In Sept. 2020, when the list of 37 estates to be demolished in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for encroachment was released to the public by the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council, it did not come as a surprise.
The multi-million Naira estates, some completed and occupied and some at various stages of development were said to have been illegally built on the expansive land earmarked by the Federal Government for the construction of Centenary Village in view of Nigeria’s celebrations of 100 years of existence.
The pervasive menace of interloper developers, farmers and herders, land grabbers, hoodlums and destitute encroaching on developed or non-developed property of government, as the case may be, has assumed a worrisome development.
The encroachment cited in the FCT is an isolated case of this pervasive impudence and criminality which cut across every unit of governance that make up the country – Local Government Council, States and the Federal Government.
As revealed in a national survey conducted by our correspondent, landed properties, uncompleted and completed but abandoned, structures of government institutions and establishments are the targets of this set of interlopers.
Primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, health institutions, markets, bridges and other critical infrastructure of government including airports, railway terminals and tracks as well as pipelines are not left out of the encroachment and illegal occupation.
Speaking on this development, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Sulyman Abdulkareem, lamented the destruction of the university’s multi-million Naira Research and Training Farms as well as sundry economic tree plantations by cattle illegally grazing on the vast land of the institution.
The vice-chancellor said that some illegal settlers had even started building permanent structures on the university land.
“We have a multi-million naira programme that is currently at stake now because they (herders) have gone to the extent of uprooting tubers of cassava for their cattle to feed on.
“We cannot conduct any research or training on the farm again because each time we get to a point when their cattle can feed on it, they go back there and destroy it,” he said.
According to him, the university authority about a year ago issued a quit notice to the illegal settlers, but they had been recalcitrant.
Abudlkareem said that the university was compelled to drag 27 persons to court on May 11, 2017, for trespassing on its land and destroying part of its plantation and other infractions.
In Ogun state, Mr Richard Faniran, the Head of Administration and Secretary to the Board of the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, stated that the hospital had in times past experienced cases of encroachment on the facility.
Faniran explained that intruders had entered through some parts of the hospital fence to gain entrance into the compound to either fall trees or steal some supplies.
“Before the hospital was fenced, we had issues of burglary from outsiders who either wanted to cut down some of our trees or steal some valuables from the hospital.
“That situation has since stopped, because we have done perimeter fencing and people cannot just come inside and encroach or steal,” he said.
Mr Sola Adams, the Chairman, Ogun Assembly Committee on Youth, Sports and Employment Generation has also lamented the deplorable condition of the Mudasiru Lawal Stadium at Asero in Abeokuta.
He, however, attributed it to abandonment by successive administrations in the state, which he noted had led to the encroachment of many parts of the facility by intruders.
Adams said that the Assembly had written to the state Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun to declare a state of emergency on the stadium and renovate the broken fence and other damaged structure to stop encroachment on the facility.
In Osun, the story is not different as the state government had to evict people who encroached and are farming on its forest reserves after they were warned and notified to vacate.
“Farmers, who encroached on government forest reserves at Shasha and Ile-Ife had been evicted,’’ Mr Sola Oladepo, the Osun Commissioner for Environment and Sanitation said.
Oladepo said the state government had constituted a task force to enforce government eviction order and monitor compliance in the forest reserves and infrastructures across the state
According to him, the boundary guards recruited by the state government are in the forest reserves to monitor illegal activities and report to the government.
The commissioner, who noted that the government would not tolerate people encroaching on its property, said that the state’s task force was always on the lookout to ensure government property was not tampered with.
The immediate past Chairman, Ife East Local Government Area of Osun, Mr Olusegun Adeyeni said the government was taking inventory of all its property that had been encroached upon by illegal occupants.
Adeyeni said no matter how long the illegal occupants stay on the property, the government would definitely recover its land at the appropriate time.
“It is obvious that people are encroaching on both state and Federal Government infrastructure.
“For instance, all the government lands at the back of Ife East Local Government have been encroached upon.
In Ekiti, the State Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Lands and Related Matters has ordered 24 families who allegedly encroached on the expansive land of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Ado Ekiti, to vacate the place before their properties, which it described as illegal, are demolished.
Chairman of the Commission, Justice Adekunle Adeleye, gave the order during one of its sittings, and asked the families to vacate the encroached areas, particularly EKSU land.
He said the commission discovered that some members of the public bought plots of government lands behind a section known as Model Estate in Ado Ekiti, the state capital, without proper documentation with the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development.
Also in Akure, the Federal College of Agriculture has recorded several cases of encroachment on its land by individuals and communities, a top official of the institution said.
The official, who spoke under condition of anonymity said that currently, the institution was in court with Ugele Community over ownership of certain part of the school’s land.
“The major problem with most government landed properties is that communities around them are expanding, and they want more lands.
When they see unutilised land around them, there is every tendency for them to encroach,’’ he said.
However, many Nigerians blame the Federal, States and Local governments for encroachment on their properties and other infrastructures.
According to them, they have abandoned these infrastructures which has made people to encroach on them.
They said even when some of the properties or infrastructure were being put into use, they are still being encroached upon because they lack perimeter fencing.
An Ilorin based lawyer, Mr Abdulmajeed Ahmed said that regular security checks and proper maintenance of government-owned infrastructures would help prevent cases of encroachment.
He said that quite a number of government-owned infrastructure were abandoned for long without proper maintenance.
“Most government infrastructures become dilapidated as they suffer abandonment and lack of maintenance giving room for any member of the public to carry out nefarious activities there.
“You have seen situations where school buildings become a meeting point for cults and criminal gangs without being challenged.
“Also, many individuals have encroached on government lands after long abandonment. They just allocate small pieces of land to themselves and erect buildings on it or begin farming on it.
“Government at all levels must wake up to reality and set up a security team to go around for proper monitoring and assessment,” he said.
An official of the Federal College of Agriculture who spoke under condition of anonymity urged all tiers of government to provide funds for perimeter fencing of its properties.
He also stressed the need for establishments to put unused part of the lands allotted to them to good use as this would go a long way in ensuring that people do not encroach on the lands.