By Adejumo Kabir
Land grabbers and thugs routinely attack workers on building sites in Osogbo, Osun State capital
For several days between last December and January, Dare Adeniyi was in hospital after ‘Omo Oniles’ attacked him in Osogbo, Osun State.
Mr Adeniyi, a bricklayer, and his colleagues were constructing a three-bedroom apartment on December 23 when the thugs arrived.
“They asked for money but we replied that another set had come earlier and that the owner of the house was not around. They got angry and started attacking us with cutlass. I spent three weeks in the hospital nursing the injuries they inflicted on me. ”
Since returning to work, Mr Adeniyi said he had had other encounters with the thugs at different sites in the state.
Criminality in Osun
Omo Oniles loosely translates as children of the landowner. They are thugs who invade construction sites to demand baseless levies from property developers. The practice is also common in other southwest states in Nigeria.
Their demands depend on the nature of the property being developed on sites.
Many of the thugs in Osun are said to be “State Boys”, a notorious group allegedly empowered by the preceding administration of Rauf Aregbesola but who were allegedly abandoned by the current governor, Gboyega Oyetola. This medium could not verify any direct link between the Osun governments and the thugs.
The thugs, it was learnt, are involved in many forms of criminalities. They force buyers of land from government or families to pay ‘foundation fee, lintel fee, decking fee, roofing fee, and many more, all without receipts or any evidence of payment.
In many cases, different groups make demands on the same projects and failure to pay often leads to attack on property developers and destruction of properties.
Violence on developers
Speaking with our Correspondent at a construction site at Kobo in Osogbo, Mr Adeniyi narrated how Omo Oniles assaulted a property owner who refused to consent to their demands.
Dare Adeniyi after leaving hospital
“The Omo Oniles attacked the house owner and broke blocks on his head. They came to ask for money and the man told them he did not come to site with money. They just beat him up.
“We usually flee the site whenever they come because one could get killed. They will come with cutlasses and other weapons,” he said.
Another construction worker, Sodiq Olalekan, said constant encounters with Omo Oniles were discouraging him from his job.
“We encounter them in all construction sites. Their request depends on what is being constructed on the site and failure to respond often leads to attacks on workers on the site.
“Many of them claiming to be Omo Onile may not even be from this town. Some are from Lagos, Ibadan and other places and they are terrorising us in Osun. They disturb us from the foundation stage till the end of the construction,” Mr Olalekan told PREMIUM TIMES.
Because of the activities of the thugs, our reporter learnt that many labourers no longer want to go to construction sites.
Kidnap of site engineers
A civil engineer in the state, Anthony Adejuwon, also narrated his experience with the thugs to our reporter.
“They (Omo Onile) injured one of my workers some days to Christmas in 2020,” Mr Adejuwon said.
“He was slapped repeatedly and lost hearing in one of his ears. I also know of a site that has been abandoned since 2016 because thugs requested N300,000 from the owner of the property.”
Mr Adejuwon said the man abandoned the project because he heard they would keep coming to demand the illegal fees till the end of the construction.
“We are always encouraging our clients to pay them, otherwise we would not have anything to do in Osun.
“In 2016, a friend was working on a site owned by a telecommunications company in Abere. The community liaison officer on site and one other were kidnapped. They did not release them until they were paid.
“They carry out this madness even on land bought from the government and bricklayers will say that they cannot work except the Omo Oniles are settled.”
Mr Adejuwon said the police cannot curb the excesses of the thugs and they even facilitate payments to them.
“The boys are operating as ‘State Boys’ and they are so powerful that you cannot put one block on another without them showing up. On my first encounter with them, I was not on the site but my boys called me. I quickly went to the nearest police station, and they followed me with their vehicle.
“Calling the police was a mistake because I eventually paid the Omo Oniles and still dropped something for the police. The police were the ones that negotiated on behalf of the bad guys when we got to the site.”
