Nigeria: Using Military Force, Nigerian Naval Officer Encroaches On Civilians’ Properties in Lagos

The naval officer also ignores an ongoing court case and deploys soldiers to assault civilians on disputed land.

On 11 August, Alabi Olujide received a distress call that some military personnel had invaded his farm field in the Igboku area of Epe, Lagos State. Disturbed, he rushed down to the farm to realise that what he knew to be a land dispute — with the matter in court — had turned into the use of soldiers to intimidate him.

Mr Olujide said he immediately wrote to the Shagbaijo family of the Ibonwon area in the state, who had sold the four acres of land to him and his friend, Najeem Arogundade, in 2012. Responding, the family affirmed Mr Olujide and his friend are the real owners of the land. They were ready to defend the sale contract they entered a decade ago but there was a problem.

Locally known as omo onile – the Yoruba local parlance for indigenous land owners – the family representatives revealed existing litigation over the land between them and a Rear Admiral of the Nigerian Navy, Mohammad Omuya, who was allegedly responsible for the military invasion of Mr Olujide’s farmland.

With this new incident, the family representative and secretary, Ismail Wasiu, described Mr Omuya as a powerful military leader abusing his military privilege to grab the land the family already sold to Mr Olujide and his friend.

“We are quite taken aback by the unlawful and illegal actions of Rear Admiral Mohammed Raimi Omuya who deposited money for the purchase of acres of land from the family sometime in 2014 and up till today has not finished paying for the land,” the family wrote in a letter signed by Mr Wasiu and seen by PREMIUM TIMES.

“We are surprised that he has resorted to using armed soldiers to intimidate us and foreclose any form of amicable settlement of the land dispute. He has taken principal members of the family to court in suit no. EPD/11730lMW2022 — Mohammad Raimi V. Alhaji Surajudeen Ibrahim & ors. As a matter of fact, a series of meetings have been held by the family to confront in every legal way the encroachment of Rear Admiral Mohammad Raimi Omiya.”

But how did the Shagbaijo family encounter the Navy Admiral and what transpired between them?

The Shagbaijo family and the powerful Navy Admiral

Sometime in 2014, two years after Mr Olujide and his friend had already concluded the purchase of their four acres of land from the Shagbaijo people, Mr Omuya approached the family to purchase 50 acres of land. Out of the total N75 million for the land, he deposited N25 million.

“Omuya did not visit the land, nor made contact with any family representative for about seven years. Then between July 2020 and July 2021, he further paid N10.5 million,” the family secretary said during a meeting PREMIUM TIMES observed. But during this time, a party had challenged the Shagbaijo family’s claim over the land sold to Mr Omuya, making it impossible to proceed with the sale contract. After the last payment in July 2021, the family sent its representatives to the admiral’s agents to inform their principal of the challenges facing them.

“We told them that Admiral should stop paying as part of the land has been partitioned and given to the adverse party. But we were surprised when we received another payment of N8 million. This prompted us to write a formal letter in October 2021, addressed to Rear Admiral Raimi Muhammad,” the family secretary said.

In the letter, the family “admits the payment of only the sum of N35,500,000 (thirty-five million, five hundred thousand naira) which covers about 24 acres of land” and said, “it is ready to execute a deed of assignment to that effect”. And should the admiral refuse to accept this new proposal, the family said they “have no option than to return all the deposit paid so far.”

To make sure the admiral does not make further payments, the family also wrote, in a letter seen by PREMIUM TIMES, to Zenith Bank, its bankers, with the instruction to block all transfers bearing the admiral’s name: Raimi Omuya Mohammed. But the bank insisted it did not have the authority to stop the naval officer from transferring funds into the account. At present, the total amount deposited stands at N57.5 million, according to the landowners’ accounts.

“The law is trite that payment of deposits for land does not confer a title on the depositor and a depositor is only entitled to a refund,” noted Moses Otusemade, a legal practitioner at Otus Legal and Consultancy, a law firm in Lagos. “Therefore, Admiral Omuya could only accept the family’s new proposal, or the family would refund all the payments he had made.”

‘You are a bonafide owner of our family land’

The Shagbaijo family admitted an oral contract of sale of its 50 acres of land entered with Admiral Omuya in 2014 and even a part payment of the agreed sum. The land owners said they wanted to honour the agreement but sometime in 2021, an adverse party challenged the family’s title over some parts of the land and successfully gained ownership.

“That was how we lost part of the land we were supposed to sell to the admiral,” the family’s secretary said. “After informing the admiral about it, he couldn’t take it. He yanked that he must take possession of the 50 acres.”

“We have no land to fulfil that promise. So, what admiral is doing now is to forcefully take the land we have sold to people before him, and that was how he encroached on the land belonging to Olujide and his friend.”

After the admiral’s “military personnel” appeared on the land and displaced Mr Olujide’s cattle, the family said the admiral’s action was an encroachment. Then they wrote to Mr Olujide: “You are a bonafide owner of our family land which you purchased in 2012, and we shall defend you against anyone that claims interest on that particular portion of land.”

Using military power to acquire civilians’ real estate

When the soldiers invaded Mr Olujide’s farm on 11 August, dozens of livestock were found dead and several others were missing. PREMIUM TIMES saw the ruins left by the military officers on the farm field during our on-the-ground reporting. Local farmers employed by Mr Olujide said they took to their heels seeing men with military weapons on the farm site threatening and beating up civilians indiscriminately.

In October, the soldiers returned to Mr Olujide’s land this time to displace the multi-million livestock left on the farm. Witnesses said the gun-wielding men displayed a readiness to open fire at any civilian trying to stop them from invading the farm. Mr Olujide and other investigators said the cost of damage caused on the farm — which include fencing and gate, 280 goats, 120 turkeys, farmhouses and feeds, ram and sheep pens, animal medications and other personal effects — ran into over N190 million.

