Mrs. Safurat Edunjobi-Ogundare’s voice shook terribly on the phone. The 55-year-old mother of seven sons and one daughter had never imagined the travails she was passing through eight years after the death of her husband, Edunjobi.
She had never envisaged that even though she had a house, for the very first time in many years, she would be living like a homeless person, thrown out onto the streets of Lagos.
“I’ve never imagined I’d be experiencing the situation I’m in right now because of some people who have made themselves lords over ordinary citizens like me,” she said while crying.
Ogundare’s trouble started on March 7, 2018, when she received a letter from L’avocat Legal Practitioners, purportedly the lawyers of the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.).
The letter, a copy of which was shown to our correspondent, stated that the Ogundares should vacate their family’s two-plot property at Ocean Palm Estate, Egan Ogombo Village, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State seven days from the date it was written.
The letter read, “Our client has informed us about encroachment and settlement on his above stated property by squatters and miscreants without his knowledge and consent. Our client also informed us about the untoward activities being perpetrated by the said illegal occupants on his property which has threatened and disturbed his peaceful possession and enjoyment of his property.
“In view of the foregoing, we have our client’s express instructions to any illegal occupant, squatter and/or to whom it may concern to immediately vacate our client’s above stated property within seven days of the receipt and/or pasting of this letter on the property.
“Take notice that in the event that this notice is not complied with within the above stipulated period, immediate actions to secure our client’s undisturbed enjoyment of his property would be taken without further recourse to any person found on the property.”
Ten days after the receipt of the letter, the first child and son of the Ogundares, Isiaka, told Saturday PUNCH that armed Customs men, as well as soldiers, allegedly sent by Ali, invaded their property and chased them away.
Isiaka said it was unbelievable that a property the family inherited from its forefathers — and covered under the Certificate of Occupancy number 73/73/1996 AD issued to the family on June 18, 1996 by the Lagos State government — could suddenly become that of the Customs boss.
He said, “In fact, we had an expanse of land in the area, but most of them have been sold, so what we have left is the property built on two plots of land. We erected a bungalow on the remaining two plots of land in 2006 and we have been living there since that time.
“On March 17, 2018, ten days after we received the letter, some unknown persons came to our property to demolish our fence with the aid of armed Customs officers, some soldiers and one pistol-wielding General Nnoli (retd.). Within few hours, they started building another fence.
“On March 23, 2018, we went to the Ogombo Police Station to report the incident. One middle-aged man who introduced himself as Col. Ali (retd.)’s son-in-law presented one vague receipt, which had on it N100,000 as payment for the land, but as of 2006, the land in question was worth more than N40m.”
Four days later, Isiaka said Ali’s lawyer, Mr. Abdulrahman Adegoke, and some soldiers came again to supervise as their property was being fenced.
“On that same day, General Nnoli (retd.) said we should vacate our family land and not disturb the fence construction going on; we declined and he said if we disturbed the construction again, he would use his pistol and wipe us away. We then calmed down,” he said.
Isiaka said the family then contracted solicitors — Elias Adedokun & Co. and Michelle Solicitors & Advocates — to take the matter to court.
On April 11, 2018, an injunction was granted by the Lagos State High Court, Epe, restraining Ali from forceful takeover of the Ogundares’ property.
The court order, a copy of which was obtained by Saturday PUNCH, stated, “An order of interim injunction is hereby granted to the claimants/applicants, restraining the defendants/respondents, whether by themselves or through their servants, agents, cronies, privies, aids or whatsoever acting or purporting to act on their behalf from trespassing or taking any further steps to interfere with the claimants’ right and interest over the land being and lying at Ocean Palm Estate, Egan Ogombo Village, Eti-Osa Local Government Area, Lagos State, measuring two plots.”
However, despite the injunction, Isiaka said Ali’s men had continued mounting a fence around the family’s property and chased every member of the family away through forceful means.
He said, “All of us have fled the house now because they have been threatening to arrest and kill us despite the court order. They have now taken over our property.
“They said if they saw any member of the Ogundares, they would shoot them. My siblings and mum have all been rendered homeless. I cannot go to my shop, which is located near our house. I’ve been wearing same cloth for days.”
Isiaka’s mother, Safurat, also lamented that the family had been homeless despite having a house, calling on the authorities to come to their aid.
She said, “They have asked me to leave the house my husband built for me. They have built a fence around our house. The officers have been trying to arrest my sons. All of them fled the house. I have also fled the house. They said if they could arrest me, my children would show up. That’s why I’ve also fled. We only sneak in to pick one or two things.
“Nigerians should please come to our aid before they kill me and my children. I don’t have any other shelter and I don’t have any money to build another house. Help me beg Col. Ali to stop using his powers to chase us out of our family’s property. Help me beg him to leave my family’s property.”
The Ogundares’ lawyer, Mr. Elias Adedokun, confirmed the injunction granted, stating that the case was subjudice and had been adjourned to May 5, 2018 for hearing of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.
When also contacted, Ali’ lawyer, Adegoke, declined any comment, saying that the matter was already in court.
The retired army general purportedly working with the Customs boss, Nnoli, snubbed Saturday PUNCH’s request to speak on the issue.
“How did you get my phone number? I can’t talk to you,” he said, as he ended the call abruptly.
All efforts to get Ali’s reaction to the story proved futile as calls put through to his line indicated that his phone was switched off.
A text message eventually sent to him, even though delivered, had also yet to be replied to as of press time.
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