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A Law Most Welcome | TheNation


•With the menace of land-grabbers and allied criminals, the Lagos State Properties Protection Law could not have come at a better time

The relief was palpable, at the gubernatorial assent on August 15, of the Lagos State Properties Protection Law, formally criminalising the menace of land-grabbers and allied muggers, notoriously called the omo-onile.

For, with clubs and cudgels, invading a site being developed, and demanding illicit payments, these miscreants, who have for too long constituted a menace to lawful and legitimate developers, risk a gaol term of 21 years, if convicted.

“The Properties Law will eliminate the activities of persons or corporate entities, who use force and intimidation to dispossess or prevent any person or entity from acquiring legitimate interest and possession of property,” Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said at the signing session, and “ensure that the Special Task Force on Land-Grabbers work with all security agencies to ensure enforcement …”

That was well said, particularly the bit on enforcement. Indeed, the problem in this country is not lack of laws but the lack of will to enforce them. That is why it is even more heart-warming, that as the law was being signed, concrete provisions, in terms of a special task force, had been made for its effective enforcement.

It is even more laudable that the implementation is anticipating multi-agency collaboration and coordination, in the war against these unscrupulous citizens, personal or corporate, who have made land-grabbing their notorious business.

Indeed, for too long, not a few have commercialised impunity; and hugely profited from this crime, many a time sending innocent and law-abiding citizens to early graves. Many a time, however, such brazen crimes are not without the collusion of compromised members of the security forces, many of who are an integral part of the racket; and therefore periodically look upon such breaches as growth areas of their personal economies.

This new law, if it must be effective from the enforcers’ segment, must therefore come with an accompanying campaign to wean these collaborators, with land criminals, from their sweet poison. It should also come with the dire consequences, should they fail to change.

With less collusion from the enforcers’ camp, the law would be easier to implement. Its successful implementation holds prospects in many fronts: cheaper and less chaotic increase in Nigeria’s housing stock, particularly in Lagos, where housing shortage is acute; and general better access to land for economic and industrial uses, without cost of production tearing through the roof.

Still, a parallel campaign to educate the general public on the benefits and perils of the new law is in order. The general public should be the target of the benefits, with the caveat that everyone should imbibe lawful and transparent land transactions, to earn maximum protection under the law. A part of this message should also reach idle and unemployed youth, often ready recruits for violent attacks on lawful developers. That way, the hopelessness of such criminality might just sink in.

But the peril of the new law should be beamed on putative land-grabbing barons and their pawns. The message should be very clear: the law would have absolutely no mercy on violators.

This legal framework of criminalising land-grabbing is highly welcome. But the work is incomplete without its vigorous enforcement.

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