Residents describe the Lagos State government’s silence on the demolition as complacency and conspiracy with the police
George Egosoku watched with horror as the bulldozer’s huge blades ripped into his home, a bungalow built from the savings of his 35-year sojourn as a bus driver, and turned it into rubble.
With armed police officers keeping him and other stupefied home owners at bay, bulldozers and backhoes levelled about 1,500 buildings at Atinporomeh, Badagry, a Lagos suburb.
Mr. Egosoku is among the almost 10,000 residents of the community who have now been displaced following the demolition of their homes last December, despite a subsisting legal suit over the land.
“We woke in the morning to see that the police have demolished houses from the bus stop, and one after the other, the bulldozers brought down all the houses including mine and now I have nowhere to live but under these bricks,” said Mr. Egosoku, 70.
The bricks – few blocks mounted on one another and covered with a tarpaulin – is where Mr. Egosoku now calls home.
“The two rainfall, the last being heaviest so far this year, beat me so bad here because the breeze blew away my roof with mosquito biting the hell out of me,” said the septuagenarian.
“I have no money to rent a house and no place to go,” he said.
“I cannot stand the shame of going to live with my brother, his wife, and five children where they have already relocated to,” he added.
HOMELESS AND HELPLESS
The community’s problems began on December 14, last year, when the police authority brought a notice of eviction which claimed that the Nigeria Police Force had become the “rightful owner” of the community’s land.
The letter, with the heading: ‘Encroachment on Police land located at Agemowo/Agelado Mowo via Badagry’ was signed by F.G Ogundeji, a Deputy Commissioner of Police.
Realizing that Agemowo/Agelado Mowo and Atinporomeh are two different communities, the inhabitants quickly reached out to lawyer at Ricky Tarfa Chambers. Declan Kemdiri, a lawyer in the chamber, immediately wrote to the police authority, reminding them of a subsisting court order directing a stay of action on the land.
Mr. Kemdiri further highlighted that the land being claimed by the police, in Agemowo/Agelado communities, is entirely distinct from that in Atinporomeh.
Ignoring the lawyer’s letter, the law enforcement agencies, accompanied by bulldozers, stormed Atinporomeh at 3 a.m. the next day demolishing schools, churches, hotels, shopping complexes, as well as residential homes.
“The police arrived with four Black Maria vans where they arrested and locked up anyone that resisted, 18 bulldozers and five caterpillars to quickly and swiftly level the buildings before the break of dawn,” said Mr. Kemdiri.
On a recent visit to Atinporomeh community, broken blocks and bricks scattered over where used to be residential homes.
Charles Adu, the community’s Chairman, described the demolition as “man’s inhumanity to man.”
“This is a very peaceful community with no government presence as we built our schools, markets and roads ourselves,” Mr. Adu said.
“This is a community that pays its annual land use to the state government. It is not a shanty town that harbours criminals, a swampy community with buildings built under high tension lines.
“The demolition of houses which are still in a case before the court under the purview of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (Governor Babatunde Fashola) is a gross abuse of human rights,” Mr. Adu added.
GOVERNMENT’s ‘DEAFENING’ SILENCE
Mr. Adu described the Lagos State government’s silence on the demolition as complacency and conspiracy with the police.
“This is a collaboration between the state government and the federal government and the state government has not visited this place or said anything about it.
This is a government that has no housing policy and the governor and no official has said anything about our plight up till now,” said Mr. Adu, who lost his house and a shopping complex in the demolition.
Last week, the community took their protest to the governor’s office at Alausa but they were told that Mr. Fashola was absent.
“The conspiracy of silence by the Lagos State government is deafening and one wonders what the government is up to on this issue,” said Mr. Kemdirim.
In 2011, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police identified simply as Mrs. Obembe began moves to acquire the community, according to Mr. Kemdirim, after claiming that she had paid N176 million for the land.
Mrs. Obembe reportedly claimed that she had gotten approval to build a police quarters on the 15-hectare land.
The residents promptly approached a court in Badagry where they got a stay of action order.
They also embarked on a protest to the Lagos State House of Assembly, forcing the Speaker to summon officials of the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Renewal who denied issuing any such notice.
Efforts to speak with the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development were not successful. Phone calls and text messages were not responded to.
Mr. Egosoku said that he would remain in his make-shift home until he was compensated for his demolished building.
“I spent about N3 million of all my life savings in building this house and if government does not compensate me, they will have to carry me out from here,” he said.
“Even if they carry me from here, I will remain on the road for people to see me until I die,” he added.
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