The Lagos State High Court in Badagry has awarded damages in the sum of N10m against the Lagos State Government and authorities of the Nigeria Police Force for the illegal demolition of residents’ buildings on an expanse of land measuring 26.72 hectares in the Mowo, Badagry area of the state.
The court, in a judgment by Justice S.I. Sonaike, said the state was not honest in its claim to have acquired the residents’ land for public use only to sell the land for N176m to the police, which wanted to use it for a “Police Staff Housing Scheme.”
Justice Sonaike held that apart from the fact that the residents, who owned the land, were neither properly notified about the acquisition nor duly compensated by government before their land was taken over, selling the land to the police for the purpose of a “Police Staff Housing Scheme” did not qualify as acquisition of land for public use.
“Going by the definition of the acquisition, does the purpose shown from Exhibit 10 qualify as proper acquisition of private property for overriding public use? Especially when considered from the background of the evidence elicited from DW1, who gave examples of overriding public use, for which the states have acquired private lands, such as roads, hospital, residential houses that can be admitted for use by all and sundry (the whole citizenry) and the use of such land should not be restricted to a class of people,” Justice Sonaike noted in a judgment delivered on April 30, 2019.
The judge held that since the “Police Staff Housing Scheme” would not be accessible to all members of the public, government could not claim to have compulsorily acquired the residents’ land for public use.
“I accordingly find that the acquisition of the said land is not within the intendment of the law, the notice of acquisition neither stated the particulars of the public purpose for which the land allocated under Exhibit 10 can be interpreted to mean public purpose,” the judge held.
The judge further stated, “I find that the 1st-5th defendants have not been honest in their dealings with the claimants, and the 9th-36th defendants on the acquisition of their land. It is, therefore, not in doubt that none of the communities were aware of the purported acquisition until the unlawful demolition of their properties, since there is no evidence of any service of required notices in accordance with the law, thereby denying the holder of the land compulsorily acquired from knowing the grounds upon which the government acquired their land, which failure contravened their constitutional rights as provided under sections 43 and 44 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).”
The suit, marked BD/22M/2008, has 76 claimants, comprising individuals suing on behalf of themselves and their families.
Among them were Mr Fiyedenu Daniel, Mr Oyerinde Talabi, Mr Idowu Abati, Mrs Rachael Afolabi and Mr Joseph Abati.
Joined as 1st to 5th defendants were the Executive Governor of Lagos State; Attorney General of Lagos State; Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Lagos State; Commissioner for Rural Development, Lagos State; and the Surveyor General, Lagos State.
The Inspector-General of Police; Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone II Police Command; and Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, were joined as 6th to 8th defendants.
In the suit filed through their lawyer, Funmi Adeogun, the claimant told the court that the state and the police invaded their land on November 4, 2008.
They said no fewer than 900 houses alongside farmlands were demolished, adding that the police sold the rubble in truckloads to some buyers.
The claimants said as a result of the forceful takeover of their land and the demolition of their buildings some of the owners of the properties died out of shock.
Among others, they urged the court to declare that the Lagos State Government had no right, “without recourse to the relevant laws to enter, take over and unilaterally appropriate claimants’ large expanse of land measuring 26.72 hectares covered by Survey Plan No. OGA/2359/048P/2016/LA, dated 17/01/2017.”
They prayed the court to order the police “to account to the Mowo Phase II Development Association and ultimately the 14th-76th claimants all the money realised from the sale of the ruble from the demolished properties at the rate of N11,000 per truckload.”
They claimed that the police sold approximately 7,000 truckload of ruble and they were entitled to N77m, which they wanted to be paid with 22 per cent interest annum until final payment.
The residents prayed the court to award aggravated damages of N1bn and N100m damages for trespass against the Lagos State Government and the police in their favour.
But in the judgment, the court awarded only N10m in their favour, after holding that the takeover of their land was unlawful.
Justice Sonaike restrained the police “from further entering, surveying, trespassing, clearing and/or commencing any form of construction” on the land.
The judge also restrained the Governor of Lagos State from issuing document of title to the police in respect of the land.
The police were perpetually restrained from harassing, molesting, arresting or inviting the claimants.