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The Lagos State House of Assembly, western Nigeria, on Wednesday proposed 21 years imprisonment for anyone convicted of land grabbing.
But lawyers have said the law is harsh as they argue that there are more heinous crimes in the country that carry lesser penalties.
The bill stipulates that anyone who sells land to another person knowing that such a land belongs to a third party commits an offence and is liable to 21 years imprisonment upon conviction.
In the bill titled Law to Prohibit Forceful Entry and Occupation of Landed Properties, Violent and Fraudulent Conducts in Relation to Landed Properties in Lagos State, the lawmakers also proposed 10 years for any owner of a landed property who uses violence to seek repossession of his property.
The proposed law, which underwent public hearing on Wednesday stipulates that as from the commencement of the law, a person or group of persons are prohibited from using force to take over any landed property in the state.
“Any person or group of persons who, having used force to take over a landed property in the state…after the commencement of this law, commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a prison term of 21 years,” states Section 2, subsection 1 of the 17-section bill.
The law also stipulates a fine of N300,000 or a prison term of three months for anyone who trespasses into another person’s land and refuses to leave even when the original owner of the land obtains justice.
It also bars the use of thugs, vigilantes or any other such group for the purpose of taking possession of a landed property in order to execute a court judgement.
Section 6 of the proposal obtained by pace tv news states that, “a person who enters a property without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, and has in his possession any offensive weapon with the intention to cause mayhem in respect of the property commits an offence and is liable on conviction to 10 years imprisonment.”
Section 7 (1) also forbids the sale of a piece of land to multiple buyers stressing: “any person who offers for sale, or sells a property knowing that he has no lawful title to the property or that the property has previously been sold by his privies; or who, as agent or attorney and, without lawful authority of the owner sells the property entrusted to him, commits an offence under this law and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding 100 percent of the value of the property or to imprisonment for five years or both.”
Its sub-section 2 forbids anyone from selling any family land or property or any part of it without the consent or the authority of the head of family or other accredited members of the family.
Section 8 of the law also states that it is an offence for any legal practitioner or other professionals, in the conduct of their professional duties, aid violent activities of land grabbers in the state. It stipulates six months imprisonment for such lawyers as well as “further necessary disciplinary actions as may be imposed by the Council of Legal Education.”
Section 9 of the bill forbids anyone from demanding a fee or levy in respect of construction, roofing, repair or restoration of any property or disrupting construction work.
Such a person or group, according to the bill, commits an offence and upon conviction, would be liable to a fine not exceeding N200,000 or two months imprisonment or both.
It vested the power to implement the law, when passed, on a task force under the state governor.
Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary and Public Petitions, Sanai Agunbiade, who co-chairs a joint committee with Bayo Oshinowo of the House Committee on Land and Housing, said the bill stemmed from a lot of petitions received by the House in both its sixth and seventh sessions.
He said the bill is not targeted at any particular person but unscrupulous elements in the state who do everything evil to grab land or act as illegal agents.
He also said the law takes care of lawyers and the police who could want to latch on the law to make money and abet violence.
Speaker Adeyemi Ikuforiji also expressed worry that the fight over land in the state was taking a scary dimension, saying this was why the House came up with the bill.
Professor Imran Oluwole Smith, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, commended the House for initiating the bill while pointing out areas including Section 7 that needed to be reviewed by the House.
A former lawmaker of the House, Babatunde Ogala, suggested that trespassing should not be made a criminal offence, but a civil offence.
He also kicked against punishment of lawyers, saying the legislature does not have the power to legislate on the conduct of professionals whose activities are created by statutes, an argument other lawyers in attendance supported.
He also opposed the setting up of a task force for the purpose of implementing the law when passed. His argument was that when the suspects are charged to court, the case is between them and the commissioner of police.
Under the Magistrate’s Law, he said, the highest length of imprisonment is 14 years. He therefore urged the House to reconsider the terms of imprisonment.
Jide Osokoya, a participant at the public hearing, suggested a mediation panel to look into cases involving land. He also urged for a time line for cases to be redressed.

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