Opinion :Contextualizing the Land Dispute: Imeko's Claims and the Historical and Legal Reality

 By Abel Adekunle Babatunde

The current conflict between Imeko town and Iwoye-Ketu over land ownership and traditional authority brings into sharp focus the complexities of land rights and governance in both precolonial and contemporary Nigeria. Imeko town, leveraging its status as the administrative headquarters of the local government, claims authority over lands, including those of Iwoye-Ketu, under the pretext of historical and traditional ties. However, these claims do not hold up under scrutiny, neither historically nor legally.

In the precolonial era, authority over land was indeed often based on tradition, historical conquests, and the governance structures established by local communities. However, the relationship between Imeko and the areas it now claims is not supported by historical evidence. Specifically, there is no record of the Onimeko, the traditional ruler of Imeko, installing Baales (village heads) or other chiefs in Jabata, Iwoye, or other nearby areas. The assertion that such appointments occurred and that these areas were under Imeko's control is historically unfounded.

One of the contentious points is the purported agreement involving the Baale of Jabata, which allegedly transferred the forest reserve to the government. It is crucial to identify the Baale who signed this agreement and establish his traditional authority. If this Baale was not under the traditional jurisdiction of the Onimeko, then the claim of Imeko over these lands is invalid. Without concrete evidence of such historical ties and the authority of the Onimeko over these areas, the narrative of Imeko's traditional control collapses.

The status of Imeko as the administrative headquarters of the local government does not grant it ownership of lands or traditional authority over other towns, including Iwoye-Ketu. Administrative headquarters serve a governance function but do not inherently possess the right to claim traditional leadership or land ownership over surrounding communities. The role of an administrative center is to facilitate governmental operations and service delivery, not to establish dominion over neighboring areas.

The Land Use Act of 1978 is pivotal in understanding land rights in Nigeria. According to the Act, all lands in each state are vested in the hands of the state governor, who holds them in trust for the people. This means that the governor has the authority to allocate land for various uses, but traditional and historical land rights must be considered in such allocations. Traditional rulers, play advisory roles and may oversee communal land allocations within their domains, but they do not have absolute control over all lands.

Traditional rulers continue to play significant roles in the administration of land and local governance. Their authority is recognized within their specific domains, but this authority is circumscribed by legal and governmental frameworks. The Onimeko's claim to lands and authority over areas like Iwoye-Ketu must be grounded in clear historical and traditional evidence, which, in this case, appears lacking.

The central question remains: what is the legal jurisdiction of Imeko town as the seat of government, and what are the implications for land ownership in other towns within the area? Imeko's jurisdiction as an administrative center does not equate to traditional authority over Iwoye-Ketu. Land ownership and traditional authority are distinct from administrative functions. Claims to land based on administrative status are legally unfounded.

Imeko's attempt to assert control over Iwoye-Ketu and other areas, under the guise of historical and traditional authority, is an expansionary drive motivated by greed and a desire for recognition. The historical records do not support the narrative that the Onimeko has traditional jurisdiction over these areas. The Land Use Act of 1978 reinforces that land is held in trust by the state governor, with traditional rulers having limited advisory roles. It is crucial for the communities affected to challenge these unfounded claims legally and assert their historical and traditional rights to their lands.

Going forward, and if we are serious, the people of Iwoye-Ketu must:

1. Document Historical Evidence: Gather and present historical records that refute Imeko's claims and establish the independent traditional governance of Iwoye-Ketu.

2. Engage Legal Counsel: Seek legal advice to challenge the land claims in court, ensuring that the provisions of the Land Use Act are upheld.

3. Mobilize Community Support: Unite the community to resist any encroachments and assert their rights through peaceful protests and advocacy.

4. Communicate with Authorities: Engage with state and local government officials to clarify the legal and traditional boundaries and prevent any unauthorized claims by Imeko.

By taking these steps, Iwoye-Ketu can protect its land and heritage from the expansionary ambitions of Imeko, ensuring that historical and legal rights are respected.

 *Abel Adekunle Babatunde is an indigene and a Prince of Iwoye-Ketu.*

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