Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola
Twenty two years ago today, families resident in Maroko, then a suburb of Lagos between present day Victoria Island and Lekki were evicted from their homes ostensibly to save them from slum-related diseases and avoidable death. Since the smoke cleared, the landscape has been littered with traumatised spirits that have refused to be broken, writes Bennett Oghifo
Reversed Robin Hood is how modern scholars describe the plight of the former land owners of Maroko, an informal community hedged between Federal Government owned 1004 flats and Lekki, who were evicted, as the government said then, to be saved from self-destruct.
They were kicked out of their homes by heavily armed soldiers under the watch of Colonel Raji Rasaki former Military Governor of Lagos State, who was supervised by then Military President Ibrahim Babaginda. The implication is that their plight and restitution are in the hands of the federal and Lagos state government, according to the evacuees.
The eviction script in the early hours of July 14, 1990 was executed with military precision and, with no intent to take prisoners. But, according to the evacuees, the soldiers in their late teens were emboldened by lack of resistance from the terrified women and children to wreak havoc, blowing off roofs, kicking down doors, taking women and girls against their will like in real war scenario. It may have been their first opportunity to engage in official violence and, a rite of passage for them to lose their innocence.
Families ran everywhere looking to connect members who sprang from sleep to escape the devastation. They sustained varying degrees of injury from flying roofing sheets while others drowned in uncovered wells they did not know were in their flight path.
A resident was trying to locate his wife and children who were stampeded and got his right foot impaled by a six-inch nail jotting from a piece of wood attached to a broken roof. The nail pierced the foot and exited his instep and, for several minutes he battled to free himself from the temporary crucifixion. He neither saw the oozing blood nor felt the pain because that part of his brain attended to more pressing anxiety and present danger. “At the heat of the demolition, which was like a war situation, the nail pierced through my foot and I got stuck. Is it the Soldiers who are eager to kill that I will call upon to save me? It was a big battle and I was trying to save myself and others,” said Prince Samuel Aiyeyemi, who is now the leader of the Maroko evacuees.
He eventually re-united with his family and then saw his wound and the searing pain came and remained for years until Doctors at UCH Ibadan determined it was best he let the leg go. “Six years later, I was at the Teaching Hospital in Ibadan with this leg. The Doctors said something had entered into my bone and that there was no alternative than to amputate the leg if I chose to survive. I ran from there because I couldn’t stand the thought of living without one of my legs.”
The wound did not heal and in May last year, “it was to kill me right off and I had to be moved to outside Lagos because I did not consider myself safe in Lagos State General Hospital. I had to go far away to the Federal Medical Centre in Owo where the doctors decided to amputate the leg immediately. I couldn’t participate in the decision making process because I was unconscious. I woke up to find that one of my legs was missing. That is the experience of a Maroko man and, I survived but what about those that did not survive?”
Also, on December 3, 2008, the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) in collaboration with a US-based leading law firm, Debevoise and Plimpton, filed another landmark communication before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “This Communication is brought against the state of Nigeria on behalf of the victims of the July 1990 brutal demolition of Maroko Community in Lagos state, who were forcibly evicted from their homes and businesses by the government of Nigeria in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Maroko evictees have pursued their claims in the Nigerian national courts and other independent bodies for more than 18 years but have yet to obtain any relief, remedy or redress, making legal action in Nigeria both futile and unduly prolonged.”
The group said, “as with exercises of this nature, excessive violence characterized the evictions: a significant number of the evictees suffered various degrees of injuries including temporary and permanent disabilities. There were also reported casualties of persons that died when they were crushed to death by falling walls. The security operatives characteristically exhibited elemental bestiality, capitalising on the haplessness of the people to dehumanise them; harassing, maiming, beating, raping and looting in the process.”
They also said, “victims helplessly watched properties they acquired with totality of their life savings and earnings perish in one fell swoop. At the end of the demolition exercise, the sprawling town of Maroko was reduced to outright rubbles with over 10,000 houses flattened, and about 300,000 people rendered homeless. It was only a police station in the neighborhood that survived the demolitions.”
The approach to getting restitution, as the former residents of Maroko view it is to make passionate appeals to both the federal government and the Lagos State Government and they have been at it in the past 22 years. “We have been appealing to government. In 1992, we mobilised, hired a vehicle and went to General Olusegun Obasanjo at his Otta Farm and he said there was nothing he could do since he was no longer the Head of State. We told him we recognised him as our national father and that that was the reason for the visit. Seven years later, the power he said he did not have to help us was given to him in full and that power remained with him for eight years and, during the eight years we were at Abuja several times and, the only way he helped us a little was by establishing the
Justice Oputa Commission. The Oputa Report said government should resettle Maroko people fully because government has wronged Maroko people and that government should apologies publicly to Maroko people. Till today, nothing has been done.”
