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The Menace Of Land Grabbers In Nigeria

Land grabbers won’t be called land grabbers if their activities were legal. According to WIKI, Land grabbing is the contentious issue of large-scale land acquisitions: the buying or leasing of large pieces of land in developing countries, by domestic and transnational companies, governments, and individuals. This article looks into the menace of land grabbers in Nigeria and how their activities affect the common man.

In South West Nigeria when land grabbing is brought to the front burner, only one name comes to mind…OMONILES. Land grabbers are known as “Ajagungbaale” in Yoruba language.

Omoniles are known to dispose people of their property in the most crooked means possible. They foment chaos in the affected communities/area and carry out their heinous crime as if they are above the law. As their activities continue to escalate it is sad to note that the arm of the law hardly catches up on them.

Taking control of large extents of land, territories and related rights is a problem regardless of who takes it. The population of Nigeria which continues to increase at an alarming rate with the corresponding rapidly growing rate of urbanization as a result of the influx of a great number of people into urban areas worsens the case of land grabbing.

Nigeria has continually witnessed an increasingly urbanized and urban oriented society characterized by a daily influx of people of different tribes into major Nigerian cities since 1960. The resultant effect of such is increase in the value of land especially in the Nigerian cities of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Warri, Ibadan, Calabar among others.

Invariably, land has become gold and acquiring a plot of land in any of the aforementioned cities is not a walk in the park, whether by legal or illegal means. Land litigation has incited attacks – both spiritual and physical causing loss of lives and properties. The only thing some Nigerians want to do is control the sales of land whether by hook or crook and that is why Omoniles have continued their criminal activities with no holds barred. Their wanton display of violence on unsuspecting victims is a source of concern.

“According to a report on Leadership.ng, on the average, a housing apartment in Ibara one of the most developed areas in Abeokuta costs about 80 million naira. In the same vein average property in Maitama costs about 430 million naira. In Port Harcourt the most expensive property location in southern Nigeria the average property in this location costs about 150 million naira.

The case of Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve center is well known. What oil is to the people of the Niger Delta is what land is to Lagosians. To state the least the average property in Ikeja GRA area, which is occupied majorly by expatriates and wealthy Nigerians who prefer the low-key life, goes for about 250 million naira.”

Nonetheless, the good news in all of these is that a bill for a law to prohibit forceful entry and occupation of landed properties in Lagos state, is being planned for passage and observers are of the opinion that other states in the country will emulate Lagos State.

If this bill which has passed through second reading sees the light of day, it would bring some level of succor and safety to those Nigerians/land owners who are prone to the whims and caprices of land grabbers.

Land grabbing has resulted not only in mass forced evictions but has also led to a deterioration in the landscape as public spaces such as parks, playgrounds and even public toilets are sold or allocated to people. Worse still land that had been sold and occupied some 30 years ago is still disputed in some areas especially in Lagos state because the Omoniles are being given more than enough room to operate.

However, Omoniles or Ajagungbaale are not the only land grabbers we have in Nigeria. Perperators of this land grabbing merchandise could also include local authorities, private developers, private organizations, and public institutions, individuals, state corporations and companies loyal to the Government of the day.

Settlements have been burnt and destroyed to make way for subsequent developers. Most times available relocation sites are far from the central business areas, taking residents away from their main source of income, yet no form of compensation is granted to the affected people.

It even gets worse when the affected families are given insufficient time to remove their shelter or to appeal against such actions and instead, bulldozers are brought abruptly, and often at inconvenient hours, and property and building materials are destroyed with the assistance of military Personnel. A popular community in Eti Osa, Lagos state which was then known as MAROKO is a typical example of the injustice the ordinary masses suffer when it comes to land issues in Nigeria.

It becomes rather pathetic when Government  authorities sometimes collaborate with business and foreign investors to evict the poor, and more disturbing is the fact that legal notices are rarely given before the eviction is carried out.

We also see instances where party politics is played out in the issue of land grabbing.  For example, one political party may support the evictors while the other supports the residents. A greater percentage of land eviction/ land grabbing cases are characterized by a high level of chaos and crises and afterwards the land is often kept unoccupied for speculative purposes.

That is why this new law is a welcome development and hopefully it should defend the rights of the rural poor and bring an end to forced evictions, and illegal allocation of land space.

Albeit, the government should also know that regardless of the provisions of the land use act of 1978, they are also viewed as land grabbers in some quarters. They should not be seen as only taking advantage of the land use act.

Therefore, the governemnt should ensure that preference is given to the genuine rural poor for permanent settlement instead of rich speculators.

Also, if evictions must be carried out for the purpose of providing infrastructure necessary for the society’s well being, then sufficient time and notice must be given to enable the affected community to resettle peacefully. People have struggled with land grabbing in the past and the government’s recent focus on it is indeed long overdue.

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