How we intend to deal with omo on’ile in Lagos, by Agunbiade
Sanai Agunbiade representing Ikorodu Constituency 1, is chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Public Petitions and Human Rights Issues of Lagos State House of Assembly. The legal practitioner, who is serving his second term, in this interview , among other issues, explains how the House intends to pass into law the bill on property protection, which will address the issue of land touts, popularly referred to as omo onile. Excerpts…
A lot of petitions have come to the House, and most of these petitions, which have to do with the issue of land touts, seem to have come from your constituency. We are aware that the House is working on a bill to curb their activities; how workable will this law be when passed?
One thing is for a law to be put in place and another thing is for the law to be executed properly. From what we have seen, in fact, the land touts themselves are already feeling that the state will not be so kind with them when the bill is actually passed into law. And we have seen a lot of enthusiasm on the part of members of the public who want this bill signed into law as quickly as possible. We are so determined to make the law work, and that is why we are thinking of establishing a special squad like a task force that would be so saddled with the enforcement of the law on property protection. That, of course, does not prevent the police from doing their job. But for effective enforcement of the law, we are trying to locate within the law a kind of enforcement mechanism that will make the law so effective. And what we are trying to do by that law is to ensure that Lagosiansare not subjected to barbaric disposition by people who are so greedy as to wanting to extract money from the public perpetually over the same subject matter. Or a situation where some individuals, for their selfish interests, continue to turn the youth of Lagos State to violent militia for the purpose of recovering possession where the law has made adequate provision for what an individual should do in case somebody infringes on your rights to your property.
But these days, we just see that when two people are disputing over who owns a parcel of land, some people will be contacted; these people will bring in the police, and the police will lead them to see some lawyers who will assist them to draft some frivolous petitions. The next you see is the police just coming and bundling these people into detention. While those ones are in detention, hoodlums would come in and take over the property, rape people, attack people, dispossess other innocent persons of their belongings and turn the whole community into a state of war. These are the things Lagos State government is trying to work against and put an end to through the House of Assembly that is initiating the bill because it is a private member bill.
Most of the petitions concerning land-grabbers seem to have come from Ikorodu your constituency; why is this so?
Let me be quick to say that it is not true that most of the petitions that come to the House are from Ikorodu. I would admit that most of the cases dealing with land are from Ikorodu and I think the reason for that is (I would use a funny term) that land-grabbers have eaten almost all the land in other parts of the state and the ones that are still available are in Ikorodu. I am sure that unless they are checkmated, when they finish with Ikorodu, they will now move to Agbowa where their presence is now being felt, and they will descend on Epe and devour all the land reserve there. But before that happens, I am sure that the law on property protection would have really caught up with them. There are bound to be crisis. But in civilised society, you have to use the civilised means established by the law. These land-grabbers are taking us back to the Stone Age of violence, barbarism and ridiculous way of doing things. So we want to use the law to break that unholy chain that bonds lawyers, police and some land-grabbers who are criminally-minded together.
There is nothing wrong in you being an agent to someone in respect of his land, and when matter happens, you get a lawyer and you approach the court. When you win, you follow the due process of execution. You see cases where people use fake court judgements to take possession. You see a situation where even when interlocutory judgement that grants injunction that some people should stay away from a land will be used as if it is substantive judgement and you see them using hoodlums to execute judgement; that will not be tolerated any longer. There is that provision of the law that tells lawyers, litigants and the police what role they could play and how they could approach enforcement of any judgement passed by the court that is touching on your possession of a property and hitherto the judgement had been occupied by another person.
There is general belief that an average policeman in the country is corrupt. What confidence does the House have in the police to implement this bill when it is eventually passed into law?
It is going to be task force, and that task force will be under the office of the chief executive of the state. And you know that for some years now under democracy, Lagos State has been having thorough-minded persons at the helm of affairs. And our party will not misuse power, because we are working for posterity and the party, when it was even Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) alone, was so concerned about public order and safety, taking into cognisance its basic role under the Constitution, which is the primary purpose of any government, welfare and security of its people. So, we are confident that where you put a particular mechanism or machinery under a particular office, what happens to that mechanism or that office will be largely determined by the seriousness of the person that superintendents or supervises that mechanism. In this case, the highest political office in any state is the office of the governor, and no governor will open his eyes and allow things to be going the way it is going now. God helping us, if the bill is passed into law during the tenure of Babatunde Raji Fashola and the enforcement starts, anybody who is coming after him will only take a cue from where he stopped.
One other issue generating controversy in the public domain is the issue of autonomy for local governments. Many are supporting it while others are saying they don’t deserve it. What is your take on autonomy for local governments?
There is none of the two positions that do not have credible elements, for or against. Autonomy; let them be able to do this, do that; let them get their money straight from the Federal Government; let no one control how they will spend it. To some extent, we say it is good; it will enable the local governments to set their priority and do what is right. I believe that the society has to be dynamic; if Mr. A is doing the right thing with his money, Mr. B is not doing the right thing with his money and he has that autonomy, does that not affect the people? As a matter of fact, as a legislator, I would say autonomy is good. State governments are autonomous; they spend their money as they wish, but are all the state governments using their votes judiciously for the welfare and interest of their states? So if there is a kind of understanding that could remove local governments from a state, what is left of the state? The states make a federation; it is the conglomeration of the states that forms a federal. The federal does not have any territory; the state is the territory of the federal, and that is why people are saying the federal should be weak and the states should be stronger – the principle of federalism. It is the union of the states that forms a federation. Federation does not have any jurisdiction except the whole country.
When you remove the various local governments from the state, there is no state; therefore, if we are saying the state should be the strongest, it means the state should be able to deal with the state. And what is the state? It is the local governments that are the state. So the state should have control of what happens in the various local governments, because the constituents of a state are the local governments, unlike the Federal Government that does not have any constituency. That is why the Federal Government should take a fractional part from the federation account and give the mass of it to the state and its constituencies.
Now we are saying also that the creation of local governments should be at the discretion of the state because the constitution itself gives the power to create local governments to the House of Assembly. What you just need is for the National Assembly to list it. So if you don’t have to list it, and it is for the purpose of collecting money from the federation account, these are the recognised local governments. If you are saying states should be given the right to create their own local governments, the states that create those local governments should be as per what agenda; what are the cultural diversities, economic prosperity of the local governments they want to create? Then they must be able to fund such local governments. So I am not one of those that feel that the Federal Government should list the number of local governments. Every state should be allowed to have as many local governments as it can cater for.