed him over to the authorities. 

Why do you think the Regun family appears to be determined to take over the entire land?

Well, it may not be unconnected to the act that they have completely sold out their own portion of the land (20.8 acres). Their interest is now on the one belonging to the other three families, which is larger in size. They have also succeeded in selling part of our already.






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