By Pelumi Oyinlola Adewale
For eight years, they have borne the brunt of what many would term a failure of government and the tyranny of the authorities against a helpless, hapless, hopeless lot.
Residents of Atiporome, Araromi Ale and Muwo Phase 11, three communities in Badagry, allegedly wrongfully demolished by the state government and the police authorities, have been waiting for justice for over eight years. But till now, it has been an endless wait. And they fear the wait might last forever.
Again, the traumatised residents have called out to the governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu to help the people out of their present ordeals. The people say they do not want their case to be like that of some other communities in the state where court judgements were ignored for years until the federal authorities threatened to forcefully execute such judgments.
The people claim that while a Lagos State High Court sitting in Badagry had given a judgement in their favour since 2019, the authorities have refused to implement the judgment.
How it began
Residents of Atiporome, Araromi Ale and Muwo Phase 11 in Badagry area of Lagos were taken aback in the morning of December 16 and 17, 2013, when officials of the Lagos State Government and armed-to-the-teeth operatives of the Nigerian Police Force invaded their communities with several bulldozers and other instruments of terror. Before the people knew what was happening, the bulldozers had set to work, under the watchful eyes of the gun-toting policemen, demolishing tens and tens of buildings. Hotels, schools, hospitals, and private residences in the communities worth billions of naira were felled in one swoop. All forms of protest were ferociously halted by the armed police operatives. The team came back the following day and demolished the rest of the communities.
Many of the property owners did not survive the shock. Not a few died immediately, even as the lives of many of the victims have since then become totally pathetic. Many of them are mentally and psychologically dead, even if they appear to be living.
But the victims had faulted the demolition of their properties, saying that it was done illegally. The police and the state government claimed that the land demolished belonged to the Nigerian Police, and that it was part of Agemuwo and Agelado communities allocated to them, and that it was for the building of police cooperative quarters. But the residents said that the land allotted to the police was far from the scene of demolition. Backing their claim, the community produced documents and a Lagos State map which showed clearly the location of Agemuwo and Agelado, which was actually far from the demolished communities.
Mr Garba Jonathan, secretary of the Community Development Association (CDA) had maintained that the policemen, who brought the bulldozers, came to attack the wrong communities. He said that while the communities on the letter they got from the police bore Agemuwo and Agelado, theirs were Atiporome, Araromi Ale and Muwo Phase 11, adding that the communities were duly registered with the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Development. He said that the residents also made payment for land use charges regularly to the state government.
Following the demolition, which occurred during the administration of Mr Babatunde Fashola, the current Minister of Works and Housing, the victims ran to the Lagos High Court in Badagry to challenge what they termed an illegal demolition and violation of their fundamental human rights. But curiously, the case was struck out on the grounds that the action lacked due process. The court ruled that the suit was an abuse of court process and that the rights of the victims were not violated in any way.
Not satisfied with the ruling at the High Court, the victims proceeded to appeal the verdict on July 10, 2014, in the Court of Appeal. Among the reliefs sought from the Court of Appeal was an Order allowing the appeal and setting aside the ruling of the High Court, which declined jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
The reliefs were finally granted on February 26, 2016. The three Judges sitting at the Court of appeal in Lagos criticized the ruling of the High Court, citing areas where the victims’ rights were violated. In giving the final judgment of the appeal, Honourable Justice Sidi Dauda Baja ruled that the file should be taken back to the Chief Judge of Lagos state for reassignment to the state High Court in Badagry. He said the case had merit and fell under the Court’s jurisdiction.
Chairman of the aggrieved residents, Chief Charles Adu had, during a peaceful protest, accused the police and Lagos State government of disobeying a subsisting injunction restraining all parties to the suit to maintain status quo pending the determination of the suit. Adu said in total disregard of the court injunction and order of interlocutory injunction on the disputed property, the police had continued construction on the disputed site. Now, they have fully built and commissioned the project which they named after President Buhari.
Chief Adu also faulted the Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) issued by the Lagos State government, insisting that it is for another community. He said the police land at Agemawo and Agelado is a virgin land which is still lying fallow till date.
