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Friday, December 2, 2022

Magodo: Fight of the titans

By Afolabi Aribogbola

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I watched with keen interest but with utter disbelief, consternation and disappointment the recent imbroglio surrounding the outcome of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on the protracted legal battle over Magodo land in Lagos. Of course, I grew up to know and believe that the Supreme Court of Nigeria’s decision on any issue is final and must be obeyed by all including governments. I found it extremely difficult to comprehend why the Lagos State government and her functionaries who swore to uphold the constitution of Nigeria would for over ten years find it convenient not to implement a Supreme Court’s decision on the Magodo land matter.

The recent scenarios involving demonstrations by property owners in the estate when court Bailiffs with security support from Police to enforce the decision of the courts and public altercation by the Governor of Lagos State and a Police Officer is to say the least very embarrassing and unacceptable. Discerning mind will begin to wonder why the Lagos state government failed to implement the Supreme Court’s judgment for upward of ten years and opinion leaders are quiet about it.

Beyond the failure of the Lagos state government to undertake the needful, of more worrisome is the fact that if the concerned judgment creditors were not resilient in the pursue of the matter as well being men and women of means that can hire some of the very best lawyers in the country, what would have been their plight now? Perhaps, they would have unjustly lost their land and resources committed to pursuing the case since 1988. This is unfortunate and a sad commentary on how the government handles the affairs of the people that elected them to protect them.

More worrisome is the fact that the press and opinion leaders in the country have not queried the inability of the Lagos State government to implement courts’ decisions. Instead, many have come out trivializing the issue linking it to the need to restructure Nigeria. Indeed, will restructuring of the country, a necessary exercise in any case, empower the Lagos State government or her functionaries to disobey or disregard a Supreme Court’s judgment? Or will restructuring not make the Governor to know the line of authority in addressing state issues especially in relation to present security architecture arrangement in the country?

So far, most comments and discussions on the issue have centered on the altercation between the Governor and the CSP to the utter neglect of the core issue. Though it must be made clear that it is distasteful and nauseating for a Police Officer to disregard the instruction and order of a State Governor, it does appear that the Lagos State government has not acted to expectation by its failure to address the issue in a decisive and acceptable way before the demonstrations.

he core issue was that some landlords’ lands were illegally and improperly appropriated for public use as envisaged in our laws. The land initially acquired to build an hospital was later subdivided into plots and sold to privileged and wealthy individuals including high ranking public officials. The landlords whose lands were taken, not satisfied, approached the court for interventions. After a long and tortuous legal battle from Lagos High Courts to Court of Appeal and finally Supreme Court of Nigeria, received favourable judgment to take back their land in 2012.

ince then available records indicate that all efforts to ensure implementation of the judgment were futile and therefore resorted to seeking the assistance of the office of Attorney General of the Federation and the Police.

Thus, our main concern is that if the deprived landowners that painstakingly pursued their case for over forty years from the Lagos State High Court to the Supreme Court are not men of means, they would have ultimately lost out because of impunity by state functionaries. From what we read from them they have to write severally to the Chief Judge of Lagos state for implementation in the last ten years. It was when this failed that they complained to the Attorney General of the Federation who recognized his constitutionally assigned responsibility of defending the laws of Nigeria, pushed for the enforcement of the Supreme Court judgment after ten years.

heard some individuals castigating him instead of commending him for living up to the responsibility of his office. Every issue should not be politicized or be subjected to primordial sentiments. If he has not intervened, then the laws of the country would have been breached by Lagos State Government with impunity. If States and other powerful individuals have been disobeying and or only obeying courts judgments that suit them, then the country is heading to precipice.

I found it extremely difficult the way people rationalize issues in Nigeria. If states and individuals continue to disregard the judgments of the courts the county will be drifting to anarchy, disorder and could result in crisis as recently witnessed in Magodo land issue. The Lagos Governor, after the crisis has degenerated into open confrontation and fisticuffs rushed to the scene to display empathy and show the world that he is in control of Lagos affairs using the press.

hy is it that he did not organize the tripartite meeting before that day? Mind you ,the issue had been on for upward of ten years without it being addressed by the government. Unfortunately, many of the landowners that are also victims of the court judgment acquired their land genuinely without inkling of the current crisis and have invested all their fortunes in developing their properties. This is the more reasons the state ought to have intervened earlier.

The Lagos State government ought to have risen to the challenge imposed by the judgment. In the first instance, some individuals who are not party to the tussle innocently invested their life earnings in acquiring properties in the area. Such individuals need to be assisted. Though as submitted by the judgment creditors some officials of the Lagos state including judiciary staff and high ranking civil servants use their positions to procure property in the area.

hey should be identified, investigated and sanctioned accordingly. In actual fact they are behind the crisis and are the ones encouraging or ensuring non implementation of the outcome of the long protracted legal tussle that eventually favoured the original land owners.

Furthermore, the meeting summoned by the Lagos state government after the crisis should have been held earlier to resolve other social and economic issues generated by the judgment. Those who invested their earnings need to be taken care by the government. Since the Lagos state government caused the problem in the first instance, they should take over the burden.

n addition, the state ought to have found ways over the years to enter into agreement and settle the judgment creditors. The state ought to take social views in resolving complex issues instead of resulting to the use of brute force or suppression as recently exhibited by the Lagos state government.

Governments should be in the lead in protecting the rights and privileges of their citizens instead of present tacit way of suppressing them. If the approach of easing the plight of the people is not paramount in the agenda of governments at all levels in Nigeria, then we still have a long way to go. Afterall governments exist to protect and provide for the people. Thus, the Lagos state government must intensify efforts to satisfy both the judgment creditors and debtors.

t is already evident the judgment creditors have a good ground to claim what belong to them by the courts of the land and some genuine properties owners who were oblivious of the antics of some government officials and property or land speculators instrumental to the land problems in Magodo.

Finally, the reconciliation meeting organized after the altercation should have come earlier as the first step. Also, privileged public functionaries should desist from using their positions to suppress the people and pervert the course of justice. They failed in the present dispensation because titans like them were involved.

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