AFTER waiting fruitlessly fora response to several petitions to the office of the Minister of Defence urging him to compel the Nigerian Army to return an un-utilised 160 acres of their land acquired by the then Federal Military Government in 1974, for the purpose of building the Ojo Military Cantonment, the family of the late Alhaji Abdul Azeez Ojikutu, has taken the battle to reclaim the land to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN.
In a strongly worded petition addressed to him, the trustees of the Estate of the Late Chief Ojikutu sought his “urgent and immediate intervention as the number one chief law officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to bring succour to our Estate and end the injustice we have been unjustly subjected to, over the past 14 years without redress.”
The petition dated November 15, 2013 and signed by Alhaji Sewu Ojikutu, Alhaja Amori Animashaun, Chief (Mrs) Iyabo Foresythe and Abayomi Ojikutu, specifically requested the Attorney-General to personally review the land transaction and ensure an amicable resolution of the issues in dispute.
The Family explained that it took the matter to the AGF because previous petitions to the Minister of Defence and Chief of Army Staff over a month ago, were not even acknowledged.
It said, “We are disturbed that notwithstanding our petition letter under reference, the Nigerian Army under the leadership of the present Chief of Army Staff, is still busy selling the said land to themselves and to members of the general public and carrying out construction work on same contrary to a court order that has been in effect for over 13 years; and in utter disregard of the undertaking given to the court by the first defendant, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the third defendant, the Ministry of Defence.
“We are extremely disturbed and saddened that this present Chief of Army Staff and his subordinates could openly involve themselves in land racketeering and usurpation of our inheritance, thereby conducting themselves as if they are above the laws of the land and getting away from being personally indicted in the court of law.”
They charged the AGF to give necessary directives to the 2nd and 3rd defendants to show lawful cause why the said land should not be returned to our Estate immediately and the matter resolved amicably to enable your office to enter into a consent judgement among parties to this suit and avoid further injustice to us as the claimants who are loyal citizens of this country;
That the consent judgment should entitle our Estate to the release /return and possession of the 160 acres unused portion of the 166.6 acres of land that was acquired without payment of compensation by the Government since 1974; That the immediate payment of compensation for the 6.66 acres of land that falls within the fence of the Cantonment including interests that have accrued on delayed payment since acquisition in 1974 and that the present Chief of Army Staff should be called to order to stop embarrassing the Federal Government on this matter.
Vanguard learnt that the Federal Government had in November 1974, compulsorily acquired 166.6 acres of land at Iba in the present Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State, from Late Alhaji Abdul Azeez Ojikutu, for the purpose of building an Army base in Lagos. The acquisition was gazetted in No. 58 Volume 61 of November 28, 1974. It is instructive that Chief Ojikutu died six months after the compulsory acquisition, precisely on May 13, 1975.
Trouble started brewing when the Army utilised only 6.6 acres of the acquired land for the construction of the Ojo Military Cantonment. The outstanding 160 acres, the Ojikutu Family alleged, has been illegally occupied by the army which has also sold a substantial part to private estate developers.
Out of court
Apparently dissatisfied with this development, the Ojikutu Family dragged the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Ministry of Works & Housing and the Ministry of Defence to a Federal High Court in Lagos. Although the suit documented as No: FHC/L/CS/868/2000, has been suspended to pave way for an amicable out of court settlement, the issues are far from being resolved.
Consequently, the Ojikutu Family through one its scions, Chief Abayomi Ojikutu petitioned the former Minister of State, Defence, Mrs Obada to among other things, “effect within seven days the release and the gazetting to our Estate, the 160 acres of the said land which falls outside the fence of Ojo Army Cantonment and the removal of all structures constructed on the same in flagrant disregard of a valid court order and the undertaking given to the court by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Ministry of Defence.
Acting upon the petition, the Minister in a letter of April 24, 2013, with reference number AD/LAD/006/T/136, and signed by the Deputy Director, Compensation and Lands, Ogo G.N. informed the Ojikutu Family that Government has constituted a 13-member inter-ministerial committee to address outstanding issues on the Ojo Military Cantonment land.
Among the committee’s terms of reference were: to verify the allegation by the family that their parcels of land were demarcated and fenced off from the entire cantonment land and used as the Nigerian Army Post Service Housing Scheme and if found true, the consequences of such action; to verify the amount due as compensation to these families on their properties including interest on delayed payment from 1974 when the acquisition was made, till date and to identify the private estates purportedly existing in Ojo Military Cantonment, verify what gave rise to springing up of these estates, persons behind the unwholesome act, verify the monies allegedly collected to perfect the occupation of the trespassers on the Army land and trace such monies.
The Ministry released details of the seven-day inspection which would have commenced on May, 12, 2013. But the inspection was allegedly aborted following a counter petition by the Nigerian Army. Apparently angered by this development, the Ojikutu Family again petitioned the Supervising Minister of Defence, Mr. Labaran Maku on October 4, 2013.
The letter which was signed by Chief Abayomi Ojikutu, entitled “Petition for urgent intervention via amicable settlement and the release to our Estate, the unused 160 acres of land that was fenced off the Ojo Military Cantonment” read in parts: “We write to bring to your attention and for your immediate action, our letter dated August 13, 2013 on the above subject matter addressed to the immediate past Minister of State for Defence.
As this matter has been long outstanding, and in the interest of Justice and fair play, we hereby humbly request the use of your good offices to resolve and release to our Estate, the said land measuring 160 acres without further delay”.
The Family which recalled that it was invited to Abuja for the purpose of an amicable resolution and out of court settlement of the over 13 years old dispute which is still pending at the Federal High Court in Lagos, regretted that up till date, the outcome of the negotiation meetings has not been communicated to them, due to the alleged opposition of the Chief of Army Staff.
The inability of the Supervising Minister to respond to this petition, prompted the Family to seek the Attorney-General’s urgent intervention. But the Nigerian Army which is in the eye of the entire saga, has disclaimed the Family, describing them as busy bodies. In an affidavit deposed to by one Lt. Col R.J Alexander, the Army stated that “no part of the land has been released. But records available in my office show that compensation has been duly paid for the land. It is not true that the unused portion of the land is being sold. No personnel of the Nigeria Army including the Chief of Army Staff has power to sell land belonging to the Army.”
He explained that part of the land in question is being used for its post housing scheme and shooting range and insisted that he didn’t know the plaintiffs. “I only know Ministry of Works,” he said. If actually the Army paid compensation, the question is, “who received the money?” The Federal Ministry of Works & Housing, however, alleged that the Ministry of Defence did not allow it to handle the compensation but acted unilaterally.