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Demolition of Illegal Buildings, the Rich Guy and the Principle of Caveat Emptor…

By Fred Edoreh

When I saw the video of the rich guy whose illegal building in the premises of Dennis Osadebey University, Anwai-Asaba, was marked for demolition, three things struck me.

As a fellow human being, I sympathised with his loss, but I lost that sense of sympathy when I heard the arrogance of wealth in his words as he insulted the school and attempted to blackmail the government.

Hear him: “This is my house. I have put over N100 million on it. I started building it in November and I did not stop. This is not the only one. I have many other properties in this place. Tell me, can the school build this kind of property? Instead of the government to call me… You that are working here, is your house as fine as this? How much are you being paid?”

Maybe, those words came out of desperation, but they conveyed a sense of ignorance, pride and carelessness, perhaps, the reason why he fell into the predicament.

The fact of the matter is that the guy, like many others affected, knowingly or unknowingly, purchased a portion of the land acquired by government and allocated to Dennis Osadebey University.

The acquisition of the expanse of land had been gazetted as allocated to the school, then School of Agriculture, as far back as during the military era when Ibrahim Kefas was Governor of Delta State, and subsequently renewed under the immediate past administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.

It is standard practice for governments to acquire lands for government institutions, schools, military installations, agricultural reserve and so on.

Only recently, Governor Sheriff Oborevwori allocated lands for the Federal University of Medical Sciences, Kwale, the School of Health Technology, Ovrode, and to the Nigerian military for the establishment of some security installations.

The lands may be large in view of projections for future development and, in this case, being first a School of Agriculture, the need for space for demonstration farms and other practical processes must have been factored in. Whether all the expanse of land have been fully put into use or not, over time, cannot be any reason for encroachment by individuals.

Persons who may have built private hostels there are said to have gone into legitimate agreement with the school. Those now affected by the demolition obviously were surreptitiously sold the lands by unscrupulous land grabbers and speculators. These are often without Certificate of Occupancy as should have been signed by the Governor, except forged documents.

The school had been having a hell of a time stopping them from the encroachment but they were either encouraged to proceed by the criminal sellers or they may have banked on compromising the system to force their new ownership or, still, to overturn the ownership of the land through spurious litigations.

The point must be made that no responsible government would condone the spate of encroachments and illegal developments on reserved lands. The Honourable Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Chief Emamusi Obiodeh, had from the inception of the administration sounded a warning to illegal occupiers and developers of government lands to desist and even invited those who feel they have genuine claims to approach his ministry with their documents for verification and authentication.

Even on the Dennis Osadebey University land, the Director General of the State Task Force on Government property, Chief Frank Omare, invited all non-state developers to a meeting at the Government House to give them the opportunity to present and prove their claims, with windows provided for the certification of legitimate occupiers.

Truth is society thrives on order. There are rules, there are laws, there are regulations, and in the acquisition of property, there is always the principle of “Caveat Emptor.”

The principle of “Buyer Beware” means that it is always the responsibility of the buyer to crosscheck with the Ministry of Lands and Survey and its land administration offices on the status of any land or built property it wants to buy, no matter what documents it is presented with by the seller.

This is because you cannot build something on nothing, talk less of building a property on a land that is not legally and legitimately yours but to a school.

The questions that arise are simple: Is the land under government acquisition? Yes. Is the acquisition gazzeted? Yes. Was it sold to the buyer by the government or by the school authority? No. Did the buyer secure any agreement with the school or the government to make any development on the land? No. Who sold the land to the buyer? Criminal land grabbers and dupes. Did the buyer do any due diligence to confirm the status of the land before purchasing? Most probably not. Is the government and the school in their right to reclaim their property from the illegal developers? Clearly yes.

Even if we are to plead ignorance, which however is no excuse before the law, such ignorance could have been earlier cured if our rich guy had simply been mindful to consult a property lawyer to verify the status of the land before acquiring and investing on it. That probably would not have cost up to a million Naira.

If nothing else, the Bible recommends knowledge and information for good living. Who then is to pay for any loss that may be incurred by acting out of ignorance or in carelessness? Why is there property law and property lawyers? These are no-brainers.

Indeed, by our national experience, from the days of Malam Nasir el Rufai as Minister of the FCT, when various buildings not in sync with the Abuja Masterplan were demolished, Nigerians should have been conscious of the imperative of running due diligence on any property they want to acquire.

The process has not been abated even under the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the ministration of Nyesom Wike.

The same demolition exercise, even of fully built up estates, is also going on in Lagos State, especially in the Eti-Osa and Ibeju-Lekki areas, where “Omoniles” are having a good time swindling desperate but ignorant land prospectors. Even persons who later realise that they had mistakenly purchased lands on government acquisition also quickly sell them to other unsuspecting buyers.

But it is all like trading, buying and selling stolen property and, by our criminal code, no matter the ignorance, both buyers and sellers are liable to criminal prosecution. Therefore, the onus is always on buyers to observe the principle of Caveat Emptor.

There are still others who knowingly buy lands on drainage channels or under high tension electricity lines, which is prohibited. This cannot be said to be ignorance but mere folly, not only in falling prey to swinddlers but in willfully orchestrating a hazard to themselves and to the general environment.

The problem, I guess, is that some of us never learn and we never want to learn. We act against the law, then wish that the government does not react, and when the government reacts we seek illegitimate sympathy and equity but without clean hands…

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