Femi Ogbonnikan takes a look at the cries of the residents of Ikorodu GRA-1, Beach Road, Ikorodu, over the location of an INEC area office in a government approved residential area and its security implications on the inhabitants

Smarting from the fears of the Niger Delta militants that have made creeks in Isawo, a suburb in Ikorodu community, their safe havens to kidnapping and the birth of the dreaded Badoo cult group which has ravaged the serenity like a monster in recent times, all seem not well as residents of Ikorodu Government Reservation Area (GRA) Residential Scheme 1, Ikorodu, Lagos State, have cried foul and expressed resentment over the continued location of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office within their community.

The residents’ grouse is, thus, predicated on the strength that the community which is primarily designed for private residential use has been flouted by the commission that has turned it into a public office.

According to the residents, the community has become porous, following the relocation of the INEC office from its former site, Ikorodu Local Government Area Office, Ita-Elewa, Ikorodu, prior to the 2015 general elections, and it has become a beehive of activities for all manners of persons hawking, on account of unrestricted access to the Estate, with 56 buildings and a population of nothing less than 160, thereby undermining the security and serenity of the environment.

At the inception, it was gathered that the property, located at Plot 25, Ajiga Close, within the estate, was allocated to the commission’s officials as accommodation but it was later converted to an office, following the disposal of the Ikorodu Local Government Area office, Ita-Elewa landed property and the subsequent relocation of the commission’s office when an alternative outlet could not be secured for its day-to-day business.

To save the situation, the residents through their Association, Ikorodu Government Reservation Area-1(GRA-1) Community Development Association (CDA), Ikorodu, Lagos State, stated that it has on six separate occasions officially written letters to the Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner and as well copied the National Chairman of the commission in Abuja, protesting the location of the office within their estate, but without response.

In its maiden letter written by Olumide Adejumo & Co., solicitor, to the Ikorodu GRA-1, Ikorodu, to the Lagos State INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, dated January 19, 2015 and obtained by our correspondent, it appealed to the Lagos State headquarters of the commission to relocate its Ikorodu office out of the Estate.

While further several entreaties made to prevail on the commission to relocate failed, a similar overture was made in a letter written and addressed to the Lagos State INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, dated May 8, 2017, signed by its Chairman (Dr. O. Shobowale) and General Secretary (Anthony Okosodo) read thus: “Re: Request for relocation of the INEC Office situated inside the Government Reservation Area-1 (GRA-1), Ikorodu town, Lagos State.

“The GRA-1 is located along TOS Benson Road, in Ikorodu town, Lagos State. The GRA-1 is in a serene, peaceful and quiet environment, occupied by responsible private and public individuals from various walks of life. The occupants are made up of notable, law abiding, reputable and responsible citizens amongst whom is a former Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, a former Lagos State Commissioner, a former House of Representatives member, and present top civil servants, and captains of industries, to mention but a few.

“The estate is gated with only one entrance which also serves as the exit. We have observed with great shock and concern since the last five years, especially during INEC activities such as general elections and other voter’s registration exercise, that the entire estate has become a beehive of activities for all manners of people, including road side hawkers that have unrestricted access to the estate, thereby undermining the security and serenity of the environment. During such occasions, residents do not feel safe by the heavy influx of human and vehicular traffics to the hitherto quiet and peaceful community.

“Thus, the private security guards employed by the estate have had to, on various occasions, bear with miscreants and other persons of questionable characters that now have access to the hitherto secluded, secured and safe estate. The situation is a reminiscent of a real public domain, with people shouting, arguing, smoking Indian hemp and littering the ground to the annoyance and discomfort of the residents.

“We want to appeal to your good office to take urgent steps to correct the anomaly by immediately relocating to an alternative location, or create a separate access from TOS Benson Road direct to the INEC Office, Ikorodu without causing disrupting to the safety of lives and property of the residents of the estate. Luckily, this is possible at a very minimal cost,” the letter read in part.

Shortly after the INEC moved its corporate office to the estate late 2014, residents have blamed two separate armed robbery attacks recorded recently within the community on the security porosity caused by the influx of all manner of persons who come calling on a daily basis, except on weekends to the INEC Area office.

In one of the attacks sometime in May 2017, it was learnt two members of an armed robbery gang were apprehended by the residents with the aid of private security guards employed by the community. Two locally made guns and personal belongings such as mobile handsets and cash allegedly belonging to their two victims, both old women in their 70s were recovered from them before they were subsequently handed over to the police operatives at Igbogbo Road Divisional Police Station, Ikorodu, for further probe into the matter.

The other incident recorded, it was said, shortly after one of the elections conducted in 2015, two young men were arrested and on them, two locally made pistols were found on them at the entrance gate of the INEC Area Office. These and others, they say, have constituted and portended great risks and danger to the lives and property of the residents of the estate.

Besides, the residents noted if it were to be an individual who had flouted the Physical Planning and Urban Development laws the government would not have stayed long before moving its demolition equipment to the purported site and pull down such a structure.

Mr. Femi Akinbiyi, spokesman, Lagos State INEC, in a telephone chat, averred that the building being used as its office within the estate was allocated to it by the Lagos State Government, insisting there is nothing the commission could do to leave, until the state government finds another building for them outside the estate to use as office.

“We have proto – type offices within all Local Government Areas (LGAs) Secretariats nationwide, but that was the place (estate) the Lagos State Government gave us. Originally, we had our office at the Ikorodu Local Government Area Office located at Ita-Elewa, Ikorodu , but when all the structures there were pulled down, we asked for relocation and the state government gave us the building wiring the estate to use as office. So, what do we do now if the residents of the estate want us to leave? But we can’t move to the Lagoon. I think what the residents could do is to take up the issue with the state government, if they don’t want us within their estate, so that we can be given another building which we can use as office,” said the INEC PRO.

But the Public Relations Officer (PRO), Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mrs. Bukky Nwonah, declined to comment over the matter, claiming she was not competent to speak on behalf of the ministry, except the commissioner in-charge of the ministry.

“My boss (Commissioner, Mr. Wasiu Abiola Anifowoshe) is attending an executive meeting now. All I can advise is that, you should send an sms to him, discuss what the matter is all about and tell him, that you would call him later in the day. Because I am not competent to say anything about the matter, except the Commissioner himself,” averred Nwonah.

However, several entreaties made to reach out to the Lagos State Government relevant authorities in-charge of housing allocation to react to the matter have proved unsuccessful. Both the Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Regional Development, Mr. Wasiu Abiola Anifowoshe, and Permanent Secretary (PS) in-charge of Lagos State Lands Bureau, Mr. Bode Agoro, have declined to pick the calls put through to them during days and nights, in the last one week, and as well, did not acknowledge the short message service (sms) sent to them.