37 years after commencement of litigation, and nine years after the Supreme Court of Nigeria delivered judgment in favour of Shangisha Landlords Association, court bailiffs in company of a retinue of armed mobile policemen on Tuesday executed judgment on Magodo Estate Phase, a nouveau riche estate in Mainland Lagos owned by Lagos State government.
The nonagenarian Chairman of Shangisha Landlord Association, Alhaji Adebayo Onayiga narrated the genesis of the case thus:
Sometime between 1984 through 1986, the government of Lagos State of Nigeria forcefully took the parcels of land belonging to us, members of the landlord Association of Shangisha /Magodo occupied by us, under disguise with claims that will be used for the construction of an international standard hospital. We the landlords were forcefully evicted from the land in dispute.
The government went ahead to pull down all our houses, and took the entire area which was not what they had asked for in the first place. After pulling down of our houses, we were embarrassed to find out that the Lagos state government involved had converted the land for their personal interest, allotting the said land in plots to their friends and cronies, and some of high and mighty people in the society including some judges in the Lagos judiciary and members of the former state executives.
The Association (Judgment Creditors) unanimously elected Chief Adebayo Adeyiga as their chairman and six other members to represent the association in recovery of their land from the Lagos State government. We approached the Lagos State government, armed with facts of the fraudulent allotment, and it was resolved between us that members of the Association would be given plots of land from the then new scheme known as Magodo scheme 2.
It was when they failed to do so, that we were forced to sue the Lagos State government through the executive officers sometimes in June 1988 in suits ID/795/88 Chief Adebayo Adeyiga and six (6) others versus military governor of Lagos State and four(4) others in Lagos State high court, Ikeja.
The association’s application for an order to sue and prosecute the case in a representative capacity was brought before Honorable Justice W. A. Oshodi, and it was granted on 21st of November 21, 1988.
While the case was going on, the Lagos State government refused or neglected to obey the court order to maintain status quo, rather they and their cronies intensified construction activities. This forced us to apply for an interlocutory injunction which was granted by the late Justice A. L. Balogun on October 19, 1992.
By this ruling of the courts, it was expected that the Lagos State government and the Association would respect the court of land and refrain from allotting or further development on the land, pending the determination of the substantive suit, but they refused.
On May 17, 1993, while the case was still pending in court, the then civilian governor of Lagos State, the late Sir Michael Otedola gave the executive order for the release of our land to us, which was not also compiled with by the state government officials.
On December 31, 1993, the trial court gave judgment in favor of Shangisha Landlord Association as represented by the Chief Adebayo Adeyiga and six)6) others with a mandatory injunction order on the judgment debtor (Lagos State government) to allocate 549 plots on the land in dispute as first choice preference to the association.
On March 16, 1994, while the appeal against the said judgment was pending, the judgment debtor applied for a stay of execution which was granted by the late Justice Rosaline Omotosho, who ordered both parties to maintain status quo.
On May 4, 1994, the same judgment debtors in an attempt to eliminate members of the judgment creditors, sent members of the government task force with thugs after the chairman of the association Chief Adeyiga, who was beaten with his wife, wounded and thrown down from his one-story building. This act cost him permanent disability on his body and complete damage to his eyes, this same act of lawlessness was also carried out on other members of the Association using the same task force, thugs and security personnel.
In 1999, the late Honorable Justice Akinola Aguda tribunal on the allocation of land and Lagos state also gave an order against developers of all the lands in dispute and Shangisha/Magodo and Ikosi GRA to suspend work pending the determination of the suit ID 795/88 in the Court of Appeal but they did not obey the order.
Despite the caveat put on the land by the late Honorable Akinola Aguda, the Lagos state government and illegal allottees refused to obey the order of the late jurist. The Lagos state government and its land officials and Justice department, because of the reprimand given by the late jurist to some Judges. Ministries of Justice, and Land officials colluded and refused to release the recommendation and the report of Late Justice Akinola Aguda panel until today.
On September 25, 2001, the Court of Appeal gave judgment against Lagos state and reaffirmed the judgment of the lower court. In order to preserve the rest of the land our counsel, the late Mr. Kehinde Sofola SAN wrote a letter dated July 29, 2002 to the then Attorney General of Lagos state, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN to preserve the 549 plots with him pending the determination of the case and sent a copy to the Supreme court. The Lagos state government dissatisfied with the same appealed to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which finally affirmed the judgment of the lower courts on February 10, 2012.
After the Supreme Court had dropped its hammer by confirming the judgment of the lower courts, we exhausted all options known in law to have our land even by auditing all the remaining vacant land in Magodo Ikosi GRA but all to no avail. We therefore applied as of right for writ of possession to harvest the fruit of our judgment.
