Berliet community cries out over illegal demolition by MOJEC International Limited
The residents of Berliet community in the Oshodi-Isolo Local Government Area of Lagos State are living in fear and anxiety, as they face the threat of losing their homes to the bulldozers of MOJEC International Limited, a power distribution company that claims ownership of the land where their houses are built.
The company has allegedly defied a court order that restrains all parties involved in the land dispute from taking any action that would alter the status quo, pending the determination of the case.
The landlords, most of whom are retired civil servants, pensioners, and widows, have appealed to the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the Attorney-General of the state, Mr Pedro Lawal (SAN), to intervene in the matter and stop the company from carrying out what they described as an illegal and inhuman demolition of their properties.
They also urged the relevant authorities to investigate the role of the police and the Lagos State Sanitation Task Force in the demolition exercise, which they alleged was done without due process and in violation of their fundamental human rights.
According to the landlords, they bought their respective parcels of land from the indigenes and original owners of the land, the Isiba of Onitire family, between 30 and 60 years ago, and obtained all the necessary documents, including the Certificate of Ownership from the Lagos State Government, to prove their ownership.
They said they had been living peacefully in the community, until MOJEC International Limited emerged in 1977 and started laying claim to the land, based on an approval it claimed to have obtained from the former Military Administrator of Lagos State, Col Raji Rasaki, in 1991.
The landlords narrated their ordeals in the hands of the company and its agents, who they accused of harassment, intimidation, and violence.
They said the company had repeatedly attempted to take over their land by force, using thugs and security operatives, and had destroyed some of their buildings and foundations in the process.
They said they had resisted the company’s encroachment and had sought legal redress in various courts, where they obtained injunctions to restrain the company from trespassing on their land.
However, they lamented that the company had disregarded the court orders and had continued to pursue its agenda of dispossessing them of their land.
They said the latest incident occurred on February 5, 2024, when the company brought some soil testing equipment to one of the plots of land that had been earlier demolished by the police and the Lagos State Sanitation Task Force, allegedly on the instruction of the company.
They said the company’s action was a clear indication that it was planning to commence construction on the land, despite the fact that the case was still pending in court and the court had ordered all parties to maintain the status quo.
One of the affected landlords, Mrs Tayo Obamonire, who bought her land in 1974 and started building in 1977, said she had suffered untold hardship and trauma from the company’s invasion of her property. She said the company had destroyed her foundation in 1977 and had fined the then Chairman of the company for the damage.
She said the company had also accused her of murder in 1978, when some thugs hired by the company attacked her builders and bundled them into the boot of a car. She said she was exonerated by the police, who advised her to settle the matter amicably.
She said the company had also demolished her building in 2017, along with other buildings in the community, using armed policemen who assaulted and arrested many landlords who tried to challenge their action. She said she had gone to court to seek justice and had obtained an order to restrain the company from further interference with her land.
She said she was shocked to see the company bringing soil testing equipment to her land, in defiance of the court order.
She said the company was acting as if it was above the law and asked the government to intervene and save her from losing her life’s investment.
Another landlord, Mr Ita Elijah, who still had scars of the injury he sustained in 2017, when the police came to demolish some buildings, said he was treated like a common criminal and thrown into the Black Maria, simply because he asked the company to show proof of ownership of the land.
He said he had bought his land in 1984 from the Isiba of Onitire family and had built his house with his hard-earned money. He said he had all the documents to show that he was the rightful owner of the land and that the company had no right to claim the land or demolish his house.
He said he had also gone to court to protect his property and had obtained an injunction to stop the company from trespassing on his land. He said he was dismayed to see the company bringing soil testing equipment to his land, in contempt of the court order.
He said the company was trying to provoke a crisis in the community and asked the government to intervene and stop the company from causing a breach of peace.
Other landlords in the community also expressed their grievances and frustrations over the company’s actions and called on the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the Attorney-General of the state, Mr Pedro Lawal (SAN), to intervene and call the company to order.
They said they had no other place to go and that they would not allow the company to take over their land by force.
They said they were ready to defend their land and their rights with their lives, if the government failed to intervene.
However, in a swift reaction, MOJEC International Limited denied any involvement in the soil testing exercise on the disputed land. The company’s Secretary and Head of Legal Services, Mrs Christabel Iremhinmhen, who spoke with some journalists at her office on the Oshodi-Apapa expressway, Lagos, said the company was not aware of the soil test and that it was not carried out by the company or its agents.
She said the company had respect for the rule of law and that it was not in contempt of any court order.
She said the company had a valid title to the land, which it obtained from the former Military Administrator of Lagos State, Col Raji Rasaki, in 1991, and that it had been in possession of the land since then.
She said the company had been challenged by some individuals who claimed to have bought the land from the Isiba of Onitire family, but that the company had defended its title in various courts and had obtained judgments in its favour.
She said the case was still pending in court and that the court had adjourned the matter to March 18, 2024.
She said the company was waiting for the final determination of the case and that it had no intention of taking any action that would jeopardize the peace and security of the community.
She urged the public to disregard the allegations of the landlords and to wait for the outcome of the court case.