The residents of Balogun Street Extension in Iwaya area of Yaba, Lagos may be caught in a crossfire between the people of Eleye village and the University of Lagos.
The residents, most of who are retired civil servants and businessmen, complained to Saturday Punch that they were forced to come out of retirement and to abandon their businesses just to make sure they did not fall victim to an emerging face-off between members of the Eleye family, a prominent family in the area, and the university authority.
SaturdayPunch investigations revealed that the bone of contention is a large parcel of land within the area, which the feuding parties are both laying claim to.
While the University of Lagos insisted that the land was part of its lawful territory, the Eleye family quickly responded to the threat by taking the university to court in a suit No LD/ 3010/97 at Lagos State High Court, Igbosere, Lagos.
The residents of Balogun Extension were said to have been rattled by the sudden development. Not taking the matter lightly, they had decided to take their case to the Lagos State Government and the court of law.
Our correspondent gathered that the residents would not have decided on this course of action but for what they described as disturbing moves by the university to eject them from the land while the case was still pending in court.
A spokesman of the Landlords Association of Balogun Extension, Rev. Adeoye Unuigbe, told our coprrespondent that the university authority had urged the residents to quit. He said, â€In September 2009, some representatives of the University of Lagos, in company with some of the institutionâ€™s security personnel in uniform and a few armed policemen, walked round the area and threatened that if we refused to quit, they would eject us by force.
â€In January 2010, the same set of people, many of them this time, invaded the area and again threatened to send us packing. We tried to let them see reason, but they refused to grant us audience.â€
The matter assumed an alarming dimension on February 25, 2010, when the same people arrived the community in company with officials of the Physical and Town Planning Office, brandishing a seven-day notice of demolition.
Giving a description of the scenario, another landlord in the area, Dr. Victoria Okewumi, said she mentally noted the numerical strength of the security personnel on the second visit. â€The UNILAG securitymen were about 30 in number, while armed policemen were about 100,â€ she said.
Recalling the circumstances that put the residents in such a situation, Okewumi said the first set of people to purchase land in the area came in 1976. â€Since then, a lot of people have built block houses and some of us have embarked on documentation of our titles,â€ she said.
Trouble began in 1997 when the University of Lagos erected a fence in the area, enclosing the disputed piece of land, which it said was part of the university campus.
â€We just woke up to see that UNILAG was fencing us in. The family that we bought the land from rose to the occasion and sued the university. We are a neutral party in the issue. But we decided to keep an eye on what was going on, especially since the court ruled on December 4, 1998 that both parties should not interfere with the residents,â€ Unuigbe said, lamenting the situation.
The residents claimed that since hearing in the case began in court, personnel from the university had not stopped coming to harass them.
They said that to stop the harassments, they were compelled to write several letters to the management of the institution, urging it to exercise restraint until the court had resolved the case. But they said the university authority failed to respond.
According to the residents, other efforts they made to have a discussion with the university authority on the matter proved abortive.
The tension between the residents of the disputed land and the University of Lagos became heightened following the quit notice that was given the former on February 25, 2010.
The letter, which bore the logo of the Lagos State Physical Planning and Development Authority, reads in part, â€Sequel to our previous stop-demolition notices served on you, you are hereby informed to vacate the property within seven days from the date of service of this notice.â€
Alarmed, the residents had rushed to employ the services of a lawyer, Femi Salami, who wrote to the institution on March 10, 2010, urging the management to exercise patience and wait for the outcome of the court case instituted against them. â€Although they acknowledge the receipt of the letter, they did not reply to it. We told the lawyer to write them again, but still we have not heard from them,â€ Unuigbe told Saturday Punch.
The residents did not rest on their oars. Our correspondent gathered that they went on to write a petition to the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola, urging him to step in and ensure that justice prevailed.
Although the seven-day ultimatum has expired and the residents have not been bothered, Unuigbe said, â€We are very suspicious and we will not rest. What we really want UNILAG to do is to leave us alone until the case is determined. We are not fighting anybody. We are like grass that will suffer when two elephants fight. UNILAG should just wait for court decision and we also will abide with the decision.â€
However, the Registrar of the university, Mr. Oluwarotimi Shodimu, told our correspondent that the land belonged to the University of Lagos and that it was actually the residents of the area that beat up UNILAG workers anytime they were sent to do some work on the unoccupied portion of the land.
He said, â€œThis land in question was not acquired by UNILAG but by the Federal Governmentâ€™s global acquisition of 1962.â€
Displaying the government gazzette to our correspondent to back up his claim, Shodimu continued, â€œIn fact, if we say we should re-aquire all UNILAG land, many houses will go down in this area. For instance, our land extended to Fola Agoro and even the place where we now have Federal College of Education (Technical) is part of our land, and the school recognises us as their landlord.â€
Also, the Deputy Regisrar, Legal, of the university, Mr. Adebayo Akinade, disclosed that the university had had to surrender some of its land in the past for the sake of peace. â€œBut the land at Iwaya was earmarked for something, and by the time we wanted to locate a faculty there, they resisted us,â€ he said.
The regisrar, however, explained that the institution at various times erected signboards on the land, so as to discourage trespassers, all to no avail.
â€œWe did a caveat emptor, advertised in newspapers at various times to discourage people from buying the land from land speculators, but it seems that people are difficult in Lagos. They went ahead and bought the land. When they were building, we went there to warn them, but they rebuffed us,â€ Shodimu said.
Tracing the genesis of the present trouble, Akinade said that when the Federal Government acquired the land for the university in 1962, the institution actually allowed some people called Mensu to farm on the land to prevent incursion.
â€œAs time went by, some other people started intruding. We erected fences, which were broken down and soon houses started to spring up. In the Iwaya that you are talking about, we took concrete steps to discourage the people by erecting a fence, but some families took us to court,â€ he said.
Continuing from where Akninade stopped, the Registar said that it was true that the the court ruled that all parties in the case should maintain the status quo. The ruling which they gave our correspondent reads in part, â€œI also hereby make an order of interlocutory injuction restraining all parties to this suit from going on or doing anything whatsoever (including passing of any titles or interest to any person) on all that parcel of land verged red on the composit plan No. SAC/LA/071/97 dated 24th December, 1997 drawn by S.O.O Ajayi, registered surveyor, pending the final deternination of this suit...â€
Shodimu continued, â€œBut it would interest you to know that while UNILAG kept its own side of the bargain by doing nothing, the other parties continued to develop the land and selling it to new people. Unlike what you were told, nobody threatened them. We just continued to go there, telling them that the land belong to the university and that we wanted to put a faculty there.
â€œIt was when we saw that it was not working that we sought the assistance of the Lagos State Government to help us to recover our land. And frankly, I dont think that any security agency or the state government would have helped us if we did not have solid proof on the land. It is not a personal land; it is a land aquired by the Federal Government for the University of Lagos.â€
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