By Chido Nwakanma

It took 28 years for the rightful owners to win the legal battle and a further nine years to come close to accessing justice, and they had to do it by the threat of force. The saga of the ownership of the land at Magodo GRA2 between the Shangisha Landlords Association, now called judgment creditors, and the Lagos State Government through homeowners at Magodo2 exemplifies the character of the Nigerian state.

Injustice walks boldly over this land like a giant.

The Lagos State Government in 1994 came to the Shangisa/Magodo community to say it needed their land for public works. It would build an international hospital. It did not gazette the intention.

The next thing is that the government pushed the people out of their homes and destroyed their dwellings. It then went on to do sites and services for a residential estate rather than the proposed hospital. On seeing this, the community took the government to court to seek the return of their land.

The Shangisa Landlords Association led by Alhaji Adebayo Onayiga defeated the Lagos State Government in the court of the first instance, the Appeal Court and finally the Supreme Court in 2012. The court rounds took 28 years. At each stage, the courts ordered Lagos State to do justice to the people: return their lands or give them alternatives. At every point, the State refused to do so.

Finally, the judgement creditors commenced in December 2021 deployment of their own force and countervailing authority to get their lands. They threatened violence on homes and residents of Magodo GRA2. Lagos State tried the familiar tricks of promise and fail but met determined resistance.

Beyond the drama and the rhetoric is this simple fact. The state and its agents committed robbery. It was brazened. State agents used their offices to sustain the heist and debauchery.

The matter has brought out many other issues. The primary one is executive malfeasance, the greed of the Nigerian elite, and how our big men lack social conscience and responsibility. Senior civil servants who later became senators and representatives or assemblymen, governors, and high-level bureaucrats believed in this theft and sustained the heist.

They disobeyed court orders. They defied the instructions of a former governor, gentleman Chief Michael Otedola. They ensured that the relevant files disappeared!

They cursed the rightful owners with death as the reward for reclaiming their land. Such vile outbursts are based on nothing but the arrogance of power. They even disfigured the brave chairman of the landlords’ association, throwing him down his building in a pique for insulting their high and mighty by claiming their rights!

Magodo2 and the drama around it have highlighted constitutional issues such as the control of the Nigerian Police. We should all engage in the debate to benefit our country. Should we have state police that Governors will push around? Why should we have federal police that the President and lower officers also move around and deploy to achieve aims other than justice?

In the process, we learnt of the seeming hollowness of the appellation Chief Security Officer of the state conferred on governors by the 1999 Constitution. That same constitution took away those powers in other sections.

Then there is the matter of illegality. The Magodo Residents Association accused the Shangisha Landlords Association of illegality, a claim that the Attorney General of Lagos State endorsed. They stated: “The Attorney General of the Federation is destabilising Lagos State by using his office to back this illegality as a meddlesome interloper and the instrumentality of state – the Nigerian Police Force and their illegal Court Bailiffs, to scuttle ongoing settlement between the Lagos State Government, Magodo GRA 2 Residents and the Judgement Creditors.”

But whose illegality is worse? Lagos State government acted ab initio illegally and refused to do the right thing for nine years. Who practised illegality? The most that one can say about it is that two wrongs maketh not one right.

Pay attention to media framing. Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Abubakar Malami, SAN, appeared in initial reports to be the aggressor. In a statement, the South-West Governors Forum accused him of encouraging impunity and trespass. Malami found his voice on the matter with a pointed rebuttal.

He stated: “It is a common knowledge that execution of the judgment and orders of Courts of competent jurisdiction, and the Court of last resort in the circumstances remains a cardinal component of the rule of law and the office of the Attorney General wonders how maintenance of law and order in the course of execution of the judgment of the Supreme can be adjudged by the imagination of the governors to be unruly.”

Malami also fired some darts. Why he asked, has the Lagos State government failed to obey the judgment of the Supreme Court since 2012? “The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice would appreciate if the coalition of the Governors will help to unravel the circumstances preventing the Lagos State Government from enforcing the court order despite several attempts from 2012- 2015 and so-called settlement initiative started in 2016. “

Above all, however, beneath the drama is the injustice of 37 years.

The story is sad. It is even worse, realising that it has happened repeatedly in Lagos and other states. One right there in Lagos South boldly stares citizens in the face in place of a planned general hospital.

The hospital ruse was also what they used for the people of Shangisa. Listening to excerpts of the story from Alhaji Adebayo Onayiga, chairman of the Landlords Association and arrowhead of the fight for justice, is depressing.

This heist started under the military with its impunity. However, the records show that it continued under civilian governments for cumulatively 24 years. It is not the complexion or apparel of the regime. It is about the persons satirized in the British comedy, Yes, Prime Minister. They pull the strings.

The showdown forced Lagos State Government to the table nine years later. The meeting of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu with all the parties on 5 January 2021 resolved that the state should find land in the Magodo Scheme to accommodate the judgement creditors or as much of them as it can. LASG would make such lands habitable. The only land left in Magodo is in Oko Filling, the swamp facing the Ketu canal and, in the Valley, facing Olowora.

“The Surveyor- General of Lagos State, Permanent Secretary Lands Bureau and Hon. Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development should immediately identify available plots of land within the Shangisha village scheme. Upon identification of available and accessible land, the State Government is to allocate the land to the 549 Judgment Creditors immediately,” the statement read.

“If there is no available and accessible land within the Shangisha Village Scheme to allocate to all the 549 Judgment Creditors, the State Government, in agreement with the Judgment Creditors, will provide alternative plots of land.”

The resolution should relieve legitimate landlords in Magodo2 of the accusation of being receivers of stolen goods. Many of them were unaware of the shenanigans that predated their land acquisition in the estate!

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu deserves commendation for pivoting away from the ruinous path of the Lagos State Government all these years. His courage to intervene on 4 January to avoid a breakdown is outstanding.

However, the real heroes are the landlords and original owners of the land and their chairman Alhaji Adebayo Onayiga. They showed that citizens could muster the courage and tenacity to fight against the injustices bureaucrats perpetuate. It takes time and staying power.

Renowned sociologist Barrington Moore Jr captured in his book, Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt the phenomenon that unfolded in Magodo2. It was a revolt against injustice. The Nigerian elite should hide their faces in shame over Shangisa Landlords versus Lagos State Government and Magodo Residents.

Published on Brandfit.