The High Court of Lagos State on December 21, 2017, liberated the Ajiwe community in Ajah in Eti-Osa Local Govt Area of Lagos State, from the Olumegbon Family’s claim of overlord.
In a landmark judgment delivered by the Honourable Justice Ronke Harrison, the Court held that there was no basis in law, upon which Chief Olumegbon could claim to be an overlord over Ajiwe community, based on recent developments of acquisition and excision of land by the Lagos State Government.
Consequently, the court issued an order directing Chief Fatai Abiodun Olumegbon to forthwith refund all money forcefully collected from the claimant as overlord, as such title could not operate to override the one created by government through the excision.
The facts of the case are that the claimant, Mr. Emmanuel Bajulaiye, bought two plots of land situate at Cele Bus Stop, Ajiwe Village by Liberty Square, along the Lagos Epe Expressway in year 2001, from the Afini family of Ajiwe, who are beneficiaries of an excision granted by Lagos State pursuant to Lagos State Official Gazette No. 9 Vol. 29, issued at Ikeja on the 28th March, 1996.
The claimant took steps by fencing the entire land and was in active possession until some armed thugs claiming to be under the instruction of Chief Olumegbon, confronted the claimant with a claim of title to the land.
These individuals demanded a re-purchase of the land from Chief Olumegbon, whom they claimed is the overlord of Ajah and all adjoining land and villages. Out of fear and to avoid the destruction of his property, the claimant paid the sums demanded, but Chief Olumegbon only allowed him possession of one plot, claiming to have sold the second plot to another person. Claimant’s fence was pulled down and the second plot was forcefully excissed for the new buyer that Chief Olumegbon sold the land to.
Claimant then commenced an action at the Lagos High Court, against Chief Olumegbon, through his lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, in year 2005.
The case however suffered a chequered history due to the retirement of the trial judge. In her judgment, the Hon Justice Harrison agreed with the claimant that once land has been acquired by the government and subsequently excised, the excision creates a new title, as the acquisition has successfully extinguished the previous title.
To that extent, the court held that the Supreme Court judgment of year 2002, being relied upon by Chief Olumegbon to claim overlordship over Ajiwe land, cannot avail him since the excision specifically creates a new title in favour of Ajiwe community.
The court however agreed with the defendants that the claimant did not establish the essential link between the Afini family and the Ajiwe community and held that she could not be persuaded by the recitals contained in the deed of assignment executed in favour of the claimant by the Afini family.
The court held further that the claimant was bound to prove the extent of the land holding of the Afini family within the excised land but having not done so, the court could not ignore the evidence adduced by the claimant to dismiss his case but would rather consider the option of a non-suit, under Order 34 or the Rules, to enable the claimant have another bite.
Consequently, the court directed counsel to the parties to address it on the issue of non-suit by filing written addresses.
Reacting to the judgment in his Chambers in Lekki, Mr. Adegboruwa commended the judge for the rare courage displayed, stating that the judiciary is still the last hope of the common and hopeless man.
Recalling that a similar judgment freed Igbo-Efon community from the overlordship of the Ojomu Family in December 2016, he urged Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to move beyond the land grabbers law, in order to ensure that the true indigenous people of Lagos State are restored to their ancestral land, instead of the present situation whereby powerful royal fathers have conerned virtually all land holdings in Lagos, at the expense of these helpless indigenes.
He said the judgment constitutes a declaration of freedom for all indigenous communities that are being oppressed by powerful overlords, urging all affected persons to summon courage to challenge all forms of injustice and forceful dominion.
Mr. Adegboruwa however described the situation whereby a case will drag on in court for twelve years before judgment, as unacceptable in a Mega City like Lagos, as same will discourage investment. He urged the Governor and the National Judicial Council to take the bull by the horn to build more courts and to appoint more judicial officers befitting of the status of Lagos.