Over 5,000 Lagosians displaced by the recent demolition exercise carried out
by the Lagos State Government at the Balogun Extension, Abete-Iwaya, Yaba, are counting their losses, writes Peter Uzoho

In his shattered look, with tears rolling down uncontrollably from his eyes, not minding his fatherly status, his age and, even his masculinity, Prince Omowunmi Omowole, had a four-bedroom apartment he built and lived in with his family. He had a beer parlour with a-six room lodging facility, which he invested huge amount of money in. He was among those displaced by the demolition exercise carried out recently by the Lagos State Government at the Balogun Extension, Abete-Iwaya, a suburb of Yaba, Lagos State. Omowole, apparently, was left with nothing but to pour out his heart before this reporter. He was just standing and gazing at his house and investment that have been reduced to debris.

“Just look at me. All I have worked for over 15 years have gone
just like that. What am I living for now? From a four-bedroom flat to a
homeless man, with wife and children; from owner of a business not
less than a million naira to nothing. No food to eat again; no cloth to wear again; no place to sleep again; no hope again. What kind of life is this? Why are our leaders this heartless?” He bemoaned. Omowole’s wife is nursing a baby of barely two months old, who only understands the taste of milky juice from his mother’s breast running into his mouth at his behest. He now sleeps in the open with the mother and is exposed to health hazards at such tender age. Is power or nature being fair to this innocent child?

Lagos State Government through its Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, had on Friday, August 18, 2017, entered the community with bulldozers, accompanied with frightening gun-carrying Law Enforcement agents, demolished buildings in the community. Over 200 houses and properties worth millions of naira were damaged, including academic certificates and other relevant documents. According to the residents, who have by this incident, added to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) index in the country, they were not notified ahead of time so as to enable them move their belongings out.

Sharing boundary with the University of Lagos and, overlooking the
Third Mainland Bridge, the demolished Balogun Extension has an
estimated population of over 5,000 people, who engaged in genuine works and businesses to earn a living. Before the unfortunate incident, the community used to be a city of its own as some of them had good accommodation ranging from duplexes to bungalows with flats and single rooms. Tenancy fees ranged from N50, 000 to N500, 000 depending on one’s financial strength. The lowest class among them lived in their shacks with the hope to move to a better place when the economy improves. There were churches, eating and drinking joints, even, with lodging facilities. Some of them were into one artisan field or the other, rendering services to their clients who were majorly fellow residents. According to them, there was peace in the community as they had machinery in place to checkmate crimes and, never imagined that such calamity would befall them.

In their present condition, the over 5,000 people are left with no
hope. At night, they resort to sleeping in the open with mosquitoes
and all manner of harmful flies preying on them. Those who could not
cope had without delay, relocated to their villages as the last
option.

As early as 5:30 am Sunday, barely two days after the house they were living in was brought down, Mr. Charles Ayenero, a teacher in one of the secondary schools in Yaba had to put his wife and four children in the first bus to Ekiti State to go and stay in the village for the time being. They were living in a two-bedroom flat which he renewed its rent three months ago.

“I went somewhere only for my wife to call and tell me that our house
has been demolished. I ran back home to see my house in this state.
They didn’t even allow us to move anything out. They didn’t even
inform us that they were coming to demolish the place. Now how can we cope? Where do I start from now? So I decided to send my family to the village because I can’t allow them to stay here and die,” Ayenero told THISDAY.

Mrs. Olaniyan Oyeleye, mother of five, had her shop fully-stocked with
provision and food stuff in the community. Her business was
flourishing before the ugly experience. According to her, no pin was
removed from her house and shop during the incident. Fate has reduced her to an Amala vendor in just few days of the demolition as she has to feed her children. “This is too bad oh!,” she exclaimed. “No notice at all, no notice. They just want us to die. They are not happy that we are surviving with all their fake promises. God will judge them
oh,” she lamented.

It was also gathered that the owner of a one storey building (name
unknown) demolished in the exercise has been in an unknown hospital as she was said to have slumped and fainted due to the shock. The building according to them was only put to use barely six months of completion. With such huge loss, they doubt if she could survive it.

Another resident and landlord of a three-bedroom apartment, Mr. Oluwaseye Oladojo, was totally short of words and was just imagining the loss he had incurred and how to come out of it. “Such is life,” he would manage to utter. He said he and others whose buildings were pulled down bought the land genuinely and were issued with the relevant papers and, wondered why the government would take such action again.
“When we were buying these lands nobody came to tell us that we should not buy. There was no caveat emptor placed anywhere around this area. We have lived here for years. We bought the land from the owner, Macron Eleyele. Although, the University of Lagos has been claiming that the land belongs to them, no court has ordered that we should vacate. So it’s really shocking to see this happen to us,” Oladojo told THISDAY.

Also baring her mind on the demolition and its effects on her, a
retired Director of Education Lagos State Ministry of Education
residing in the community, Pastor Victoria Okewumi, whose church
auditorium in the community was pulled down, said she never
experienced such loss in her life. She said all her belongings
including over 3,000 building blocks and 50 bags of cement she planned to use to start her new building were all damaged.

“I don’t know how to bear this. They didn’t even allow us to come
closer to remove anything. All my properties have gone. All my
upholstery, my electronics, clothes, foodstuff, everything I have just
gone. As I stand here, I don’t even have another cloth or shoes to
change the one I’m wearing. They destroyed everything, certificates
and important documents. Even my pot of soup was trapped on the ground and I don’t have anything to eat,” she told THISDAY sorrowfully.

Okewumi also said even her church members who were injured by nails and other sharp objects when struggling to see if they could see anything remaining to pick from the debris were receiving treatment at the hospital. She lamented that even the church’s glass pulpit was destroyed, which according to her, “is a great act of opposition to the gospel of Christ.” That’s a sacrilege. It shows how disrespectful people can be to God,” she said.

Ironically, while the victims are still suffering the effect of the
misfortune, some roguish elements, who take delight in feeding from
others’ adversity, used the opportunity to loot any property they could
set eyes on, compounding the sorrow of the affected. Also, for the
victims to survive, they resorted to selling off their half-damaged
zincs and woods to waiting buyers. Iron benders on their part, cash in
on the situation as they were also sighted cutting irons for the
owners and were paid. Buses, pushcarts and wheelbarrows were on ground rendering services as those who bought those properties patronised them.

While still wondering why the government would embark in such
demolition, some of the residents attributed the action to the case of
a four-year-old girl who was missing and later found lifeless close to
a shrine in the community with her throat cut off. They said, the
girl, Miss Farida Ayomide Suleiman, was suspected to have been used for ritual at the shrine barely 48 hours to the day of the demolition.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government justified the demolition,
saying, the structures were built without due approval. The Chief
Public Affairs Officer, Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and
Urban Development, Mrs. Olubukonla Nwonah, said the land belonged to the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and that the ministry carried out the demolition exercise so as to return the land to UNILAG.
“The demolition is from our office. The property belongs to UNILAG.
The development has no permit. All necessary statutory notices had
been served them before demolition,” Nwonah said.