The demolition of structures in the Abule Egba area of Lagos has left in its wake a gale of tears and joblessness, write ARUKAINO UMUKORO and MOTUNRAYO JOEL
In front of the one of the several buildings that were demolished recently at Abule Egba, a densely populated suburb in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, three little children were seen trying to make sense out of the confusion.
Wearing a sweatshirt and trousers with the green white green colour of the Nigerian flag, one of the children, a boy of about eight, was seen trying to fix his father’s broken keyboard, which was damaged during the bulldozers’ visit the day before, while the family’s television set lay on its face among the rubbles. A few feet away from him, a four-year-old girl wearing only white singlet was literally trying to lift off her crying two-year-old brother from the rubble. The little boy screamed as his sister tried holding him. He seemed unwilling to vacate the place now in ruins.
But all that lay before them was a pile of rubble caused by the bulldozers’ rage at noon. The kids were among the thousands that have either been rendered homeless or jobless by the recent demolition exercise carried out by officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development on Wednesday and Thursday.
The state government has said the demolition was a necessary measure to expand the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. As of Thursday, residents, landlords and business owners claimed that about 1,000 houses and shops in the area had been affected by the demolition exercise. They said they were only given a seven-day notice by the state government.
When SUNDAY PUNCH visited the area on Thursday, the rubble, tears and sorrow the bulldozers left on its trail were still visible. Many watched with awe and despair as the heavy machines raged on.
Mattresses, home furniture and other household items were among the rubble, stretching more than 500 metres from the Abule Egba Junction, where a Reinforced Concrete Dual Carriage Flyover bridge, is still in its early stages of construction. Business, bank and residential buildings were affected by the demolition.
Many told our correspondent that they lost property worth millions and their means of livelihood to the exercise.
“The demolition has taken place; there is nothing we can do. I have lost millions to the demolition, I had many shops. There is serious economic recession and unemployment in the country. This demolition is inflicting more pain on us. I have only been managing and I have a wife and children to take care of. We have only been hearing that the government would compensate us but we do not know how true it is. Life goes on. My point now is, people have been rendered jobless and homeless.
“One of those who rented shops in my building received a call in my presence on Wednesday. I heard him asking the caller to help him look for a job. He is a graduate but he rented a shop to sell paints to make a living,” said Mr. Olawole Olanrewaju, a landlord in the area.
Another property owner in the area, Mr. Oladeinde Bakare, lamented that his one-storey apartment with three flats was affected.
Bakare, who had lived in the area since 1980, said the state government reneged on its agreement with the landlords in the area to demolish structures within a 32-metre marking from the electric pole near the road.
He said, “But they (state government) increased the marked area further to about 92 metres which extended to my house. I thought there was going to be further discussion on the matter. We wrote a letter to the state government, but our efforts were to no avail. I would spend about N1m to fix the demolished part. There was no way we could have found another apartment within the seven-day ultimatum they gave us. We are at the mercy of hoodlums and there is no security.”
Many others are now homeless, like a petty trader, Mrs. Alimot Akintunde. SUNDAY PUNCH met her in front of what used to be her home, in tears. “This was the room my family and I used to sleep in,” she said, pointing to a portion in the rubble. “I am so sad; we have nowhere to sleep. Our property is scattered all over the place. I have been crying since. I do not know where to go. There is nothing left for me.”
Like many of the tenants in some of the demolished buildings, Akintunde had lived in one of them for about thirty years.
“I was born in Abule Egba. This is the only home I have known and my father was buried there,” said another resident, who inherited the property from his father. The father’s white tomb was covered with remnants of the building.
At another three-storey building, some members of an extended family were seen huddled up at different sections, lamenting their fate. They could not hold back tears and grief as they condemned the actions of the state government.
“We have lived here since 1982. My father is a retired soldier and over 70 years old. He is very depressed about the demolition of his building. I am angry but what can we do?” said Abdusalam Aliu, a son to the owner of the building
Another son and student of the National Open University, 27-year-old Rahman Abdusalam, said the state government was insincere with the way it went about the demolition.
“I was born here. The state officials did not say anything about compensation for us. I want to beg them to make the compensation a very quick one so that we can get another accommodation. We all slept outside on Wednesday. Some thieves were also caught stealing the property of our neighbours,” he said.
The pastor of First African Church Mission, Abule Egba, Venerable J.A. Akande, lamented that 104 years of the church’s proud history had been demolished in one swoop. He showed our correspondent pictures of the old and new church.
Akande said it took the congregation 22 years to erect a new structure beside the old one they had used for over a century.
Despite their loss, the congregation at First African Church Mission, Abule Egba branch, held a service a few hours after a section of their historic church building was brought down.
He said, “The demolition happened between 1pm and 3pm on Wednesday. But we still managed to worship in the building. We found a spot that could accommodate us. We just had to pray to God to send us help because we do not know where to start from. It took us 22 years to erect a new structure and it was destroyed within an hour or two. Sadly, the old church building was also demolished.”
Business owners and workers in the area also lamented their losses. Structures housing an outlet of a popular eatery, Tantalisers and a branch of Guaranty Trust Bank were among those affected.
A manager at the eatery, who did not give his name, said over 50 of employees of the fast food firm lost their jobs to the demolition.
“The building has been in existence for seven years. The bakery downstairs produced about 10,000 loaves per day. We had 30 workers in the bakery and over 20 working upstairs in the eatery. I believe in the rule of law and that things should be done according to the rule of law. A lot of people felt bad about it because they government did the right thing but in a wrong way,” he said.
Some of the aggrieved persons included the workers at a fish processing company. The workers were seen assessing the damage with hollow eyes. One of them, Ms. Badmus Abiola, said she searched for a job for almost a year before she was employed in the company four months ago. “Now, look at what has happened. Where am I going to get another job?” she lamented.
A human resource manager at the company, Mr. Adeyemo Olabimtan, a graduate of accounting, also echoed the same. He said, “I had been looking for a job for years until I got one as a human resource manager in the fish processing firm. I have been working there since last year. I have not been married because of unemployment. The company has in operation for over 20 years.”
The owners of the houses pulled down claimed they had genuine certificates of occupancy.
When contacted on the telephone, the state Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Wasiu Anifowose, said residents with original certificate of occupancy would be compensated by the state government.
Anifowose said, “What we have in Abule Egba is a federal land acquired in 1971. It has a gazette and there are laws to that. What the Federal Government did with the gazette is what we are doing. If their houses fall within the right of way and they have the certificate of occupancy, they should take it to the office. We will then look at the certificate of occupancy and they would be adequately compensated if the certificate of occupancy is genuine. Anybody that has a title document on his property will be compensated.”
He added that the government would not remove any house that did not fall within the right of way.
‘‘What we are doing is for the people. We will only take what is needed, not an inch or a property more than what is required for the expansion. I think it is about time we citizens believed our government. This is Lagos State, whatever we say, we stand by it,” he stated.