The certificate, dated January 7, 2009, reads in parts: “Agemuwo/Adelado Village, Muwo Badagry Area of Lagos State is hereby issued by the Governor of Lagos state of Nigeria to The Nigerian Police Force, Lagos State Command, and has been registered as number 33 at page 33 in volume 2009 of the Lagos State of Nigeria Lands Registry office Ikeja”.
Adu also alleged that the C of O being paraded by the other party is totally different from the survey plan also produced by their alleged oppressors, stating that the two documents bears different names. “Their C of O has two names; it is supposed to have one name. The survey is supposed to have corresponded with the name on the C of O. We were still living here when they came to survey the land. If you look at the name on the C of O, you will see Agemuwo, and the survey has only Muwo. Tell me, should the name on the C of O be different from the name on the survey? I consider it fraudulent,” Adu said.
He also produced a certificate issued by Lagos State Government, Ministry of Rural Development, Community Development Department, dated October 21, 2013. He said that the certificate never mentioned their community as Agelado. The certificate also made available to our reporter also reads in parts: “Certificate of registration for community development Association. This is to certify that Atiporome Phase 11 C. D. A. (Olurunda L.C.D.A.) has completed all the documentation and fulfilled the necessary conditions required for the registration in accordance with the Lagos State Community Development Association Law C 37 of 2008.”
Court orders snubbed
When the reporter visited the demolished site recently, it was discovered that the project had been completed and was named after President Muhammadu Buhari, while heavily armed policemen were stationed at the site, irrespective of the court order restraining all parties from erecting or constructing a fence or building on the controversial land.
A copy of the ruling delivered by Hon. Justice Y. A. Adesanya (Mrs.), in The High Court of Lagos State, in The Badagry Judicial Division on June 9, 2014, also restrained “all the parties here, that is, claimants, defendants, and counter claimants whether by themselves, their servants, agents, officers, privies, and others acting in their stand from erecting or constructing a fence or building on that large expanse of land measuring 64.429 hectares, situate, lying, and being at Muwo via Badagry Lagos State covered by survey plan No: LS/D/BG/749 dated 25/09/08 and delinated with Beacon No: G. 14489; G14486; G14487; G14488; G14489; G14490; G14491; G14492; G14493; prepared by B. O Kayode, Chief Surveyor, pending the hearing of the substantive suit.”
Following series of protests, the Lagos State House of Assembly on June 25, 2015, wrote to the debased community, with a view to ensuring that justice prevails. The letter signed by W. A. Bisiriyu for the Clerk of the House noted in part: “Sequel to your petition forwarded to the House, I am directed to request for the following documents from your members: title of ownership, copy served by the police, copy of bench warrant on Inspector General of police, copy of noticed of demolition served by the police, and any other relevant documents that will aid the committee in its deliberation”. Adu said that after responding to the letter, they were invited to a meeting with the committee. The House committee was chaired by Hon. Rotimi Abiru, Chief whip of the House. Other members include Hon. Folajimi Mohammed, Hon. Oanrewaju, and Hon. Olayewole. The House also summoned some state officials from the Ministry of Justice. Six victims representing the community, and four people from the indigenous landlords were also at the meeting, but the peace talk ended in a deadlock.
Judgement delivered, yet no justice
Delivering judgment on March 30, 2019, Justice, S.I Sonaike (Mrs.) of the Badagry High Court, ruled that the demolition of the victims’ properties by the Nigerian Police was unlawful and that the controversial land belongs to the victims.
Since the ruling was given, the community alleged that some officials of Lagos State Government have once again appealed the matter. Since then, the victims have been lamenting, with no one coming to their aid.
Chief Adu said that surprisingly, in September 2021, Lagos State officials initiated another peace talk to enable the victims embrace Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). He said that the head of the mediation team was the state chief counsel, George Okeke, and Mrs. Fadino.
According to him, the first settlement talk was held on September 6th, 2021, and they were told that the settlement talk would last one for a month. Adu alleged that the victims believe the talk is a ploy to further delay justice.
He said: “The first meeting was on September 6, 2021 at the ADR section of the Lagos State High Court Ikeja. All the parties were in attendance. The last meeting was on January 17. They told us that they had yet to come to a conclusion. This was what they told us would last for one month. We are seeing it as another delay tactics because they are not serious.”
The aggrieved residents are now appealing to Governor Sanwo-Olu to wade into the matter and give the victims of this executive tyranny some succour and justice.