The article titled “Caveat Emptor: Tafawa Balewa Square belongs to Lagos State” was published in The Guardian Newspaper on August 26, 2018 to alert the public on the true ownership of the Race Course, a property which the media publications show that the Federal Government of Nigeria is trying to place on the market stall for either sale or concession. One would have thought that the case has been rested knowing that the would-be seller is fully conscious of the legal principle of the “nemo dat rule” which says that “a person who does not have adequate ownership of a property does not have the ability to transfer the ownership of the property to another person what you do not own.”
In one word, it is a basic rule in law that you cannot sell or transfer to another person what does not belong to you. For avoidance of doubt, potential buyers who transact business with anyone other than the people of Lagos through the Lagos State Government on the Tafawa Balewa square is doing so at their own peril because of the possibility of an unending litigation with the original owners, that is, the people of Lagos.
Without sounding repetitive, the Tafawa Balewa Square does not belong to the Federal Government of Nigeria and therefore, its right to dispose or concession it to a third party is non-existent and illegal.
There are documents retrievable from the National Archives in the United Kingdom that would buttress the fact that the 35.8 Acres of land housing the Tafawa Balewa Complex and its adjourning lands were ceded to the people of Lagos to be used as a Jockey Club by King Docemo (Dosunmu) in 1859. While writing to Her Majesty the Queen of England to seek for the approval and confirmation of Ordinance Number 8 of 1897, Henry McCullum, the Governor of Lagos Colony on 8th October 1897 wrote and I quote “ I have the honor to forward for Her Majesty’s gracious confirmation and approval an Ordinance (No 8 of 1897) entitled: “ An Ordinance to provide for the control and management of the Race Course” From the attached report of the Queen’s Advocate, you will see that in his opinion, the Royal Assent may properly be accorded to this enactment.”
The letter which was written in Governor Henry McCullum’s handwriting was in response to a letter from the Queen’s Advocates Office dated October 13, 1897 which was passed through Dispatch Number 345 of 1897 in which he wrote and I quote “ Sir, I have the honour to report as follows on Ordinance No `Course” of Lagos. Governor Freeman confirmed the Grant in 1862 and Governor Sir Samuel Rowe marked out the boundaries in 1883” The piece of land in the town of Lagos known as the Race Course was given in or about 1859 by King Docemo to the people.” This ground has been and continues to be the recreation ground of the people of Lagos but it has never been subject to any management or regulation. Section two of this ordinance rests this piece of land in a responsible and representative Board of Management who will hold it in trust for the use of the public for exercise and recreation…………….”
Governor Samuel Rowe (1835-1888) was the former Governor of Sierra Leone and at that time the Governor General of West African Settlements while Governor Stanhope Freeman (1831-1865) who took over from Governor William McCoskry became the first Governor of Lagos Colony after the colony was established by an enforced treaty in August 1861.
All the above events transpired before Nigeria as a country came into being and existence in 1914. It is indeed most unfortunate that the Lagos Racecourse which transformed into the Independence square of Nigeria has been turned into a derelict babe of strive where economic priorities are allowed to overshadow historic importance.
The final exit of the Federal Government of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja has worsened the fate of the property in a country where important events are usually recorded at the footnote of history. While one may not completely divest the passing interest of the Nigerian nation in the property, that interest does not cumulate in ownership. Yes, the property served as the venue of the independence of Nigeria but one would have thought that the focus to all and sundry is not the sale but the preservation of this edifice for generations of Nigerians yet unborn and that cannot be achieved by muscle flexing and arrogant usurpation but by cooperation and respect for legitimate ownership of the property.
The Federal Government of Nigeria should neither place the property in the realtor stall nor hide it under the auctioneers hammer because doing so would amount to violating one of the basic lessons in jurisprudence because “you cannot sell what does not belong to you.”
It seems the Lagos State government is already campaigning against this injustice in a court of competent jurisdiction and every right thinking Lagosian must rise to the occasion by supporting the quest of the Government of Lagos State to secure from supplanters what rightly belongs to its people.
• Professor Ojikutu is of the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.