The Deeper Christian Life Ministry is battling some land grabbers who have allegedly laid siege to the church’s landed property along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in Ogun State.
PUNCH Metro learnt that the land, which is part of the Deeper Life Conference Centre and covered about 44 hectres of space, was acquired more than two decades ago by the ministry from four families.
Our correspondent learnt that to stamp its ownership on the property, the church paid N750m to the Ogun State Government for documentation.
However, some people, who claimed to be children of the owners were said to have asked Deeper Life to repurchase every plot for N8m because they did not benefit from the money paid to their deceased parents.
It was also learnt that the land grabbers, who recently demolished a fence constructed by the church, were also demanding N150m as settlements for “bush entry and clearing”.
The head of the church’s building committee, Pastor Alfred Ogene, on Saturday conducted PUNCH Metro round the 1,500 metres fence demolished by the grabbers.
He said the fence was worth N25m, adding that it was the price the church had to pay for its belief in peace.
He said the church decided to brief the media to let the public know the true state of things in the area.
He said, “This land was bought by the Deeper Life Bible Church many years ago. After paying millions of naira to the owners, they issued us their families’ receipts, which we used to get the Certificate of Occupancy from the last administration in Ogun State. We paid N750m for the papers.
“But some people, who claimed to be children of the owners, pulled down our fence in 2009, which was worth N10m. We decided to rebuild the fence and demarcate what we had left after they had resold a large portion of the land. But they came back and demolished that one too.
“The challenge we have is that some of the men who sold this land to us are already late, and their children are saying at the time the land was bought from their fathers, they were still toddlers, and they must also eat from the cake.”
He explained that the church decided to have a peace meeting with the men at the palace of the Olu of Igbehin, Oba Festus Makinde, the paramount traditional ruler in the neighbourhood.
However, the meeting was said to have been deadlocked on January 15, 2015 when the men came up with some demands, which the church considered extortionate.
The church’s lawyer, Nojeem Tairu, said the men demanded that the land be repurchased.
He said, “They made series of demands at the Oba’s palace. They said they want the church to cede to them some spaces for the village extension project.
“They asked the Deeper Life to pay them various sums totaling about N150m as owo iwoko (bush clearing fee), owo ilagbe (entry fee), owo foundation (money for foundation).
“Then they said the church should repurchase at N8m per plot and that was the breaking point.
“Notwithstanding the illegality and immorality of their demands, the church in its pursuit of peace and holiness which are its hallmark, made some concessions and paid N10m as part of the peace payment.
“Still, they invaded the land with armed militias who started shooting sporadically to scare people. They began selling the church land to people. They know they don’t have a name or reputation to protect, and that’s why they are spreading misinformation that the church is trying to take over the community.”
He said the church had already obtained two injunctions from courts and the police had been involved in the matter.
Another lawyer of the church, Ark-stewart Itua, said the church had approached the police in Lagos and Ogun states, but despite their intervention, the hoodlums had not ceased to wreak havoc.
A petition addressed to the Inspector General of Police dated March 25, 2015, a copy of which was obtained by our correspondent, said the hoodlums were led by one Prince Muraino Banjoko of Threeco Construction Company Limited.
The petition said, “The said Prince Banjoko is a notorious local warlord, ruthless gangster leader and incorrigible land hustler.
“However, the church soon realised that the new generation of the vendor families and land hustlers were not representing anybody other than their dubious and selfish selves, more so as other members of their families honourably dissociated themselves from their unlawful activities against the church.”
The church claimed in the petition that it was surprised that the police, who were invited by the church, later turned around and started arresting some innocent members, who were detained and made to undergo “excruciating and humiliating interrogation by the police” at the Anti-Robbery Squad, Adeniji Adele, Lagos.
The police were alleged to have forcefully obtained undertaking from the members that the church would never return to the land.
The petition said the land grabbers took advantage of the compromised police position and the stike by the judiciary workers between January and February 2015 to embark on massive sale of the church’s land.
It added that on March 20, the land grabbers, led by Banjoko and “a multitude of private militiamen and hoodlums who were armed with all manners of lethal weapons and demolition tools, destroyed and pulled down the church’s fence”.
When contacted, Banjoko’s manager, Tayo Awodeji, told PUNCH Metro that the church goofed by claiming that it owned the land.
Awodeji said he was just returning from the Ibafo Police Station, where “one of our men was taken to after being shot by people working for the church”.
He said, “They are the ones using hoodlums to foment trouble. All their claims are lies. The issue about the land started in 2008 when they approached the community and expressed interest in some acres of land.
“The family asked them to pay some money for owo iwoko (bush clearing fee) according to Yoruba customs, which they did. And since that time, they did not return to pay for the land. They just returned and started writing petitions and using the police to harass us.
“They brought soldiers, vigilantes and naval officers to the land. They signed an undertaking not to construct anything on the land, and yet, they went ahead and constructed a fence, which was demolished. I don’t know those that demolished their fence and we were not part of any criminal activity on the land.”
The spokesman of the Ogun State police, Muyiwa Adejobi, said, “The allegation is that the land speculators are working with Deeper Life, which we have not ascertained. But investigations are ongoing.”