Also, in 2004, they brought their concern before the Lagos State Assembly and in 2005 they came up with a report that the Maroko people should be resettled fully, but nothing has been done by way of implementation.”
They are not sure who should implement these reports, Aiyeyemi said, adding that they were sure the federal government and Lagos State Government could work things out. “Rasaki was Lagos State Military Governor and he served under Babagida. Who should resettle us? If it is federal government or Lagos State Government it is alright by us.”
Thrown into this mix is the fact that they also approached the Lagos High Court for justice but, as Aiyeyemi said they have not been able to get justice. “A case of abuse of human life, Lagos High Court is treating it for 22 years after our people have died, after the education of our children has suffered. Most of us are torn between life and death. Look at me,” said the frail-looking man in his 70s.
In a suit filed before the Lagos High Court since July 11, 1990, Maroko evictees have challenged the July 1990 forced evictions and demolitions of their homes, houses, businesses, schools, churches, mosques and other properties; the loss of lives; the disruption of families and communities; the failure to follow legally mandated procedures or pay compensation; and the failure to provide alternative housing in violation of their rights to housing, property, health, family, education, dignity as human beings, privacy, freedom of movement and residence anywhere within Nigeria, and peaceful enjoyment of their property as guaranteed by several provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979.
“So, is it after we have died that Lagos High Court will settle the case of human rights abuse? Is it not corruption? As they say justice delayed is justice denied, asked Aiyeyemi.”
Consequences of Injustice…
Aiyeyemi said the throes of insecurity in the country were consequences of injustice meted to former residents of Maroko. “A revelation came from God which said that not until the Nigerian Government resettled the Maroko people the country will not be at peace. See what happened in the Niger Delta with militants and now it is the turn of Boko Haram. It is our belief that this incident is a whip, a punishment from God.”
According to him, they have been dialoguing for the past 22 years because they chose not to be militant in their approach. “We have been marking the day of our eviction every year and every year we send out letters of appeal to government, but now God is fighting for us and Nigeria is crying. The commemoration of their eviction is often approached with every seriousness. This year’s is no different.
After the eviction of the residents of Maroko and the last piece of debris that served as evidence to their existence was thrown into the bucket of the last truck, the next command was given and the dredgers came alive off the coast of the erased community, pumping millions of cubic metres of sand to clear their foot prints and raise the land above sea level in preparation for partitioning and eventual sale to the affluent. “Our land is exactly where The palms stands today,” alleged a former resident of Maroko.
Today’s meeting, Aiyeyemi said would focus more on prayers for Nigeria, Lagos State for “God to have mercy on Nigeria.” They sent letters of invitation to President Goodluck Jonathan; former President Olusegun Obasanjo; and Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola for them to attend the event.
The letter bore yet another appeal titled “22nd Anniversary of Maroko Forced Eviction; Yet Another Appeal for Full Resettlement”. They said: “Our 25 Maroko communities have been used as the sacrificial lambs for our national development since 1958 - 54years. We are here once again, most humbly appealing that enough should be enough.”
Aiyeyemi presented the community’s history, stating that “our Maroko village used to occupy the present –day geographical area of Ikoyi, G.R.A. and Victoria Island of Lagos. But between 1958 and 1960, Government gently removed us to join with existing villages across the Five Cowries Lagoon. And by 19990, Government again moved the whole district of Maroko, this time with full military force and to nowhere but into the open air. We later discovered that the then Head of State and his Lagos State military Governor only used the Nigerian Army to do their private job of making the Maroko coastal land available for some rich private individuals.”
The 25 communities commonly called Maroko, he said were thrown out with all the 300, 00 residents consisting of 10,000 residential houses holding some 60,000 families. Within the 12 years of the forced evictions, about 100,000 of us died as a result of direct effect of the mass dehumanization. The Lagos State government later resettled some of the landlords at the un- completed estates at Ilasan, Ikota and Epe. But for these 22 years, thousands of Maroko landlords still remain un-resettled and those even resettled at both Ilasan and Ikota estates are daily under the harassment of yet another eviction or relocations by some officials of Lagos State government. This being addition to the harassments of rain floods every year.
The invitation letter signed by Samuel Aiyeyemi, Leader; Alhaji T.A. jegede, Deputy Leader; Madam T. Anitini, Executive and Benson Oketola, General Secretary said the Chairman and Father of the day, is expected to be former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The venue is Maroko Information Centre off Block 32 Ilasan (Jakande) Housing Estate, Lekki Lagos.