It is the dream of the average Nigerian to own property especially in the Mega City of Lagos. However over the years investments in property within the city has been bedeviled with the menace of Land grabbers (Omo-Onile in local parlance).
These so called Omo-Oniles hold themselves out as traditional landowners who collect all manner of unlawful fees levies and in several cases they even sell land to multiple buyers. The terror unleashed on Lagos by these gangs over the decades has affected property investments negatively and this is why the efforts of the Lagos State Government to eradicate this trend by enacting the LAGOS STATE PROPERTY PROTECTION LAW should be commended.
We bring you highlights of this law and the drawbacks which we hope the Lagos State House of Assembly will review in future amendments.
Section 2(1) of the Law prohibits the use of force or self-help by anyone to take over any landed property or engaging in any act inconsistent with the proprietary rights of the owner of any landed property in Lagos State. This section goes further to provide that persons who have used force to take over properties before the commencement of this Act and still remain in possession three months from the date of commencement of this law have also committed an offence.
The Law also provides in Section 3(1) that a person who without lawful authority, uses or threatens violence for the purpose of securing entry into any landed property for himself or for any other person commits an offence. It is worthy of note that this proviso is presumed to be extended to persons who have rightful ownership or possession to the property. Anyone, however, found liable to have committed offences under Sections 2 and 3 is liable to ten years imprisonment without an option of fine.
By virtue of Section 4 of this law it has become an offence for persons in illegal occupation of premises to refuse to leave the property and this failure incurs a liability of five million naira (N5,000,000) or to five (5) years imprisonment or both.
Section 7 provides that any encroacher who keeps firearms or dangerous/offensive weapons on the premises shall be liable on conviction to ten (10) years imprisonment. This section goes further to provide that any encroacher who tries to sell the property knowing he has no lawful authority to do so commits a crime and is liable to a fine of five hundred thousand naira (N500,000) or Six (6) months imprisonment or both.
Section 8 (1) clearly prohibits the regular practice of land agents who offers for sale a land without the authority of the owner and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 or 6 months imprisonment. If the agent is able to actually sell the land the punishment is a fine not exceeding 100% of the value of the property and/or imprisonment for 5 years and the property shall revert to the original owner.
Section 8 (2& 3) broadens the scope of the section by prohibiting the sale of family land without the consent of the family head and other accredited members or Government Land without the authority of the state or selling same land to multiple buyers. Punishment for an infraction of this section is 21 (Twenty – One) years imprisonment.
Section 9 contains provisions which aim to punish professionals who facilitate transactions that contravene the provisions of the Law. This Section places on such professionals the duty not to aid the commission of an offence and to diligently investigate transactions before acting for clients and provides that a professional who contravenes the Section commits the offence of aiding and abetting the commission of such offence and will be reported to the relevant professional body.
Section 11 recognises the payment of a customary fee to the Family Land Owners through the Family Head. The fee is referred to as Foundation Levy.
A Task Force with the mandate to enforce this Law was also set up by Sections 12 and 13. The Task Force is empowered to arrest persons who contravene this law and arraign the suspects before a Special Offences Court or any other Court of competent jurisdiction.
Whilst the law generally takes care of the recurrent problems associated with Land ownership in Lagos however, there are a few observations which need to be critically considered in order to achieve the intention of this law
The legalization of payment of a customary levy or foundation levy to the family is incongruent with the spirit of this law. There is a tendency for the wily family landowner to hide behind this clause in extorting property developers and thus has no place in this law. It is advisable to scrap such customary fees in line with modern trends.
The Law fails to provide a registry of accredited Omo-Oniles in Lagos which is necessary in order to guide buyers interested in buying family land. There are several cases where unknowing buyers have been deceived into making payment for a land to persons not authorized by the family.
Land grabbers or Omo-Onile for decades have constituted a threat to property acquisition in Lagos and this is why the Lagos State Government deserves accolades for this proactive legislation. The Task Force is already in operation and its offices are presently situated at Block 2 Room 509 Alausa Secretariat Lagos.