Isaac Anumihe, Abuja
Land in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), especially in the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), is not only the choicest assets in the country, it is the costliest and most contested by the most powerful and most influential members of society.
While it is highly contestable, it is equally fraught with swindlers and scammers who scamper restlessly in search of who to defraud.
Oftentimes, residents fall prey to these illegal activities and they are fleeced of their money. Although, the tricksters do not rob with dangerous weapons, most victims have died because of their activities. In view of the preponderance of land scammers in FCT, as property lawyers are feeding fat from the numerous cases in court.
According to a property lawyer and the National Co-ordinator of Peoples Rights and Justice—a human rights organisation, Mr Victor Giwa, before any buyer embarks on any land business, the first thing is to get experts. The first expert, he said, is a good lawyer, a property lawyer; the second expert is a surveyor and the third step is to take the document to the relevant agency that issued the document.
“You need to be careful. You need to be very careful. If anybody wants to buy land or any property in Abuja, the first thing is to get experts. The first expert you need is a good lawyer, a property lawyer. Not any lawyer. Some people run into problem because of what was involved in their property transaction. You should ask the lawyer if he has experience in property land transaction—-land business. You must also get some other experts like the land surveyor. But if you get a lawyer he will help you to put all these together. Then you ask for the title. The lawyer will conduct what we call ‘search’ with the necessary agency. The lawyer will tell you the way and manner you should go into the purchase of the sales of the property. It is very key that you involve an experienced and professional lawyer when you are going to enter into any land or property transaction” he said, citing cases of deaths as a result of land scammers.
“So, we have seen a lot of issues. I have seen a lot of families frustrated because of land transaction. He (victim) went to buy an AMAC land, sold to it to a person. When the person went to AMAC he discovered that the title he had was fake. As I speak to you now the family is scattered. These are the effects of fraudulent transactions as regards property. That is why we have concentrated so much on property. So, in a nutshell we have had more than 18 cases of fraudulent transactions” he disclosed.
Giwa told the story of a retiree who invested all his money in a property but discovered later that the property belonged to a catholic church. He collapsed, he said, and died before his case could commence in the court.
“A man retired some years ago. He was paid his pension allowance and all of that. He saw a good property at Garki and bought it not knowing that it belonged to a catholic church. The man was disappointed because of lack of due diligence on the land before he bought” he said.
Disclosing why he went into the business of helping those that have been defrauded of their land, he said: “Our organisation (a Non-Governmental rganisation) started with property issues because everybody who lives in Abuja is either a landlord or a tenant. And everybody lives on a property. So, it is very important that you know, especially, property in Abuja, what exactly is going on and how you are going to react on your property. So, we discovered that we are getting a lot of complaints from two major areas. One, on property and two, on transactions. So, 70 per cent of the complaints we are getting even from the courts, are from property. So, we felt that there was a need for us to concentrate on issues of property. And we also discovered that a lot of the residents of FCT are victims of frauds regarding property. Either fraud in the sense that you are buying the property or you are buying a fraudulent title or you are being defrauded as the seller. So, we started now as an NGO to concentrate on fraud in property in FCT. So, about 90 per cent of the cases so far that have been reported to the Commissioner of Police. We work with Commissioner of Police. We work with Department of State Security (DSS) and almost all the security organizations” he submitted.
A victim of land scammers, Mr Adenrenle Olubusi who bought a parcel of land from AMAC at Guzape in Abuja, said that early this year when he went to inspect the land with a view to developing it, he discovered that another man was already clearing his land. When he went to AMAC, he was told that it was a case of double allocation, which means, one of the owners should be reallocated. But the two owners did not want to give up to the another.
“When I bought my land in 2013, I conducted every due diligence and discovered it was real. But early this year when I went to develop it I saw some people clearing it. So, I contacted my lawyer who put a ‘caveat emptor’ notice on the land and invited the supposed owner for explanation” he said.
A man, Mr Okofor Afonjo whose land is also at Lokogoma lamented that after buying his land he went for study leave abroad. When he came back, he discovered that a gigantic mansion has been erected on his land.
“I bought three plots of land at Lokogoma in 2010. The title of the document was certified real by the appropriate authorities before I proceeded on leave. But after my study leave I discovered that a man is now operating a school on the land” the matter is now in court” he said.