The Muslim praying ground at Obalende, Lagos, which has been encroached upon by the Nigerian Army, is now a subject of controversy as the Lagos Muslim Community has petitioned the state governor as well as the Federal Government (FG).
A Muslim rights advocacy group, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), has also waded into the matter. In a statement made available to journalists on Wednesday, 27th April, 2022, the director of MURIC, Professor Ishaq Akintola, called on the Nigerian Army to vacate the land. He also urged the state governor to issue a certificate of occupancy to the Lagos Muslim Community without delay.
The statement reads :
“A 3.11 acre piece of land belonging to the Lagos Muslim Community is now a subject of controversy. The land which is situated at Obalende is now littered with military hardwares. This encroachment has constituted an impediment because it is the same land on which thousands of Lagos Muslims observe their festival prayers.
“MURIC regards this as an attempt to subtly commandeer the piece of land. It is open strangulation of Allah-given fundamental human right, a threat to freedom of religion as stipulated in Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and an invitation to anarchy.
“The land was originally given to the Lagos Muslim Community by the fourth colonial governor general of Nigeria, Sir Donald Cameroon (1931 – 1935), via an Indenture on 9th August, 1931 ‘to HOLD the same unto, and to the use of the Grantees forever, free from all encumbrances’.
“As a colonial heritage given to Lagos Muslims, it is a dis-service to the historical background of the city of Lagos and an attempt to distort the records for any institution to wrench the property from its original owners. The press statement issued by the Muslim Community of Lagos State on 29th March 2022 has revealed the long struggle to retain ownership of the land.
“It was General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) as military head of state who first showed interest in the land when he requested for a little portion of it to widen a section of Ribadu Road in front of his office and it was graciously granted by the Muslims. This was in the early 1970s. Unfortunately this opened a floodgate of encroachments by the army who littered the grounds with military hardware and construction equipment
“Several efforts have since been made by the Muslim Community of Lagos to get justice from the authorities but all to no avail. Of all the petitions submitted to various authorities, only General Musa Yaradua responded and showed both concern and readiness to yield. To the petition dated 24th March, 1977, Yaradua responded within two weeks on 13th April, 1977 and we quote, inter alia:
‘Following your presentation to me on the 23rd March, 1977 as well as your letter No LCM/CEC/11/77 of 24th March, 1977, due consideration was given to your petition against eviction from the Obalende Praying Grounds.
‘It has been decided that Government will no longer pursue the eviction of the Muslim Community from this property and the matter should therefore be regarded as closed.’
“As quoted above, Yaradua’s reply of 13th April, 1977 to the Muslims’ protest letter, by all interpretations, indicate the readiness of the army to vacate the property. This show of goodwill should have been acted upon by successive regimes but the reverse was the case until the place was again occupied by the army in 2004. The Muslim Community immediately wrote another petition dated 12th April, 2004 and submitted it to the the head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd).
“All efforts by the Lagos Muslim Community to get the governments of Obasanjo, Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari to remove army equipment from the Muslim land have been in vain. Their petitions have been greeted with lethargy.
“We recall that protest letters were also submitted to Jonathan, Osinbajo and Buhari during the 2015 campaigns. Closer home, the certificate of occupancy (C of O) which the Lagos Muslim Community requested from Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu during a courtesy visit on 13th August 2020 has yielded no result.
“This official aparthy to the legitimate demand of the Muslim Community of Lagos depicts, to say the least, insensitivity, impunity and a desertification of a culture of transparency and accountability on the part of successive regimes.
“It is the high level of patience and endurance manifested and frequently pronounced by the leadership of the Muslim Community under Professor Tajudeen Gbadamosi and the Chief Imam of Lagos, His Eminence, Engr. Shaykh Sulaimon Oluwatoyin Abou-Nolla, that has kept provoked Muslim youths under control.
“While MURIC is aware of efforts being made by LASG and the Minister of Works to get the army out of the land, we urge the Lagos State Governor to expedite action on the issuance of the C of O of the property.
“It is our strong belief that Obalende Praying Ground is part of Ikoyi Land Law of Lagos State and since LASG became the owner of all lands situated within the state by virtue of the transfer of Crown Land Act Chapter 45, 1958 on the creation of Lagos State on 27th May, 1967, LASG has the power to exercise authority over the landed property.
“People who endeavor to engage government but who meet a brick wall on each attempt are prone to frustration. Youth among such people are most likely to become uncontrollable. Most importantly, a situation in which thousands of Muslims assemble for their festival prayer but cannot find a suitable place to perform it is most volatile and unpredictable. It is worse when they are aware that the place they had been using before has been commandeered.
“We therefore appeal to LASG to do everything within its power to ensure that Lagos Muslims are not denied the use of Obalende Prayer Ground at any point in time especially as the Salah day of the ongoing Ramadan season of 2022 is fast approaching.”