Over 12,000 people in Oke Eri, Odun-Ifa and Precious Seed Communities in Oworonshoki, Kosofe Local Council of Lagos State, were on Wednesday displaced as men of the state environment and special offences enforcement unit (Task Force) demolished about 250 houses in the area.
While some of the affected members claimed that only those living on the riverbank were asked to vacate, The Guardian gathered that the state government, through the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, had issued notice to the affected residents to vacate their homes, which elapsed last Thursday.
The demolition was to check flooding and other environmental degradation along the riverbank.
But the affected residents protested against the exercise and prevented the men from accessing the area.
They accused the team of invading the area with bulldozers and security men, forcefully ejecting and destroying their property, before setting them ablaze.
The aggrieved residents also alleged that a 20-year-old man lost his life while trying to salvage his father’s belongings from the rubble.
Police, however, moved in and arrested three of the protesters for attempting to stop the task force team from demolishing their homes.
Some of the residents were seen discussing in clusters, while others were cooking in the open. Some were selling their belongings to scavengers to raise money for food.
Men of the Lagos State Task Force were also on the ground to shield the demolishing team from attacks.
A 69-year-old man, Francis Adeseluro, whose house was demolished, said: “We learnt sometime ago that people who built makeshift apartments by the river bank were asked to leave. So, we were not bothered because we didn’t build around the affected line, but a few days ago, the Lagos State Task Force came with some people and started demolishing buildings unexpectedly and setting everything ablaze.
“I am 69, I suffered before building this house, now, I don’t have a place to sleep, where do I go from here? I have a wife and children; I would have looked for another place if I were informed earlier. I have started selling all I have to feed my family; I don’t know where to go from here. Government and good people of Nigeria should come to my aid,” he pleaded.
A resident, Olasile Kayode, said: “The situation has gone bad. The government didn’t make any provision. Thousands of people are already on the streets, confused, and it may lead to stealing.
“The monarch of the town has not addressed the people, no one has been here to address us on what is going on. Some people visited the palace, but they were told that the king was not around. A 20-year-old man was killed during the incident and several others have been hospitalised, especially elderly people.”
A candidate for the State House of Assembly in the last election, Babasola Owoaje, said: “The people were displaced overnight without government or social intervention. Bulldozers just moved in with police officers without notice and nobody was ready to answer the people; at a time when we are looking for means to alleviate the suffering of the people, this happened, and it is unfortunate. I have received over 100 calls and I can only appeal to the government to look into their case. It is not hard to tackle this because they have a database; the government should reach out and support them. Many of them are sleeping outside because they don’t have anywhere to go.
“Personally, I have reached out to some of them, but there is little I can do.”
When The Guardian contacted the spokesperson for Lagos State Task Force, Gbadeyan Abdulraheem, he denied knowledge of the action.
Earlier, a protest was held at the state House of House Assembly complex in Alausa, Ikeja, where protesters were seen with placards with inscriptions such as “Say no to land grabbers and wrong demolition”, “Please help us in Oworonshoki “ and “We plead to the government to come to our rescue.”
Several women and children had been rendered homeless as some hooded task force officials invaded the community, burnt houses and demolished others.
During the Wednesday protest that took place in Oworonshoki, protesters, including women and children, were seen rolling on the floor and begging the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to intervene in the matter.
One of the protesters, Serah Ogundimu, lamented that her entire family, including three toddlers and her elderly mother, had been sleeping outside after their house was demolished.
She said, “One of us has four buildings here. We have all the papers. They demolished all four. Now, I don’t have anywhere to go. Sanwo-Olu should help us so that they will stop the demolition. We were not informed before they started demolishing our houses. We don’t know these people at all.
“I went to work. When I came back, I saw my house in ashes. This shirt I put on has been on me for three days now. All my brothers and sisters don’t have anywhere to go. All our belongings have been lost. Where do they want us to go? Where do we start from?
“The state government should tell us where they want us to go. They have succeeded in rendering us homeless. We have been sleeping outside since our house was burnt. If it’s raining, we only cover ourselves with a canopy.”
Reacting, the state governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, said the state government was only removing shanties and criminal hideouts in the area.
Akosile said, “The state government did not demolish the homes of the people. What the state government did was demolish shanties. When some of these people commit crimes, they run into that place for shelter. These were the structures that were demolished.
“The duty of the government is to ensure that we keep the people and the environment safe. The government would not just destroy people’s homes.”
Esther, born and raised on Oluwaseyi Street, said: “Since I’ve been living here, we have never been given any notice about this sudden evacuation. It has left us homeless, and now, we have to find a place to sleep every night.
“We are already searching for apartments to rent but the demolition has been tough on us. It has particularly affected my aged mother and as a pregnant woman, I am finding it challenging to cope with the situation.”
A mother of two, who spoke to Vanguard, revealed that she and her children were currently sleeping in a church while her husband stays at his friend’s place.
She said: “We’ve been living here for less than a year. My husband bought the land from Omonile late last year, but it’s devastating that our property was among those demolished.”
Omotayo Ogunsiji, a septuagenarian and retired civil servant, said: “I have been living here for 28 years since 1995. My house was very far from the water, so, I was not bothered. I bought this half plot from Omonile in 1995 before I retired and it cost me N9,000.
“We didn’t receive any notification beforehand. What happened was that they provided a notification, indicating that buildings within 100 metres away from the water needed to be demolished. They marked the area for demolition from the start, but it was surprising when they suddenly came to my block and demolished it.
“If you don’t remove your property, they’ll destroy them and set them ablaze. They approached me, saying they wanted to set fire on my house. I agreed, but I pleaded with them, gave them N1,000 to allow me time to evacuate my belongings.”
[Guardian, Punch, Vanguard]