By Gilbert Ekezie
The priests and parishioners of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Ebute-Meta, Yaba Lagos State recently embarked on a peaceful protest within the Lagos Mainland Local Government Area.
Purpose of the protest was to express their dismay over the continuous acquisition of the Church land and Schools by the Lagos Government, and to prevail on the state government to return the remaining Schools it forcefully took from faith based Organizations, including the Catholic Church in the area.
The protest whch kicked off from the Church compound at Ebute-Meta , was led by the Parish Priest, Very Rev. Fr. Michael Okonkwo.
Speaking during the protest March to church property behind the church , which was alleged to have been taken over by the government without due process , Rev. Fr Okonkwo explained that the property originally belongs to the church and that it was the location of Catholic Girls Nursery and Primary School, before the State Government took over the management many years ago, but later abandoned it due to poor management.
He said after many years of abandoning the school, the church made efforts to take back the property on order to reconstruct
, but was not given the opportunity to do so.
Okonkwo who is also the Dean of Yaba Deanery of the church stated that in the process of getting the property back, some unknown individuals stormed the place, demolished the structures and.started a fresh foundation without contacting, discussing with the church on what they.planned to do with the.property. “It was a thing of surprise for us to see some people demolishing our property and erecting another one without even writing , calling or visiting us for discussion on their plans. When we approach them, they claimed to be working for the government. Thereafter, we contacted the Lagos Mainland Local Government for clarification and they told us that the Lagos State Universal Education Board ,(LASUBEB) wants to construct another school there. That did not go well with us because courtesy demands that before Government could embark on such project, we, as the original owners of the property, should be aware. They should brief us on the kind of school they plan to construct there, and whether it is for Public interest, but there was nothing like that. They ignored us, not minding the implication.
” Having seen that, the.parishioners decided to call the attention of the government to such an act and to express their disappointment and disatisfaction through a peaceful protest.”
He informed that the property in question is owned by the church and that they built a school called Catholic Girls Nursery and Primary School before the Lagos State took over the management, and when they could not manage it well, they abandoned it for so many years. “When the State Government abandoned the school and it because dilapidated, we requested that they should return our land so that we could reconstruct the school , but that was not been possible due to documentation. Then, we are in the process of recovering the land before we suddenly saw some unknown people coming to put up a structure there, without our knowledge.”
The Parish Priest insisted that the church no longer want the acquisition of her schools by the government because those left under their care are not well managed. “,In as much as we commend the Government for their efforts, we are saying that they should leave our schools for us to manage. Have we not seen how dilapidated the St. Peter and St. Paul Schools at Costain, which they
took from us are? Also, having seen how the government is running other schools which they took from their owners, Is there any hope for improvement? We don’t think so. It is not about erecting good and big structures, but proper management.”
Parish Laity Chairman, Mr Anthony.Osamade and a member.of.Catholic Men Organisation, Mr Onipede Adebayo expressed disgust over the improper enchroachment on the land belonging to the church, pointing out that though the church would not want to involve in any action capable of causing crisis, but cannot fold her arms and watch people take their property with force.
They said the inability of those involved in the construction of the building to disclose their identify, depits that there is a.foul play. “When the workers stormed the place about three weeks ago, we asked of their mission and they said they were constructing a school. But the most unfortunate thing is that they refused to tell us who sent them, that was what made us to know that they are in for something.”
The Parishioners called on the Lagos State Government to intervene on the matter to avoid break of law and order.
Also former Parish Pastoral Council Secretary, Mr Solomon Lajubutu frowned at the ugly development and wondered why people should decide to enchroach the church property which lasted for many years. ‘I started worshipping the church since 1959 and everyone knows that the Church owns the property. It is not in contention. The only thing is that the government took over the church’s school, after running it for sometime, they abandoned it, and when we demanded for a return of the land for us to manage it the way it should, they we’re not forthcoming. And, now we are hearing that the Education Board are the ones doing the foundation laying, why did they not discuss with the church? How are we sure that they are telling us the truth, since there are no documentation to that effect?
He called on.the Lagos State Government to follow due process of doing such for the interest of peace and public interest. “If the Government is responsible for the project, they know what they would have done before enchroaching on the church property. All we are saying now as a church is for them to leave our property alone. We are capable to handle it the way we want.?