A septuagenarian, Mr Afolabi Banjoko, has accused the Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Oluwatoyin Suarau, of illegally and forcefully hijacking his land on Plot 8 Akinyele Street, off Jonathan Coker Road, Iju Station, in the Oko Oba area of the state, and building on it.
He said he acquired the land from his aunt, Mrs Omolola Alabi, the daughter of the late Jonathan Coker.
According to Banjoko, a retired engineer with the National Oil Company, the commissioner used his position and influence to start building on the land though a case on it was yet to be determined by the court.
The 71-year-old had petitioned Governor Akinwunmi Ambode; the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; Commissioner of Police; and the Lagos State House of Assembly to intervene in the matter to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
Banjoko explained in the petition to the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice dated March 21, 2019, that he was the owner of the land on Plot 8 Akinyele Street with Certificate of Occupancy No. 93/93/2014N issued on March 5, 2014; statutory Right of Occupancy number 93/93/2014N issued on July 5, 2014, and survey plan dated December 21, 1981, issued to him by the Lagos State Government.
He accused Suarau and other land grabbers of repeatedly encroaching on the land, which resulted in a case filed at the High Court of Lagos, Ikeja Judicial Division in suit no. ID/163/13 on March 5, 2013.
Another petition written to the governor on April 2, 2019, by Owolabi Dawodu of Owolabi Dawodu & Co, counsel for Banjoko’s aunt, Mrs Omolola Alabi, stated, “We are solicitors to Mrs Omolola Alabi, an 86-year-old Lagosian, who is a direct daughter of the late Jonathan Coker.
“Our client inherited a large parcel of land along with her siblings from her late father on Jonathan Coker Road, Fagba, Lagos, and has been in undisturbed possession since then until recently when Mr Suarau, acting through a notorious gang of land grabbers, invaded the land viet-amis and forcefully took it over.
“We wrote the then governor, who directed the task force to look into it. The land grabbers and thugs were warded off. We also went to court and the case is still pending before the High Court.
“However, instead of Mr Suarau, who we learnt is a member of your cabinet, to await the decision of the court, he has forcefully, with the aid of armed soldiers and policemen, broken into the land, forced open the gate and started construction works. He has threatened to pull down the shops our client built on the land and chase the tenants away.”
Banjoko told our correspondent that his grandfather, the late Jonathan Coker, bought a large expanse of land from the late Josiah Savage, which was covered by a conveyance dated April 19, 1915.
The expanse of land, he noted, was a coffee plantation, with the produce packaged for export.
Upon Coker’s death, his estate was transferred to his children from four wives in accordance with his will.
To ward off encroachers, who were already entering the large expanse of land, the family decided to divide the land into smaller units, which were sold to individuals for housing and industrial development.
Banjoko recalled, “When I came back from abroad to work for National Oil, I discovered that encroachers had entered the land and the family decided to engage a surveyor to prepare a survey and partitioned the land, after which we invited friends and others to buy plots in the Iju ‘B’ Farm Estate.
“I left my own plot undeveloped because I wanted to transfer it to my children as an inheritance, only for me to discover that some land grabbers had sold it. They first sold that of my aunt, which is on Plot 5 Akinyele Street and facing the Jonathan Coker Road directly to Suarau, but when we resisted his attempt to develop it, the land grabbers took him to my own land on Plot 8.
“My aunt approached the court in respect of both plots and the court ordered that the status quo should be maintained pending the determination of the case.
“Just before the general elections, Suarau mobilised to the site to build lock up shops on my land, which backs Seyinsola Coker Street. His attention was drawn to the fact that there was pending litigation on the land, but he got police cover to begin construction on the land.”
When contacted, Suarau denied the allegations levelled against him and insisted that he was the rightful owner of three plots of land in the area, which he wanted to use for an events centre and another two at the back to be used as car park.
He explained that when he attempted to develop Plot 5, operatives of the Lagos State Task Force on Land Grabbing prevented him from doing so, arrested his surveyor and the workers, and seized their equipment at the instance of Alabi.
Suarau stated, “When I realised that the claimant was an old woman, I stopped work for over two years and kept the equipment for the events centre in a warehouse, where I was paying weekly for over two years. I was in the House of Representatives then.
“I don’t know this man, Banjoko, and the plot on which I am currently building is not covered in the suit no. ID/162/2013, which is pending before the High Court of Lagos State, which is between Omolola Alabi and Gafar Arowolo, Kehinde Adeosun, Adisa Agbaosi and the Inspector-General of Police.”
Suarau’s lawyer, Joseph Adewumi of De’ Jadeville Solicitors, told our correspondent that the commissioner bought the land in 2012 from the Olarokun family, which executed a Deed of Assignment in his favour on July 3, 2013.
He said the Ikeja High Court, in a judgment on suit no. ID/292/81, and the Appeal Court, in a ruling on suit no. CA/LA/64/88, had conferred ownership of the vast area of land in Abule Egba, New Oko Oba, Old Oko Oba, part of Orile Agege and part of Iju on the Olarokun family.
Adewumi added that Suarau bought the land after his search revealed that the Olarokun family had registered the judgment in suit no. ID/1313/98 as 62/62/2233 at the Lagos State Lands Registry as the title to the land in dispute and subsequently obtained the Governor’s Consent to develop it.
“We have an application for Suarau to be joined in suit no. ID/162/2013 between Omolola Alabi and Gafar Arowolo, Kehinde Adeosun, Adisa Agbaosi and the Inspector-General of Police, and the next adjourned date is May 7, 2019; whoever has a claim to the land should wait till then,” he said.