Although, Akinwumi Ambode, Governor of Lagos State, has banned the activities of “Omo Onile” but their operations are yet to be abated. Apart from constituting a nuisance to artisans on site, contractors as well as individual property owners have no options than to obey their commands – By Ranti Adedeji
A client almost “embarrassed” himself recently; when he tried to “play on the intelligence” of a clique of Omo Onile. Although, he grew-up at home here, but his stay in the States had erased his memory of anything like Omo Onile. So, when he started a “small house” with “Obama-is- waiting-for-me” approach to the project, he never wants anything to cause a delay.
We had all resumed on site that fateful morning with the hope of starting the foundation, but there was a surprise in the offing unknown to us. Our first set of visitors were three people on a motorbike. Just before they disembark, another motorbike soon joined them with three other passengers and all walked as a team, making our direction their destination.
Although, I immediately recognized them, I pretended not to see them but was prepared for their usual question. So, when one of them said, “E kaaro o, lati odo taani e tiwa o?” (good morning, who sent you here?) I quickly responded that we are from “So…So…So Family.” “Okay, we are representatives of the family and we have come to check your receipts for owo iwoko; owo ilagbe; owo foundation; owo odo ati owo agreement,” the gentleman had explained. My client had requested to know their mission and I took time to explain that they have come to collect “bush entry fee, bush clearing fee, foundationdigging fee, community youths’ fees and money for Deed of Assignment, respectively.”
Out of indignation, he exclaimed, “Gaddem…what is the meaning of this bullshit?” Rather than flare-up like him, because I do not want to annoy our visitors, I moved closer to calm him down. “You see, these are friends. Their fore-fathers inherited this piece of land from their great-grand fathers, which confers on them and their generations yet unborn, rightful ownership of the land. In fact, they are called “Omo Onile” which means, children, children of children, children of children of children of children, grand children and great grand children of the inherent owner of the land, which is traceable to Adam.”
My client became more worried and asked if there is nobody in the community who can confirm their mission. Then, I made a phone call to the head of the family who normally sign the family receipt and he quickly responded: “Ore wa, woo, oun a nta ni a nje” (what we are only eating from what we are selling), adding that, “since we are not in public offices where we can embezzle money, this is the only way we can fend for ourselves and we want you to cooperate with them.”
Still not satisfied with this explanation by our first contact in the community, my client was of the opinion that we immediately report the situation to the community leader, which I have known for more than ten years now. His response was more abysmal than what we got first, confirming that “they are actually our representatives and effectively representing the interest of our community.” He added that, “since you will also come to live with us in the nearest future, we implore you to cooperate with them. What they are collecting is actually meant for community development and we are counting on people like you to help develop this community for the sake of common interest.”
The community leader also said, “some of our youths, who had barely passed the age of puberty need to start family life early enough, while those who are not too old need to marry more wives. A good number of community members also look forward to changing their vehicles before the next festival; and all the money come from this source. You see why your cooperation is important?”
This explanation did not satisfy my client, who threatened to take a legal action and asked me to report the case to a lawyer for quick action. My lawyer-friend thought there was an emergency, with the pitch of my voice, but was very calm in his reply when I relayed our encounter to him. The lawyer said, “you will have to negotiate with them since you will need the Deed of Assignment as a prerequisite to perfect your property title. I will advise you to negotiate with them to see how they can reduce what they are demanding from you.”
He continued: “Once you have also confirmed that they are true representatives of the family that has the rightful ownership of that land, your cooperation with them will fast-track the completion of your project,” quickly adding that “the State government will soon pass a bill called the State Properties Protection Bill 2013 which will protect property owners from paying extra cost to Omo Onile in the future.” According to him, “anybody flouting the law would be fined N200,000 but he can opt for two years in jail; and you will soon see our prisons filled to the brim will illegal Omo Onile collecting unauthorized money from innocent property owners; meanwhile, let us cooperate with them and wait for the bill.”
Okay, you have to report this case to the police in order to effect the immediate arrest of these people. I then called the DPO in that area. He replied that the police have to investigate the report first, if the people are actually from the community they claimed to have come from. “Otherwise, we would make a speedy arrest and charge them for trespassing, but since you have confirmed that they are from that community, you have to cooperate with them; and please do not forget to send our own “recharge card.”
When it was glaring that we cannot escape from the pangs of the Omo Onile, we brought our plans for the day to an abrupt end and promised to see them the following day. When we brought the money, one of them delved into prayers, which lasted for about four minutes but mentioned “Owo” nine times. To our surprise, but to the admiration of others around, one of them sauntered forward and said, “E san owo adura” (bring money for the prayers.) We looked at ourselves in astonishment but quickly dipped hands into our pockets and put money into the hands of the man who had just prayed.
My client looked at me uncomfortably and asked if there is nothing the government can do to stop this extra costs and unnecessary delay on project sites. I found no immediate answer. When I eventually recollected myself, I told him it is possible to stop the delays only by “cooperating and negotiating with them,” so that they will not come to foment trouble on site, because, like the police, they are our friends, indeed