The tussle over land in Kwara State and its lessons


With Hassan A. Saliu PhD, f NPSA,

Any keen observer would have noticed the reasons given for the revocation and demolition by the state government as well as counter submissions made by Dr. Bukola Saraki and his two sisters who have reacted to the two developments. As for the state government, its central argument is that the land in question was not properly allocated as the process of acquiring the land though initiated was never concluded. Therefore, as far as it is concerned, the Asa Investment Company had no proper claim over the land. Its final decision on the land was predicated on the report of a committee it set up to look into assets of the state government that were in possession of groups and individuals that has identified the disputed land as one of the assets of the government that were intended for public good but were later converted to other uses. It was therefore, incumbent on the government to take it back in giving practical expression to its avowed stand against impunity.
The state House of Assembly has equally  intervened to raise the issues of ample time and opportunities given to the owners of Asa Investment Company to come forward through advertorials and public hearing conducted to give the air of fair-hearing to the people who are connected with the land in dispute and other lands suspected to have been acquired illegally to come forward with evidences confirming ownership of the plots but no one showed up in identifying with the plots of land on Iloffa road that are in contention. Thus, after going through the process, the House had no qualms in passing its resolution on the revocation of the plots of land and later, the demolition of a structure on a part of the land.
The perspective of the state government and its sympathizers has been countered by Dr. Bukola Saraki, who, in his lengthy reactions to the policy of government, raised a number of wider issues including the suspected rivalry between his own father and the governor’s father. He also penned the dimension of the governor trying to erase the legacies of his father and himself, being a former governor of the state. Dr. Saraki, in the process, hinted that the process of allocating the land in 2005 when he was the governor of the state, was proper and in line with the law.
Gbemi Saraki has equally hinted about the legacy of her father in her own reactions to the controversy but the substance of her own concern was the fact that given her membership of the ruling party in the state and a minister representing Kwara State at the federal level, she ought to have been consulted before the demolition. Indeed, she alluded to the contributions she made to the victory of APC in the state against her brother who was/is still the leader of the PDP based on her perception of the then PDP’s government in the state as a failure.
Another member of Saraki’s family, Oyinkansola Saraki, equally had problems in stomaching the decision of the state government on the land in question. For her, revocation was not an option, given the fact that the land was allocated and it was being put into some use in catering for aged people called ile arugbo even if the process did not meet the requirements of the law. At best, the governor should have asked the family to pay the outstanding bill in order to make the allocation to acquire the expected legality.
There are other sympathizers who have also condemned the actions of the governor on the grounds that the land in question was being used to provide social services for the aged, more so as the owner of the land is no more. There were protests staged by the aged women who, on two previous occasions, had kept a vigil on the land to avoid demolition until the structure on the land was pulled down at a time when some people were doing crossover to the new year as argued by one of the commentators.
On the side of the government, Alhaji Suleiman Ajadi who chaired the committee on recovery of government’s assets has come out stoutly in defence of the demolition carried out by the state government by arguing that what was pulled down was not a proper building but a shed that was being used for political gathering on a land that was designated for a secretariat building and extension of the Civil Service Clinic.
There is a counter argument that the state government should not have turned itself into a court of law. There was nothing that would have been lost if due diligence had been allowed to get a valid court order before the demolition was carried out. The hands of the government would have been more strengthened on the matter if a legal pronouncement had been obtained before embarking on the actions. Some others have therefore, read political vendetta into the whole issue. If these were not to be the case, why did government not write a letter to the company to react to its findings before demolishing the structure?
To these people, the argument that the company has no fixed address is not tenable. There is a federal agency saddled with the responsibility of keeping records of all legally registered companies in the country. Why not contacting the agency first and later share the findings with the public as disclosed by the agency to make the government’s case more robust and unassailable? Definitely, there was a political motive behind the actions of the government, some cheerleaders in Saraki’s camp have concluded.
Convinced about the political persecution argument, opponents of the demolition policy have opined that given the profile of the people that are connected with Asa Investment Company and the need not to heat up the polity, other options such as asking them to pay the allocation fees, if need be, with interest, should have been explored. Also, offering of an alternative site should have been considered if truly the government was interested in public good as it has claimed. What is the rationale in revoking a land in order to build a new secretariat when there is a brand new one that is yet to be commissioned? How many new secretariats are needed in the state? They have asked.
Granted that the proper things may not have been done in acquiring the controversial land, but the purpose which the land was being put into should have been considered. The opponents of the policy have contended that consultations should have been done so as not to send wrong signals to the aged who were the beneficiaries of the site and its welfare scheme. Failure to do that has no doubt ruptured social relations in Ilorin community and the state at large that are avoidable.
Not all matters that are legally compelling may be politically expedient as observed by some commentators. Even the legal minds also appreciate that there is politics of law and the issue of morality serving as a foundation for body of laws. Informed by the texture of politics of bitterness that characterized the last electoral contest in the state, there is no way any action of the new government would not be viewed in the context of the change in political baton even if the two are of the right wing. Ultimately, dialogue will be used in resolving the matter. Why shunning it in the first instance? It has been quizzed by some analysts.
From the foregoing, some issues deserve to be interrogated. One of these is; why was the land not properly allocated if one believes the information that has been pushed out by the government? My view is that our politicians should always learn to act in line with the law. This also goes for the government; why would a structure be pulled down in the night? In a democracy where sovereignty belongs to the people, everything should be done to accord respect to the people and their rights until found guilty of advertised offences by competent courts.
Although some keen observers were disappointed with the pieces of information being dished out in support of the revocation, the question is; why is it that nobody came out to identify with the company between August and January before the deed was done? In a democracy, all are equal before the law and when there is an opportunity to air one’s view, no one should hesitate in doing so. Perhaps, if the people concerned had come out to treat the process connected with it with the respect it deserved, the state would not have been in the eyes of the storm that is currently in.
Unknown to our politicians, the message being communicated by the unwarranted crisis is that of instability which is scary to investors either local or foreign. Furthermore, given the media frenzy associated with it, Kwara State may be the ultimate loser at the end of the day. Undoubtedly, democracy is all about law and service delivery; anybody who wants to play it must know the import of the law especially due process of the law and why it serves as the nerve centre of democratic practice.
On balance, all is still well in Kwara State and one hopes all will continue to be well with the state. The dispute over the land revocation is already in court. All should therefore, refrain from anything that can jeopardize the peace of the state. The court should be allowed to do its work, while our politicians learn their lessons from the controversy.
All said, one may want to ask: Is the place of dialogue foreclosed on the matter? I do not think so. All efforts at finding an amicable solution to the problem, including the private efforts of President Buhari must be given a chance to succeed. After all, the judicial process is not totally averse to peaceful resolution of conflicts as already affirmed by the High Court judge who is handling the matter in Ilorin. I vote for the communal approach in resolving the matter as all the main parties involved are from Ilorin Emirate and in the overall interest of Ilorin community and the state at large, all must sheath their sword and give peace a chance.
Saliu, is of the Dept of Political Science, University of Ilorin, Ilorin.

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