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Property owners jittery over Supreme Court judgment on Shangisha land dispute

Published by Guardian on Mon, 20 Feb 2012

RIPPLES of the Supreme Court judgment directing that over 500 plots of land located in Magodo-Shangisha in Lagos, should be given to their rightful owners have began to splash on the property owners, with Shangisha Landlords Association last week pushing for their compensation.The judgment has already caused apprehension among residents of the area, whose fate still hangs in the balance, as the state government is yet to make any official statement on the issue.But the State's Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye told The Guardian at the weekend, 'We are reviewing the judgment and will meet with the claimants soon.'Notwithstanding the seemingly intricacies involved in the execution of the court order, lawyers, who commented on the apex's court verdict recently said, the judgment of the court must be obeyed.Sources disclosed that some occupants had already been consulting with their lawyers and state government to take a position on the matter as fast as possible. It was also learnt that some officials of the state government were making belated overtures to the Shangisha Landlords Association, who are now the judgment-creditors.The Supreme Court had held that the Lagos State High Court and the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal came to the right conclusion in 1994 and 2001 when they ordered the state government to re-allocate the same 549 plots to the landlords or allocate plots of their choices to them, in a suit led by Chief Adebayo Adeyiga against Lagos State Government.The five-man panel in a unanimous decision delivered by Justice Olufunlola Oyelola Adekeye held that it could not disturb the concurrent findings of the High Court and Court of Appeal as they were premised on sound legal footings.The apex court also dismissed the complaint of the Lagos State government over the lower court's decision to hear the case of the Shangisha landlords and even issue a mandatory injunction against the then military government of the state during the Christmas vacation, saying it amounted to no issue as the court had discretion to exercise and did so.The court noted, 'in the instant case, the Court of Appeal affirmed that the trial court rightly exercised its discretion during the trial of this case. This court has no reason to disagree with that conclusion.'After reviewing the totality of the submissions made on behalf of the state government by its counsel, Lawal Pedro in its appeal and the respondents' submission marshalled by their lawyer, Olumide Sofowora, the court declared: 'In sum, the appeal lacks merit and it is dismissed. The judgments of the two lower courts are affirmed. The cost of this appeal is assessed as N50, 000 in favour of the respondents.'Justices Walter Onnoghen, John Fabiyi, Bode Rhodes Vivour and Mary Peter-Odili agreed with the lead judgment. Their verdict came 27 years after the dispute took off.Magodo G.R.A is located at around the North Central area of Lagos State. The estate was created by Lagos State Government as one of the government Reservation Areas; the estateis divided into two phases. The Phase Iis identified as Magodo (Isheri), it is located towards the peripheral boundary of Lagos State with Ogun State at Isheri, while the Phase IIis identified as Magodo (Shangisha), it is close to the dismantled toll gate at the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, via Ikosi Ketu but adjoining Shangisha. These two phases, inspite of their different accessibility points, are overlooking one another, separated by a big natural gorge. The type of development in Magodo G.R.A. is predominantly residential with pockets of commercial users. Most developments, which are detached houses or semi-detached duplexes or detached bungalows are owner occupied, while few blocks of flats development are leased out to tenants. The standard of finishes of the properties here is generally high. The maximum unit of development permissible in the estate by the State Government is 2-unit of development per plot. This implies that each allotees or landowner in the estate is expected to develop a single unit of accommodation, that is, a detached house or a detached bungalow and two units of accommodation, that is, two semi-detached houses or twin duple or a block of two flats. Thus the estate could be regarded as a low-density neighbourhood.Representative of members of the Shangisha Landlords Association, Pa Adeyiga, said that the judgment must be enforced, though they would consult with their lawyer, who would pilot the implementation of the judgment. 'We have to enforce our judgment. The law is clear about that and the judgment is very sacrosanct. The ball is now in our court and we have to roll it.'Their lawyer, Mr. Olumide Shofowora, said that they would be systemic in the executing the judgment. 'The best approach for this kind of situation is to look at the government's action and reaction before we know what next to do. The government has to obey the judgment.'Babatunde Oshilaja, who hailed the verdict, said that it was unfortunate for those who bought illegal land and since the court had spoken, all parties must abide.'I pity those that bought illegality. All actions taken while the case lasted must be reversed. Those that bought and built houses on landed properties not theirs will take their properties away.'Another lawyer, Mr. Kunle Ogunba wondered how the judgment-creditors could reclaim landed properties at Shangisha in view of the fact that the entire area is already built. Nevertheless, he said that the law was supreme and must be complied with accordingly.'Is that possible when they have allocated the whole land' The government may have to monetise the judgment, if the judgment-creditors consent to that. The truth is that, the owner of the land is the owner of the property thereon. Those occupying the land either vacate the place or find amicable commercial settlement in lieu of the judgment. Since the Supreme Court has spoken, all parties must abide absolutely.'According to Mr. Babajide Oladapo, the judgment was a court order and it must be obeyed. The beneficiaries will have to negotiate with government, may be they will settle them somewhere else.But, Messrs Moshood Shehu, worried if the state government would rise to defend the present occupiers of the area, citing a similar case in Sari Iganmu, Orile environ of the metropolis, where the state failed to rise to defend the occupants when the Ojora land owning family got a judgment of court against the state.Speaking from experience, he said that the state only told the people affected to go and settle with the Ojoro family, despite the fact they these lands had proper title and documentations.However, he said: 'Government will have to settle with the judgment-creditors and draw terms of settlement in lieu of the judgment. If not, that would create serious problem for the state as many of the occupants may have to initiate multiple of court actions.'Gani Bello said that the Shangisha Landlord Association should not bother themselves about implementation, as a court's judgment must be obeyed.His words: 'Well, I don't know the origin of the case. If it is acquisition and the original purpose for which the land was acquired fails, the land reverts to the original owners. However, I don't think it would be wise for the judgment'creditors to take caterpillars to the place and start bulldozing people's houses. It is good that they apply some principle of social responsibility.'Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Branch, Mr. Taiwo Taiwo, who noted that a similar incidence had occurred in Ijora and Abule-Egba areas of the state, said that the present occupiers of Shangisha would have to renegotiate their status on the land, adding: 'I do not think they (judgment-creditors) will destroy anybody's property living there.'Efforts to get the state government react to the issue were unsuccessful, as several calls and text messages sent to both the state's Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Ade-Ipaye and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Lawal Pedro, had no reply.
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