The Social Plague called Omo Onile

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Fashola

A Bill which seeks to criminalise the activities of Omo Onile in Lagos State is now before the House of Assembly

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Sep. 30, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

THE extortion of innocent property owners by touts and street urchins known as Omo Onile in different parts of Lagos State is a disincentive to development. Omo Onile, who claim to be the sons of the soil and children of original land owners, demand for all sorts of payment at every stage of development of a property. From the foundation stage to the lintel and through the decking stage of a building, the Omo Onile would demand ridiculous amounts of money before work could start, and in most cases, they seize the working tools of any property owner not willing to accede to their demands.

Over the years, they have become very powerful and in many cases have succeeded in grabbing land from original buyers, and therefore selling same to others, leaving tears, blood and sorrow on their trail. Many property owners have even lost their lives as a result of the activities of these hoodlums, who, in some cases, have godfathers, to whom they make returns.

Ikechukwu Ogana, a businessman in Lagos, said he did not bargain for what he experienced in the hands of Omo Onile when he rented a plot of land at Okokomileko for recycling business. He said that he bought the land from the owner without any problem, but trouble started when he brought in the recycling machine and the Omo Onile in the area appeared from nowhere to start making frivolous demands from him as a condition for installing the machine.

Victor Okereke, a resident of Ojo, said the activities of Omo Onile are affecting not just landlords and tenants in the area but also those who are developing their various landed properties in the state. He said it was worrisome that someone who had genuinely bought a land from a land owner would constantly be compelled to pay all sorts of money to some miscreants who call themselves Omo Onile, just to develop the land.

“The Omo Onile issue here in Lagos State is something that government has to address urgently.  Imagine after buying a land for millions of naira and somebody from nowhere just comes and insists that you must pay a certain amount of money for them to allow you commence work on the land. If you want to start the foundation of your house, you must pay them, if you want to fence the property, you must pay them. If you want to roof the house, you must pay them. This is wrong and the Lagos State government appears not to be doing anything about it,” he said.

According to him, the issue of Omo Onile is peculiar to Lagos State only. “I have not seen any other state where it is happening. In other states, once you buy your land, no one compels you to pay any money for anything but here in Lagos, you will pay through your nose. I think this has to stop and nobody can stop it except the Lagos State government through a law. This is necessary because a time may come when those who cannot afford to pay the Omo Onile may begin to take up arms to fight them. The state government is enacting new laws everyday to tackle emerging social and economic issues. Let them also consider making it a law banning the activities of Omo Onile because it is an issue that really requires an urgent attention.”

But their days appear to be numbered as a Bill seeking to criminalise their activities is currently making a headway at the Lagos State House of Assembly. The bill tagged the “State Properties Protection Bill 2013,” seeks to slam a three-year jail term on anyone found guilty, and makes it an offence for any person or group of persons to forcibly enter and occupy any landed property in the state. The Bill provides for the establishment of a special court and stipulates a fine of N300,000 or three years’ imprisonment for any person found guilty. The Bill, when passed into law, seeks to commit anyone found with fire arm, weapon or chemical material or in company or any person so armed to a death sentence.

Sanai Agunbiade, chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Public Petitions, said the bill would check land agents who parade themselves and seize the opportunity to take landed properties forcefully. “The bill will protect potential buyers from Omo Onile before or during construction work. The bill is aimed at criminalising certain actions as a way to restrain, punish or serve as deterrence to some other persons who may forcefully get the land that they know or reasonably have known had been previously sold by their progenitors.

“Essentially, the Bill is trying to discourage forceful entry into property, and trying to encourage that when you have a disagreement on your land, you go to court rather than resort to self-help. Most of the things they do amount to self-help and, therefore, the proposed law is designed to find a way of punishing the masterminds of some of these criminal acts. It is not enough to punish the acts; the masterminds should also be punished. It is a way of introducing decency in Lagos State, and curbing people who now see thuggery as an avenue to make money. The government of Lagos State will no more tolerate them,” he said.

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