August 18, 2017, might have passed without a single attachment of remembrance for some people. But for the residents of Balogun Extension, Ife Oluwa close at Abete-Iwaya, Lagos, it will remain a day that will not be forgotten in a hurry. The reasons are not far-fetched. That was the day their houses were demolished by the Lagos State government.
It has been three weeks since the incident occurred and residents of that community still feel the brunt of the exercise, which has rendered many of them homeless.
A once bubbly environment has become a ghost town of tears and sorrow. It cuts the picture of a war-torn zone. Though former residents still come around to see if by a stroke of luck they could find some of their missing belongings.
No fewer than 200 houses were said to have been demolished by the Lagos State government at Abete-Iwaya. Residents of the area are complaining bitterly that the state government did not inform them before they carried out the demolition exercise.
According to information gathered by The Next Edition, the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and landlords in that environment had been having disputes over the land for over 20 years. As a result, the Lagos State Government allegedly took sides with UNILAG and demolished the buildings located within the controversial land.
At the entrance of Balogun extension, one Mrs. Oluwakemi Akanni, a petty trader who spoke to this newspaper said the residents of the area were not notified before the bulldozers came visiting.
According to her, they didn’t have prior knowledge of the demolition exercise. It was just like a normal day when about 30 policemen surrounded the area and chased everyone out of their homes with teargas, according to her explanation. “They didn’t tell us anything. They didn’t give us notice. They just came and drove us out of our houses with teargas,” She said with teary eyes.
“I lost N50, 000 in cash. I also lost jewelries worth N100, 000. Right now, I have nothing. They have finished me. I went out to buy clothes for my children. I used to sell clothes and jewelries. I bought jewelries of about N100, 000 to sell in the market a day before then. I also had N50, 000 as profit I made from my businesses. Only for me to come home and find out that my house had been destroyed. It was a neighbour who even helped me to take my children out, if not they would have died.”
While the lady was being interviewed a mild drama played out as some youths alighting from a ‘danfo’ bus cried out saying they needed help.
“We sleep in this danfo now,” Mudashiru Ajisakin, said on behalf of the four others in the bus with him.
He said while coughing as a result of the teargas he inhaled on that fateful day. “Look at where we are living now. We were all affected. This bus is our home for now. They didn’t give us quit notice. I was at work when I got a call to rush down. When I came, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I used to hear about this kind of thing elsewhere, but I never believed I would be a victim one day.
While trying to plead with the policemen to allow us to take some of our belongings, they used teargas on me.
“Right now we are not sure if it is Lagos State government or University of Lagos that brought in the police. UNILAG has denied it and Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has also denied having any knowledge about it. But whatever the case may be, they worked hand in hand to do this to us,” Ajisakin said.
Another former resident of the area, Mrs. Rose Ajukwu, told The Next Edition about her experience. “I wasn’t around on that day. As I got here, I saw about four caterpillars with many policemen, destroying our houses. People were running helter-skelter.”
When asked what she lost, she said, “I can’t count them. I just thank God that I am alive. I didn’t die, that’s the most important thing. For now I live with my children in a school where I work as a cleaner.”
Chief Public Affairs Officer of Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning & Urban Development, Mrs. Olubukonla Nwonah, justified the government’s action in the area, saying “the demolition is from our office. The property belongs to UNILAG. The development has no permit. All necessary statutory notices had been served before demolition.”
However, Pastor Dr. James Adeoye Unigbe, who is the Chairman of Landlord’s Association of Abete-Iwaya, disagrees with Nwonah. He told The Next Edition that “They came here on August 18, 2017, around 10 o’clock in the morning with dozens of policemen. We heard that it was a task force.
“As the chairman and a retired officer, we approached them and they warned us not to go near them. They used teargas to chase people out of their homes and arrested some people who wanted to talk to them. They just came and demolished buildings without notice. No evidence of notice. They gave no one notice. They didn’t allow anyone to even take a pin out.
“They force everyone out of their houses. In the process, properties were lost and destroyed. Many of the displaced people are sleeping in danfo buses today. Most of the residents are scattered, while some have nowhere to go. Some are trying to use planks to build a roof over their heads so that they can manage for the time being. It is better than nothing.
“They, however, didn’t demolish the make-shift houses in the swampy areas. They didn’t have any reason to destroy the buildings. This land belonged to Eleye family and we bought it from Eleye family. In 1997, the Eleye family sued the University of Lagos for land encroachment. They put structures on our virgin land after they had built their own fence. In 2007 when they went to court, the judge, Justice Taiwo was asking them how many plots of land they wanted. How can you jump your fence, jump a river and say the land belongs to you?” He asked.
Continuing he said: “When you go like this ( pointing to a direction), there is a place called Abete, a plain ground, no structures or residence there.. Our own area is a residential area. We even have an association. We have been here for many years and they have been threatening our lives. They accused us of land encroachment. The case of the land dispute is still pending. The case is still in court. What they did was illegal. Since the government seems to be doing nothing about our plight, we are crying to International Human Rights organizations to come to our aid.
“At a point they shot tear gas to scare people away so that they wouldn’t enter their houses to take their belongings. The estimate of properties we lost is almost N10 billion. About 12 churches and four nursery and primary schools were destroyed,” Dr. Unigbe said in conclusion..
At this point, it’s difficult to say, which side is saying the truth. However, the point that needs to be stressed is that another group of Nigerians had just been added to the growing list of homeless people.