The Lagos State Chief Magistrates’ Court at Ikeja has sentenced three members of a landowning family to 24 months’ imprisonment “with hard labour” for unlawful invasion into a piece of land already sold by their family to one Mr. Augustine Odunwo.
The convicts, who were jailed on August 18 by a court presided over by Mrs. Davies Abegunde, are Remi Akinsanya, Waidi Ogunlaja and Kamilu Ogunlaja.
The court convicted them of four counts bordering on conspiracy, forcible entry into Odunwo’s four acres of land, malicious damage and breach of public peace.
The police had arraigned them on May 27, 2011 for unlawful incursion into Odunwo’s land at Idotun Community, Ibeju Lekki, Lagos, saying they were liable to be punished under sections 81, 451 and 517 of the Criminal Code Cap17 Vol II Laws of Lagos State 2003.
Though the convicts had then pleaded not guilty to the charges, the court, at the end of the six-year trial, pronounced them guilty and jailed them for 24 months without an option of fine.
The magistrate said she found the testimony of the police investigator, Jimoh Nurudeen, and that of the victim, Odunwo, compelling and truthful as opposed to the testimonies of the defendants, which she said were contradictory and inconsistent.
The magistrate decried the high-handedness of Lagos landowners who were fond of reselling same piece of land to multiple unsuspecting buyers, saying they did not deserve the mercy of the court.
The magistrate, Abegunde, held, “It is very sad that due to the greed of these lazy landowners, a lot of developments that can accrue to their environment and create jobs for the future generation are forfeited. All they are interested in is to sell one piece of land to as many unsuspecting buyers as they can find.
“This despicable act must be condemned by all, including the defence counsel, because anyone can fall prey to the wickedness and unconscionable acts of these types of landowners, as they abound in Lagos State particularly.
“In view of the above, and having debunked all the paraphernalia of technicality put in the path of the court in its quest to see that justice is done, I have no hesitation at arriving at the conclusion that the prosecution has proved the entire charge against the three defendants herein.
“This is particularly so as their cooked-up defence and the totality of their evidence has been discountenanced, disregarded and found to be entirely incredible and therefore unreliable for this court, while the evidence of both prosecution witnesses, I have found to be reliable and truthful. The demeanor of PW5 is satisfactory and I hold and believe that they are a witness of truth.”
Rejecting the plea by the defence counsel, Arit Evbogbai, that the court should temper justice with mercy in imposing punishment, the magistrate added, “The allocutus made by the learned defence counsel has been critically and passionately considered, but my belief is that as elderly persons in the community, they ought not to have engaged in these types of acts.
“Being first offenders, I was mindful too of giving them a lenient sentence but that will be sending a wrong signal to these types of people who have to sell already bought land with evidence of possession to other unsuspecting buyers, a situation that usually causes a breach of peace. It got so bad and very rampant in this state that His Excellency, the Governor of this state had to set up a task force to deal with these incidences that seem to have become a norm, especially here in Lagos State.
“In this regard, therefore, I cannot but impose a custodial sentence… It will be sending a wrong signal to other landowners in the state who are fond of selling same land to several buyers by destroying structures put up on the land by original buyers. This development has not allowed Lagos State to be as developed as it should be because so many investors are afraid of coming to Lagos to invest by building factories or setting up other small-scale industries to generate employment for our upcoming youths.
“Also, an option of fine will not be given a consideration so as not to send a wrong message to potential felons who believe it is their right to sell land then damage structures and resell. Accordingly, each of the defendants is sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment with hard labour on each of the four counts. The sentences are to run concurrently.”