Our lead counsel Mr. Kayode Sofola SAN wrote the former Chief Justice of Lagos state, the Honorable Justice Ayotunde Phillips on the need to sign the writ of possession to enable us to execute the judgment but she refused. We had no choice but to petition the former Chief Justice of Nigeria and chairman of the National Judicial Council, Chief Justice Honorable Mariam Aloma Mukhta who queried Justice Phillips concerning the matter. Surprisingly, Honorable Justice Ayotunde Phillips refused to answer the query until she retired in 2014.
A reminder of our petition is again forwarded to the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, The Honorable Justice Mohammed Mahmoud and the NJC culminating in the issuing of another letter of request to Chief Justice of Lagos state, the Honorable Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade to know what step she had taken on the matter.
On November 11, 2016, we wrote a petition against Honorable Olufunmilayo Atilade on her failure to discharge her responsibility in the enforcement of the judgment of the Supreme Court for refusing to sign our writ of possession file before her in November 2015.
Based on all the above facts, we humbly stated that we have by all means done and exhausted what is expected of law abiding citizens of the nation by following due process in this matter but the government of Lagos state has not deemed it necessary to obey court orders.
On March 1, 2016, the Supreme Court sitting on the matter again voiced its displeasure over the failure of the Lagos state government and the Chief Justice of Lagos state to execute its judgment. The Lagos state Attorney General Mr. Adeniji Kassim was specifically warned of the dangers of refusing to carry out the order of the Supreme Court.
Finally, the NJC which is the highest judicial body in the country ordered the Chief Justice of Lagos state, the Honorable justice Olufunmilayo Atilade to sign for the writ of possession for the recovery of 549 plots of land in Magodo scheme II area within a specified period and with which she complied with accordingly. The writ of possession was signed on March 16, 2017. The process of execution of the writ had been completed by the Court Sheriff as shown in the correspondence between the Deputy Sheriff and the Police (AIG Zone 2 office) on the request for police assistance.
Thereafter the writ was assigned by the Deputy Sheriff to the Sheriff’s for execution.
The police (AIG Zone 2 command) and the sheriffs held a meeting on the way the execution will be carried out to ensure smooth, or orderliness and peaceful operation. A date was fixed by all parties involved by the AIG zone command for the commencement of the operation. We were shocked when informed that writ had been withdrawn by one Mr. Ojo of the execution Department on the instructions of the Honorable Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade. We were also informed that the Lagos state attorney general Mr. Adeniji Kassim held a meeting with the police (AIG Zone 2 command) asking the police not to accompany the Sheriff to the site of execution.
We wrote the Chief Justice of Lagos state on the matter informing her on the plan by the judgment Debtors/Lagos state government to scuttle the execution by setting aside the writ through sponsored groups who are not parties to the case but planning to file application in court to set aside the writ. We received no reply from the Chief Justice on this matter.
The Association therefore had no option than to write a petition to the NJC on this matter and the role played by the duel of the Honorable Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade and the Lagos state attorney general, Mr. Adeniji Kassim in frustrating the process of execution of the writ. Our fears were later confirmed when a ruling to set aside the execution of the writ was given by Honorable Justice R. Adebiyi even though the association was not served with any process on the case.
On the day of ruling our counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN raised an objection on non-service of the motion on the Association and he asked the court to stay the ruling, but the proceedings judge Honorable Justice Raliatu Adebiyi went ahead to deliver her ruling.
The Association forwarded another petition to the NJC against the Justice Raliatu Adebiyi for setting aside the writ of possession which was sign by the retired Honorable justice Olufunmilayo Atilade on the directive of the NJC and which had been assigned by the Sheriff for execution. In our petition to NJC we appealed for its intervention on the matter and inform the council or an attempt to deny our members from harvesting the fruit of our judgment,
From the following narrative of our tortious journey for over 37 years on our properties, Nigerians can now see how the people who are supposed to keep our properties in trust for us have misused and looted. Nigerian can also see how the people who are supposed to keep our laws in a working state have turned the world upside down. The Supreme court is the final court of the land and when it speaks no other authority can speak against it, it is a crime and criminal to do so.
As we once said, we need people like Attorney General of the Federation of Nigeria Abubakar Malami who is indeed alive with his responsibility. We also thank the President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari for putting a round peg in a round hole in the person of Alhaji Abubakar Malami (SAN).
Finally, an adage says the will of justice grinds slowly, and it is not easy to catch up with when the pendulum falls. Mr. Adesegun Ogunlewe and Mr. Gbenga Bariu Ashafa pustule and boast that the landlords will reap the fruits of their judgment in their graves. We can now see that Ogunlewe and Ashafa are not God. It is only their wishful thinking. God is more powerful than human beings.