However, the state’s police spokesperson, Yemisi Opalola, when contacted, told our reporter that property developers who suspect connivance between police officers and Omo Oniles should report to the higher authorities, saying “that’s criminal offence.”
“The Omo Oniles should not be condoned. Anyone who has bought land is entitled to build at any time he or she wants to. If any police officer is doing otherwise by supporting them, they should call me and I will brief the commissioner.
“If this is difficult, they should report to the DPO of that station. We will be glad to know the area where they are disturbing people. Even if they (Omo Oniles) are the owners and they have transferred ownership to those that bought, it is no longer their property,” she argued.
Land grabbing in Ede
In some parts of the state, some Omo Oniles demand more than levies. At Kajola in Ede, Mutiu Adeeyo narrated how a family has been trying to grab his family’s land, despite a court judgment in favour of his family.
“My family has six acres of land at Kajola in Ede and some Omo Oniles who called themselves Agunyanmasesu came to sell two acres of the land. When we questioned them, they claimed they are Omo Oniles and we asked them for documents but they could not produce.
“We dragged them before the District Customary Court of Osun State in Ede, and the court in 2012 gave judgment that the land belongs to us. Despite the judgment, they have refused to vacate the land.
“They sometimes attack us on the land and they are already selling the remaining four acres. The last time they came and I confronted them, I was attacked and injured. When we got to the police, they asked us to go and settle amicably. In fact, they have issued an eviction notice on me that I should leave Ede for them,” Mr Adeeyo said.
PREMIUM TIMES obtained a copy of the certified true copy of the judgment delivered by O. K. Sulaiman on June 7, 2012, declaring Mr Adeeyo’s family as the owners of the disputed land.
The court also awarded N200,000 damages against the Agunyanmasesu and their thugs.
When our Correspondent contacted one of the heads of the Agunyanmasesu, Semiu Abidogun, on the allegations against his family, he refused to speak. He simply told our reporter, “we will discuss this later,” and cut the call. Mr Abidogun did not respond to subsequent calls and text messages.
‘Omo Oniles fear nobody’
For Mr Adeniyi, the “Osun government does not have enough power” to curb the excesses of the thugs.
“We believe that the government cannot curb their excesses. If some of them had been jailed, it might have reduced our trouble. But nobody cares.”
Speaking in the same vein, Mr Olalekan said “the Omo Oniles fear nobody. They even disturb us on lands that belong to top government officials.”
Mr Adejuwon said the government’s romance with the thugs make it difficult to check their criminality.
“They use these guys for elections and that’s why they cannot disown them and take charge,” he said.
When our Correspondent contacted the special adviser to the governor on security matters, Abiodun Ige, she said those who encounter Omo Onles should report them to the authorities.
“If anybody of whatever name disturbs people from doing their lawful business, they should report to the police.”
When informed about the alleged connivance of the police with Omo Oniles, she told our reporter she would take up the matter herself.
“I would take the issue to the commissioner of police myself and we shall take necessary actions on this.”
A lawyer and rights activist, Adesina Ogunlana, said the state needs good political leadership structures to tackle the challenges.
“Everybody has been talking about thuggery and violence by Omo Oniles. They show up even when you’re just offloading cements. It is another sign that Nigeria is more of a jungle. The bad guys have connections even in Abuja. They are connected to politicians, so they live above the law. It is not a case of law. There is need for good political leadership.”
“Your report shows the lawlessness we have in this country. Unless the government stands on its responsibility, there’s nothing anybody can do. There will be more crisis if matters are dragged to court because there are a lot of cases already that our courts are yet to address.
“The government must take responsibility so that it would relieve the judiciary of unnecessary matters. Government should stand on its feet to protect citizens,” he said.
Also, Ademola Owolabi, lawyer and public affairs analyst, said “there are laws already but we need the authorities to enforce the laws. Even criminal law frowns at demanding money with violence.”
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