Residents of Okokomaiko and Lagos State University are engaged in a fierce dispute over accusations of land encroachment
The Lagos State University, LASU, is no longer new to crisis. In recent times, the non-residential university, said to be the first urban university in Nigeria, has been engulfed in a number of crises which led to crippling strikes that paralysed the institution for several months as academic staff, students, non-academic staff and other unions fell out with the university authority. Although relative calm has since returned to the institution following the appointment of John Obafunwa as the new vice chancellor, VC, by Babatunde Fashola, governor of Lagos State, there are fears that the university may soon be heading for another crisis. This time, residents of Okokomaiko in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos, the university’s host community, are up in arms accusing LASU for encroaching on their land.
The visibly angry residents recently raised the alarm that they were aware that Obafunwa was planning to extend the university’s territory into the community, an action that did not go down well with them. Ishola Jatto, head of the community, told the magazine that the VC had vowed to extend the current fence demarcating the university’s land from the community, an indication that the habitants of Okokomaiko would have to vacate part of the land they currently occupy. “Okokomaiko existed before LASU was established. Why is it that the school will now displace us?” he asked, adding, “The VC was quoted as saying that Okokomaiko is a hideout for criminals, which is why we should be sent out of the land. Do the people you see here today look like criminals?”
At a recent press conference to alert the public on the alleged encroachment on their land by LASU, the residents under the aegis of Okokomaiko Layout Residents Association displayed placards with various messages pleading with the state government to prevail on LASU not to encroach on their land. Marcel Amadi, spokesman for the community, said that the community was duly recognised by the state government. He explained that in 1972, the Okokomaiko land was put under global acquisition for public use, but in October 1994, the land was taken back to the original owners and published in the state government’s official gazette No. 38 Vol. 27 of October 1994. Despite this, he said that the LASU authorities have been going about alleging that the residents are the ones encroaching on the university’s land.
While insisting that LASU’s claim is not true, Amadi brandished several documents, including copies of pages of the gazette that restored the area back to the original owners. He said that the documents were backups of the community’s legitimate habitation of the land. The document listed Okokomaiko as No. 62 on the lists of the areas to be cut off from the global acquisition. “The state government recognised the need to provide land for the future generation of natives whose lands were acquired under the 1972 Notice of Acquisition,” the gazette stated.
Amadi and other residents of the community are, therefore, pleading with the governor to intervene in the matter by calling the VC to order. According to them, this would forestall any breakdown of law and order and save the university from another avoidable crisis. The community spokesman told the magazine that the community had earlier held a meeting with the then commissioner of physical planning and urban development in 2004 in which the government directed the university to fence off its land. He, however, said that the fence, which demarcates Okokomaiko from the university, is about to give way as the LASU VC intends to break it down and extend the demarcation.
But as far as LASU authorities are concerned, the claims by residents of Okokomaiko are not justified. Sola Fosudo, public relations officer, LASU, said the residents of Okokomaiko were the ones actually encroaching on LASU’s land. “They are saying exactly the opposite. If you take a walk towards that wall, you will see that the community has pushed it down and started building. So, the question is who is the one encroaching? They are just playing to the gallery by going to the press about this issue,” he said, adding that the VC had alerted the state government about the encroachment on the university’s land.