Why Mr Omuya focuses on encroaching on land in this area is not far-fetched. “The Admiral refused to accept the Shagbaijo family’s new proposal because the price of the land in the area has appreciated. In fact, he once placed a sale advert to invite innocent prospective buyers,” Mr Olujide said.

In 2014, when the admiral moved to acquire the land from the Shagbaijo family, a plot of land was sold for N250,000, according to land surveyors and real estate experts who have operated in the area for decades. Now, the experts said, a plot of land costs between N1.5 million to N2 million.

“When a land matter is in court, the popular belief is that both parties refrain from executing activities on it pending the determination of the case in court,” Mr Olujide added. “But he (Admiral) took armed personnel to the land even though he and the Shagbaijo family have a case pending in court.”

For using his military influence to illegally claim land ownership, however, Mr Omuya risks stringent military sanction. Section 108 of the Nigerian Armed Forces Act states that any military personnel who uses threat or force “to obtain a thing of value or gain is guilty of extortion and liable, on conviction by a court-martial, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years”.

The spokesperson of the Nigerian Navy, Ayo Voughan, said it is uncivil for any of the parties to resort to violence and use of force. He advised that “in matters like this, it is necessary for the aggrieved party to seek redress by writing a petition against the person in question to the Chief of Naval staff or to the President of the nation who is our commander in chief”.

“If it is a case in court, I think it will be uncivilised for any of the parties to still resort to violence and harassment,” he told PREMIUM TIMES. “But they can petition the chief of naval staff to make this complaint.”

‘Conniving with the police to harass civilians’

Weary of Mr Omuya’s influence in the Nigerian Armed Forces, his victims said they were reluctant to report him to the police. They were waiting for a court injunction when the officer yet again used his influence to intimidate the Shagbaijo family.

One sweltering day in August, Mr Omuya sent some military personnel on their routine intimidation of civilians on the disputed land. They had met the family’s secretary, Mr Ismail, and one local chief, Sikiru Mukaila, who were both “beaten up until the latter had a fracture on his left leg”.

But that was not enough, Mr Ismail narrated to PREMIUM TIMES, the soldiers apprehended both of them and took them to the Epe police station on the order of Mr Omuya. But when a police chief at the station listened to both sides, he declined Mr Omuya’s order to detain the two victims because “this is a purely civil matter and secondly, the matter is before the court of law.”

However, the naval admiral had another plan.

In a petition submitted to the Inspector General of Police on September 12, the Shagbaijo family’s attorney, Amir Albushra, accused Mr Omuya of colluding with the police to detain his clients illegally at the Force Headquarters in Abuja. He said Mr Omuya had threatened to “show them how powerful he is and make sure they rot in cell”.

The following day, the Epe Police Station invited Mr Ismail and the local chief again on the order of one DSP Funmilayo Eguaoje of the Force Criminal Investigation Department, the Nigerian Police Headquarters, Abuja.

“On getting there, they met men and officers of the PPRO FCIID Police headquarters in Abuja who informed them that their attention was needed in Abuja,” the petition read in parts. “The policemen took them and locked them up at the Adeniji Police station on the 31st day of August 2022 and took them to Abuja on the 1st day of September 2022 where they ensured no one had access to them until the 5th day of September 2022 when their lawyer came to apply for bail.”

The Navy Admiral has done no wrong — Police

Contacted for the stance of the police on the matter, a spokesperson of the FCIID in Abuja, Fumilayo Eguaoje, said the naval officer had done no wrong. The officer said Mr Omuya genuinely transacted with the accredited representative of the Shagbaijo family, paid for the land and was receipted.

“All of the family confirmed the transaction and monies paid,” the officer said — a claim family members interviewed earlier had disputed.

The spokesperson noted that “the family went back to resell the land to another person and also gave parts to some individuals” but documents PREMIUM TIMES obtained contradicted this claim.

“He [the admiral] has not wronged them,” the police officer claimed. “He didn’t harass anyone.”

When asked why Mr Omuya would deploy soldiers to the land, the police officer said: “He is a senior officer in the Navy and is entitled to protection by aids wherever he is.”

On several occasions, Mr Omuya was contacted for comments on the allegations but he would not respond. On 15 October, PREMIUM TIMES formally sent a public service interview invite to the Navy admiral. This newspaper asked him to explain his involvement in the land dispute between him and the Shagbaijo family but he failed to respond.

‘Land is the new oil in Lagos’

Mr Omuya is not alone in using political or military influence to encroach on properties belonging to powerless or ordinary Nigerian citizens in Lagos. As the economic value of real estate increases, land properties in the state become more enticing to encroachers. Land is the new oil in Lagos, several residents of the Epe area were heard saying during our reporting.

Earlier this year, a report by the Foundation for Investigative Journalism exposed how Buruji Kashamu, a Nigerian former senator and drug kingpin, and Ooni Adeyeye Ogunwunsi, the Ooni of Ife, allegedly grabbed a two billion naira worth of real estate from a surveyor in Lagos Island.

Also, in February, the village head of Olokoomi, a hamlet in the Ibeju Lekki area, accused Toll System Company Limited of encroaching on the community’s land. He also claimed the company owners had earlier invaded the village in 2016 using their affluence in the state.

The notoriety of land grabbing in Lagos influenced the state government to review its land protection law in 2016 and input stringent punishments on land encroachers. Section 2 of the Lagos State Property Protection Law prohibits any person from using physical force or self-help to claim land titles, and defaulters risk ten (10) years in prison upon conviction.

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